Of the various forms of punishment, an eye for an eye is the most primal. In India it connotates bulldozer which is routinely used across the country to remove illegal constructions. But today it has assumed pride of place in the Indian political lexicon as bulldozer governance, after the BJP began projecting it not just as an inanimate object but as an ‘idea’ meant to cement its nationalistic politics, couched in the innocuous framework of good and effective governance heralding a paradigm shift in political thinking.
Notwithstanding, the Opposition accusing the Centre and BJP-ruled State Governments of using it as a popular extra-judicial tool of ‘hate’ politics to target Muslims since it came to power in 2014. Of systematic oppression under increasingly authoritarian laws and where democratic freedoms, including free speech, political representation and right to protest are not only being crushed but also conducted in an atmosphere of revelry. Typified by drummers and chants of “Govinda, Govinda” alongside a billboard which hails “Desh ki suraksha mein jo banega rora, mama ka bulldozer banega hathod.
The credit for bringing a heavy-duty bulldozer into political limelight goes to UP’s Chief Minister Yogi aka Bulldozer Baba where bulldozers were entrusted with the onerous task of upholding rule of law. Due to its ‘success’ in demolishing homes of the minority community it naturally found takers in other BJP-ruled states, MP’s Shivraj is hailed as Bulldozer Mama and Haryana’s Khattar as Tau.
This fiesta of chaos orchestrated by Governments’ to escalate oppression and perpetuate an environment of fear and helplessness among people should terrify citizens. By conjuring up this celebratory atmosphere allows the State to reinforce its narrative, dehumanise the oppressed reducing them to inhuman grotesque spectacles liable to be manipulated or discarded at the State’s whim.
Alas, our democratic awareness has become so weak that more and more metaphorical instances of steam-rolling norms and principles emerge everywhere and every day. Whereby settled legal principles continue to be flouted and the monster machine has become a political tool to both construct the perception of a tough leader as well as deepen social divide.
The choreography of such diabolical spectacles is not limited to literally using bulldozers. An example of this meek abdication is there for all to see in are legislative functioning. Legislatures have stopped bothering about holding Governments ’accountable for executive impunity.
Scandalously, Parliament’s monsoon session was witness to important Bills like the Data Protection Bill being rammed through without any discussion or being vetted by Parliamentary committees and ordinary Bills being converted to Money Bills underscoring bulldozer governance. Whereby, our temple of democracy trashed and stomped out executive answerability to its citizens.
Alongside, suspending MPs for a day, session or indefinite periods has become the norm, Congress Lok Sabha leader Chowdary, TMC and AAP MPS in Rajya Sabha et al. And muting their mikes when they are speaking in the House a la Congress President Kharge, TMC’s O’Brien are other strategies in this genre of governance.
The Opposition too is to blame. Instead of using Parliamentary debates to pin the Government down for its acts of misdemeanor and non-governance it preferred to play politics. thereby, losing a perfect opportunity to put the Government on the mat and hold it accountable for Manipur’s ongoing civil war.
Besides, there are efforts to ensure domination of the Executive in appointments and supervision shunning procedures creating an impression of impatience with procedures amidst cynicism about all forms of accountability as also intervening in States sphere, clearly violating the federal principle. Example: NEET, National Education Policy and Centre extending jurisdiction of BSF inside international borders has irked Punjab and West Bengal.
Fundamentally, acceptance of executive high-handedness allows perpetrators to claim democratic sanction behind bulldozer governance speaks volumes about the growing societal acceptability of the idea of instant justice. In the longer run, when the State takes away all protections and when no law or institution limits this authoritarianism, the rights of citizens can only be precarious.
Even if the aam aadmi does not relish the dark carnival, the repeated performances of State repression can certainly de-sensitise one if it is not followed by expression of sympathy and empathetic action. Eventually, they become complicit in the plight of the oppressed and view it as a cultural product as barring the immediate shock and headlines, media too chooses to ignore it.
One could argue this happens because of our failed criminal justice system and police high-handedness whereby methods being used to terrorise people have been perfected after long practice of demolishing homes without due process on the facetious pleas of unauthorised constructions, flouting zoning regulations or destruction necessary for the lofty cause of national development making it impossible to challenge it in court. Sic.
In fact, some States boast of their governance record on the basis of ‘encounter’ killings. The celebration of the elimination of suspected criminals by Telengana police of suspected rapists is a case in point. A dystopian Constitution and an alternative set of laws where the police (rather than courts) summarily award punishment to persons accused – but not convicted – of a crime.
The celebration of this bulldozer culture valorises the active prevention of judicial oversight. Judicial procedures to check the legitimacy and validity of Government functioning and officials has become a victim of the prejudices against citizens. While courts revel in non-deliverance of speedy justice. Instead, they appear keener to protect the rights of authorities who subvert the law than perform their job of legal oversight. As a consequence, hapless citizens are crushed by procedural injustice.
Perhaps, one of the main reasons for Governments and people taking law into their own hands with courts only acting as meek protesters at best and mute spectators at worst. Resulting in lawlessness being exacerbated manifold wherein legal falsehoods and subversion of due procedure are considered par on course.
In this murky carnival, the State employs its unfettered authority, discriminatory laws, biased policies, selective enforcement and tools of destruction, bulldozers to deliver a terrifying performance. Whereby, citizens are props who are entrenched in the State’s complete dominance and transformed into unwitting spectators of razing their citizenship.
The carnivalesque atmosphere is a deliberate attempt to suggest to citizens a heightened sense of impunity. It conveys to everyone loudly that the law will not take its course when a Muslim or X,Y,Z is victimised — that anyone can literally dance their way to committing atrocious acts of injustice.
Undeniably bulldozer governance has seeped into the collective consciousness of the nation targeting civil society organisations and human rights defenders precisely so that it can prevent citizens from acting on their impulse for solidarity. Sadly, it has found many cheerleaders, never mind if bulldozer justice strikes the core of Constitutionalism, creating fear among people. To rephrase Mirza Fidvi’s couplet, “Democracy ka janaaza hai, zara dhoom se nikle” (It’s the funeral procession of justice, let’s make it carnivalesque.
Clearly it is time to break free from the trance of the dark carnival of willingly being bulldozed multitudes. This requires collective resistance. It remains to be seen if ‘we the people’ have the collective will. What gives? —- INFA
- September 13, 2022