“All the promises have been betrayed,” read the introduction to the book, The Crooked Timber of New India: Essays on a Republic in Crisis.
The launch of the book is no music to the BJP-led dispensation at the Centre. The author, Parakala Prabhakar, former spokesperson of the party in Andhra Pradesh, is the spouse of Nirmala Sitharama, the Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs.
The book was launched on 14 May, a day after Karnataka rejected the BJP in the Assembly polls, thereby ejecting the saffron party from South India.
The Bangalore International Centre at Domlur — where Prabhakar chose to release his title — was packed. The book reflected his criticism of the Narendra Modi government, and his thoughts and views on the BJP that sailed to power in 2014, and retained it five years later.
Prabhakar is a widely-respected political economist, writer and social commentator, who has a doctorate from the London School of Economics and an M.Phil from the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The launch event was themed ‘Decoding Our Republic’s Crisis: The True Picture of New India’, a catchy title in an age in which propaganda and false information gain currency over facts — othering communities and even states.
Voodoo economists, shattered hopes
“A new era began in May 2014, or so we were told,” Prabhakar said in the introduction to the book.
“Delivering his victory speech in Vadodara, Mr Modi declared that good days were upon us, and promised a shining India; in his Lok Sabha address, he referred to his party’s victory as a ‘new hope’ and dedicated it to the poor and the disadvantaged; in his Independence Day address three months later, he resolved to take everyone along and deliver good governance through hard work and consensus.”
“Over the eight years since all the promises have been betrayed,” it added.
Substantiating arguments with facts, Prabhakar has delved deeper, noting that, for the first time since the 1990s, the number of people who are below the poverty line in India has increased.
The book argued that the country added 75 million to the world poor in 2021 alone, and slipped to the 132nd position (out of 191 countries) in the UNDP Global Human Development Index for 2021-22.
Unemployment, especially among the youth, is somewhere over 20 percent — alarmingly concerning, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. The country’s unemployment rate shot up to 8.3 percent and the labour market shed 2.1 million jobs. By March-end this year, the unemployment rate was 7.76 percent.
In the absence of organised economic thought and competent economic advisers, “New India” fell prey to voodoo economists who could easily convince a clueless government to take disastrous measures like demonetisation, which broke the back of the country’s economy.
“Between two to three crore farmers quit unsustainable agriculture. The food inflation is high, and the rural distress continues unabated,” Prabhakar argues.
The lotus tricks
The author also discusses Operation Lotus (Kamala) — using all tricks to persuade Opposition MLAs to support the BJP — and Parliament being reduced to a body that gives a stamp of approval to every legislation and measures proposed by the government, and no longer performing its duty of debating people’s issues.
Reputed think tanks are being raided by tax authorities. Compliant officers are appointed to head investigating agencies. Those who show any inclination to act independently are removed from their positions. The Enforcement Directorate (ED), especially, has become an instrument to terrorise and silence the Opposition, Prabhakar says.
Sedition charges are slapped on citizens who post comments critical of the government. Courts, including the Supreme Court, seem to have aligned with the Executive in its aggressive attempt to constrict civic rights.
Criminals convicted for Bilkis Bano’s gangrape in Gujarat during the 2002 riots were set free by the state government — with the consent of the Union Home Ministry. Controversial electoral bonds scheme introduced in 2017, and withholding information about political donations to the ruling party — Prabhakar discusses many more in the book.
In a two-hour-long interaction with the audience, Prabhakar asserted his right to be a critique without fear. He said that the issues he has flagged in his book are based on facts and not just diatribes as one of the audience pointed out and argued.
Prabhakar compared the Modi-Shah government with a doctor who tells his patient “Your eyes are okay, your legs are fine, your ears are perfect, your liver is very good — when the patient had gone for a heart ailment. The doctor should ideally diagnose the heart disease,” Prabhakar said.
The Crooked Timber of New India is a collection of hard-hitting essays on the state of today’s India, which constitute a sharply critical report card on the performance of the Modi government. Renowned historian Ramachandra Guha was also present at the event.
Senior journalist Prem Panicker, who co-hosted the event, said: “At a time when a compromised media and the ruling party’s digital army work 24/7 to overwhelm our public discourse with pro-establishment noise and forwards from WhatsApp University, Prabhakar is an unabashedly critical voice, determined to speak truth to power.”
“In essays written over almost three years — from 2020 to 2023 — Prabhakar looks closely at facts and data and analyses events and public statements to show why he fears for the future of our democracy, social harmony, and the economy,” Panicker added.
Elaborating, Prabhakar opined the content of the book “should surprise no one.”
“Essentially, nothing straight can ever be made out of the crooked timber of ‘New India’. These much-publicised events are only expendable launch vehicles fired to put the payload of a majoritarian political creed into orbit,” he said.
“As the actual payload takes off, they fall away as debris. The political creed that is put into orbit is divisive and hateful. It defines citizenship based on religious identity and ‘others’ minorities — mainly religious minorities, and particularly India’s Muslims,” he added.
The book also delves into the systematic infiltration of the RSS cadre into the four pillars of democracy: Legislature, executive, judiciary and the media. The book also talks about the systematic destruction of democratic institutions, spreading hatred, and harming the pluralistic harmony of the country.
Prabhakar finds unmistakable evidence of religious majoritarianism, creeping authoritarianism and serious economic mismanagement and has put it forth in his book.
He also shows why silence and complacency are no longer an option for any citizen invested in the future of the Republic.