One good way to end any year is to look back at all the things you hated and make a list of the stuff that you reckon won’t ever be coming back. This list can include anything from bad films and songs, fashion bloopers, exposed public lies, dustbinned politicians and outed criminals to the terrible strokes played by Indian batsmen that they cannot, possibly, repeat again.
The problem is in getting this list right. Bad films and songs have a way of rising out of the grave, fangs of mediocrity bared, sucking the blood from your cinesphere and sonosphere for the next so many decades; fashion bloopers like to reappear as ‘witty’ sartorial quotations; and the terrible strokes played by Indian batsmen are a bit like the Delhi police’s slogan in the 2000s: With you, for you, always. As for politicians going into the dustbin, the longer you live, the more clearly you learn never, ever, to count on this: a politician isn’t in the trash can till he has left us for the afterlife, and even then, the worst ones have a way of developing this toxic, hovering half-life, like ineptly decommissioned nuclear plants.
As for the public lies, they have a special choreography as they dance around in a game of musical chairs, one fib sliding into a seat where another has just vacated, one untruth left standing in the cold, but never completely out of the game, never chair-less for long. Lies, especially political ones, also come in the shape of actions: you vote for a programme of development and anti-corruption, but you may get a chief minister for whom you did not vote, a man with the narrowly vicious world view of a provincial bigot; you vote for a change from bigotry and nepotism, but you may get a chief minister who people say they have seen leading murderous mobs, albeit three decades ago.
Lies come in all sorts of fancy packaging. You can unpack the lie, throw it in the dustbin along with its wrapping at the end of a given year, and think you are done. Wrong. The same lie will be marketed to you in different livery, with freebies stickered on the packaging — buy this one big lie, get another mini-lie totally free.
Here’s one such lie that has had many mutations and multiple attempts at penetrating the ‘market’: Version No.1/2014: When Narendra Modi comes to power, conducting business will be easier, corruption will disappear, the economy will grow, and no, there will be no attacks on the minorities.
Version No.2/2017: The Modi government has taken some ‘bold and difficult’ decisions; demonetisation is working like a banshee on cocaine, it’s just that you can’t see it yet; conducting business will get easier, just give the government some more time (70 years of uninterrupted Congress rule is hard to dismantle, you see). And these chhut-putt attacks on minorities and Dalits? Oh, they are freak incidents, not sanctioned by the people in charge, of course not!
Version No.38/2018: Look, as we promised, nothing has damaged the social fabric of India since 2014; you can debate demonetisation but you can’t debate the triumph of GST; there is no corruption in high places, none, no one is favouring the oligarchy, there’s nothing to see here, please move on; the minorities are not cowering in their homes, no, what you hear is exaggerated fake news, so what if it’s from all over the country, and so what if farmers are marching, students are marching, Dalits are marching, it’s all fine, there’s a disciplined hand on the tiller; and there has been no corruption of our major educational institutions by putting incompetent toadies in charge with the specific mission of orange-o-fying and destroying those institutions.
Actually our social fabric has taken severe damage since 2014. Our minorities are living in terror in many parts of the country. But it’s true that this December the Constitution is safer from Hindutva sabotage than it was last January. This is because four big States have voted against the BJP. It’s true that the Supreme Court looks strong. That is because the senior-most judges came out and pushed back at the Chief Justice’s methods of administration, because they narrowed the scoring angle for anti-democratic forces. It’s true that more and more people are speaking freely and diverse voices are being heard. That’s because thousands of citizens have had the courage to come out on the streets and challenge this small-eyed, know-nothing, backward-hurtling government.
As this year ends, many of the tired lies of the last four years seem to have been uprooted, but we’ll have to be vigilant in the coming year about how quickly some of these falsehoods find purchase again.