The Constitution is under threat and India is “being torn apart”, declared Mahua Moitra, the first-time parliamentarian from Trinamool Congress as she lashed out at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in her maiden speech in Lok Sabha on Tuesday. Interrupted by heckling from the Treasury benches, the MP from Krishnanagar in West Bengal listed seven signs indicating that “there is a danger of fascism rising in India”.
These signs, she said, were contained on a poster in the lobby of the Holocaust Museum in the US.
Moitra was addressing the Lok Sabha to oppose the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address. She began by acknowledging the BJP’s enormous victory in the elections and said that “the very nature of the overwhelmingess of this mandate makes it necessary for the voices of dissent to be heard” because it lacks the “natural check and balance woven into the narrative”.
She invoked freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s address from the 1940 Ramgarh session of Congress: “It is India’s historic destiny that many human races and cultures and religions should flow to her, finding a home in her respectable soil and that many a caravan should find rest here, where our cultures, our languages, our poetry, our literature, our art, the innumerable happenings of our daily life shall bear the stamp of our joint endeavour.”
This ideal is embedded in India’s Constitution, which every MP had sworn to protect, she said. But it is under siege, she claimed, and went on to explain why.
1) Superficial nationalism
Moitra drew attention to Assam’s initiative to update its National Register of Citizens, which requires people who have been living in the country for 50 years to produce proof of their citizenship while “ministers cannot produce degrees”. This seemed to have been a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani, whose educational qualifications have been the matter of much speculation.
2) Disdain for human rights
Moitra noted that hate crimes have increased ten-fold increase between 2014 and 2019. “It is like a valuation of an e-commerce start-up,” she said. “There are forces in this country that are sitting there just pushing this number up.”
3) Media control
The MP alleged that five of the largest media organisations in the country are “either indirectly controlled or indirectly indebted to one man”. She said that fake news had become the norm. “This election was not fought on farmers’ distress, this election was not fought on unemployment but this election was fought on Whatsapp, on fake news and on manipulating minds,” she claimed.
4) An obsession with national security
The obsession with national security and the identification of enemies has resulted in :fear pervading everywhere”, she said. “The achievements of the Army are being usurped in the name of one man,” Moitra said.
Despite this, she said, terrorist attacks have gone up. “There has been a 106% increase in the death of jawans in Kashmir,” she said.
5) The intertwining of religion and government
Highlighting the flaws in the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Bill, Moitra alleged, “We are making sure that it is only one community that is the target of anti-immigration laws.”
6) Disdain for intellectuals and the arts
This, the MP said, was the most dangerous sign. “There is a suppression of all dissent,” she said, even as funding is being cut for liberal education. But the spirit of dissent is “integral to India”, she said, going on to quote Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s Krishna Ki Chetavani (Krishna’s Warning) to emphasise her point.
7) Erosion of independence in the electoral system
During the Lok Sabha polls of 2019, the Election Commission of India was embroiled in multiple controversies where it was accused of siding with the BJP.
“The Election Commission is being used to transfer key officials,” she said. “Rs.60,000 crore were spent on this election of which Rs.27,000 crore, 50 per cent, were spent by one party.”