note demonetisation

Modi just copy pasted Indira’s ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan. Does this Freudian slip explain his politics?

The similarities between the two prime ministers are uncanny.

In the 1971 Lok Sabha election, Indira Gandhi’s party – the Congress (Requisition) – faced off against the Congress (Organisation), led by one-time Tamil Nadu chief minister K Kamaraj. The election saw a curious personalisation. The Congress (O) led with the Hindi-language slogan, “Indira hatao”, banish Indira. Indira Gandhi retorted brilliantly: “woh kehte hain ‘Indira hatao’; main kehti hoon garibi hatao”. They say, “banish Indira”; I say “banish poverty”.

With 44% of the popular vote and a two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha, 1971 would be called an “Indira Wave”. 2014 would also be called a “wave”– a Modi wave (although Modi’s margin of victory was quite a bit smaller than Mrs Gandhi’s).

And that is not all. People have, for some time now, been noticing the similarities between Indira and Narendra. On Monday, Modi put his official imprimatur on this exercise. Kicking off the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign for the Uttar Pradesh elections in Lucknow, Modi exclaimed, “woh kehte hain ‘Modi hatao’; main kehta hoon kaala dhan hatao”. They say, “banish Modi”; I say “banish black money”.

Power Centre

Even before Modi made it near official by copying Mrs Gandhi’s slogan, the comparison had flown thick and fast. On Twitter – that most helpful barometer of public mood – there is already a parody account with the handle @NarIndira Modi.

As the description of that parody account makes it clear, the one thing that most closely binds Modi and Gandhi is their tendency to concentrate power in their person. In 1969, Indira Gandhi largely created the modern Prime Minister’s Office, with its incredible power and oversight over other arms of the Union government. Prime Minister Modi has followed suit. In the current Union government, the PMO is all powerful. Other ministries simply follow the PMO’s lead. From clearances for the Asian Games to piloting the Ganga rejuvenation plan, the Prime Minister’s Office micro-manages the functions of other ministries.

In keeping with this centralisation of power, both Gandhi and Modi preferred to work with bureaucrats rather than democratically-elected politicians. Mandarins such as PN Haksar, PN Dhar and PC Alexander held more power in India Gandhi’s administration than most Union ministers thanks to the prime minister’s patronage. Modi follows the same template.

If Gandhi had a “Kashmiri Mafia” preferring Kashmiri Brahmins such as herself, Modi loves Gujarati bureaucrats. Ever since he moved from Gandhinagar to New Delhi, his favourite state government bureaucrats have also been shifted from Gujarat to the Union government to work with him. His biggest policy move, demonetisation, was planned principally by a fellow Gujarati bureaucrat Hasmukh Adhiya, even as the cabinet ministers were kept in the dark.

Attacking federalism

While the first casualty of this sort of power centralisation is the Union government, soon other institutions start to fall. India’s federalism, already weaker than other models like the United States by design, is the first to be affected by strong prime ministers. While Jawaharlal Nehru started the process of devaluing elected state governments by using President’s Rule, Indra Gandhi would run amok with this constitutional provision.

Moreover, she made sure than Congress chief ministers depended not on the people of their states as a source of power but stayed in office at the pleasure of the prime minister – a bizarre twisting of India’s federal structure. Between 1978 and 1983, for example, Andhra Pradesh saw four chief ministers, all installed and removed by Indira Gandhi as part of her strategy to not let independent power centres develop in the states.

Modi also does the same by appointing people without independent power bases as chief ministers. In Goa and Gujarat, the BJP chief ministers are wholly dependent on Modi. In Maharashtra and Haryana, Modi made sure to appoint chief ministers who were not from the dominant castes, much as Mrs Gandhi had appointed AR Antulay in Maharashtra in 1980 to break the Maratha lobby.

Popularity and populism

This remarkable centralisation has a base to support it: the incredible popularity of the prime minister which legitimises this power grab. In 1971, Indira Gandhi’s win was made all the more remarkable because it was against nearly the entire Congress old guard. The Congress’s structure and organisation, set up by Mohandas Gandhi, had been robust enough to last for half a century. Yet Indira Gandhi made the 1971 election a referendum on herself thus, remarkably, rendering the Congress (O)’s party machinery useless.

While Modi did not have to face such an well-equipped Opposition – the BJP was the most organised party in 2014 – it is still true that Modi’s personal charisma was responsible for lifting the BJP to its first ever majority in the Lok Sabha. That even in a state like West Bengal – where it barely exists on the ground – the Bharatiya Janata Party won 17% of the popular vote in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections can be solely credited to the Modi wave.

To maintain her incredible appeal, Indira Gandhi turned to all manners of populism when in government. Her economic populism saw the nationalisation of banks in 1969, ostensbly to attack poverty. Her politics led to right-wing populism and majoritarianism. Marking a sharp departure from her father, Indira Gandhi would often project herself as a Hindu leader. She would speak of a “dharma yudh”, religious war in Kashmir in 1983. Under her administration, India would see, for the first time since Partition, large-scale communal violence, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Assam.

Modi’s own politics is remarkably similar. His economic populism means a massive expansion of statism. Like Gandhi’s bank nationalisation, Modi’s demonetisation is a millenarian programme which works on the vilification of the rich and promises unrealistic benefits to the poor. And, of course, Modi’s appeal to religion and communalism is well documented, right from his communal appeals in the 2002 Assembly elections in Gujarat, only a few months after the state-wide riots, to his choosing of Benaras – Hinduism’s holiest city – as his Lok Sabha constituency in the 2014 elections.

Unhappy ending

That Modi might want to copy his arch rival the Congress and one of its tallest leaders might seem counter intuitive – but its really rather understandable. During her lifetime, Gandhi was incredibly popular. Her assassination in 1984 and the subsequent sympathy wave that followed gave the Congress 404 seats in the Lok Sabha – the single largest majority ever. It is hardly surprising that Modi would hanker for such personal success.

Yet, the comparison might not be that sanguine if looked at from the point of view of the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the end, Gandhi’s hyper-centralisation greatly weakened the Congress. States like Andhra Pradesh left the Congress fold. Strong state leaders such as Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal left the Congress, which could not tolerate multiple power centres outside Delhi. Today, in the Lok Sabha, the Congress has a little more than 10% of its seats it won in 1984.

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.