The Exact Name

 Image credits: Arun Sankar/AFP

By R. Raj Rao

Intelligence, give me                                                                                                      

The exact name of things!                                                                                                

Let my word be                                                                                                                    

The thing itself,                                                                                                                    

Newly created by my soul.                                                                                                 

Through me may all those                                                                                                 

Who have no knowledge of things reach them;                                                            

Through me may all those                                                                                                 

Who have forgotten things reach them…                                                                       

Through me may all those                                                                                                  

Who even love things reach them…                                                                                 

 Intelligence, give me                                                                                                            

 The exact name, and yours,                                                                                               

And his, and mine, of things

Juan Ramón Jiménez

FREEDOM House is a Washington-based think tank which describes itself as a non-profit global watchdog that ranks nations of the world on the basis of their democratic parameters. It was founded in 1973, and is funded by bi-partisan outfits, comprising both Republicans and Democrats.  It lies at the intersection of policy and activism. Countries are graded in terms of ‘Free’, ‘Partly Free’ and ‘Not Free’.

In 2018, India’s score was 75 out of 100, and was called a ‘Free’ country. In 2019, our score dropped to 71, but we were still ‘Free’. In 2020, however, our score further dipped to 67, and now we are only ‘Partly Free’.

Freedom House’s reasons for reducing our score are several. Principal among these are the harsh, unplanned lockdowns of March 2020 that led to hordes of migrant labourers having to trek back home for thousands of miles in the scorching sun, many of them dying on the way. The discriminatory treatment accorded to Muslims, especially those belonging to the Tablighi Jamaat sect, who were wrongly held responsible for the spread of the coronavirus when they attended a markaz at Nizamuddin, Delhi, last March, also brought our score down. The discrimination continued as the state governments of UP and MP falsely accused Muslim men of marrying Hindu women with a view to converting them to Islam, and even passed a dubious law known against what has incorrectly been called ‘Love Jihad’.

Freedom House had also taken into consideration Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s appointment to the Rajya Sabha after his retirement.

Then there were internet shutdowns. Out of 155 internet shutdowns in the world in 2020, as many as 109 were in India. The second, third and fourth places were occupied by Yemen, Ethiopia and Jordan, with merely six, four and three internet shutdowns respectively. There was a huge gap between India and the next country in this respect.

Other parameters employed by Freedom House were the imprisonment of those who dissented with the government; the intimidation of intellectuals and journalists; bigoted attacks on minorities, especially Muslims; and a crackdown on political rivals.

Kashmir, both India-administered Kashmir, and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, were rated separately, with scores of 28 and 29 respectively, and were thus ‘Not Free’. In India’s case, this was way below the national score of 67, while in Pakistan it was somewhat below their national score of 39. China’s score was just 9, while the country with the highest score was New Zealand, with a score of 99 (making me wish I lived in New Zealand!).

The poem by the Spanish poet Jimenez quoted above speaks of, “the exact name of things”. Freedom House’s ratings have prompted many Indians to compare the year 2020 to the year 1975, when, by virtue of Article 352 of the Constitution, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared her infamous Emergency, for which her grandson Rahul Gandhi even recently apologized, calling it a “mistake”. Today, however, though Freedom House’s analysis implies that conditions in India are similar to those in 1975, we shy away from using the word ‘Emergency’. Are we thus reluctant to give things their exact name, which is an attribute of intelligence? Are we thus an unintelligent bunch of people?

Whatever the ills of the Emergency, it lasted for just two years, after which Indira Gandhi called for elections and badly lost. Those who disagreed with the government spent much less time in jail during the Emergency than they do now. Speaking of arrests without trial on bogus sedition charges, retired Supreme Court judge Madan Lokur has pointed out that the Emergency was bad in terms of habeas corpus violations, but today it is “much worse”. For one Varavara Rao who has been released on bail for a period of six months on grounds of his deteriorating health, there are several, including 83-year-old Stan Swamy who continue to languish in jail.

The central government is dismissive of Freedom House’s democracy report, seeing it as unwarranted foreign interference. But then, as journalist Raghu Karnad says, this itself aligns them with the Emergency, for during the Emergency, the government was “paranoid” about foreign interference in India’s internal affairs.

In his autobiography titled By Many a Happy Accident, former Vice-President Hamid Ansari puts the onus on the electorate, saying that the electorate alone can set things right through the power to vote. Indeed, that is what happened in 1977, when the electorate terminated the Emergency by voting the Congress out of power.

In May 2024, may we expect an encore on the part of the electorate again? Let us wait and see.

Views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • Dr. R. Raj Rao is an internationally known Indian English novelist, poet and critic. He was Professor and Head of the Department of English at the University of Pune in Maharashtra. He has also been a Visiting Professor at universities in Canada and Germany 

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