And then they banned firecrackers during Diwali. This is the major headline that every newspaper in the country should ideally carry but in probability, they will not. The organised campaign against firecrackers during Diwali is finally coming to fruition and we are slowly but surely progressing towards a nationwide firecracker ban.
Rajasthan, Odisha, West Bengal, Goa, Delhi and now Karnataka has banned firecrackers during Diwali. The NGT wants Diwali firecrackers banned in 122 cities. The reason given for it is either the Coronavirus crisis or pollution, however, that is flexible and varies region to region depending on circumstances at hand. When the primary objective is banning firecrackers, any reason can be invented to suit the objective.
It is pertinent to note that the air quality has been bad for days now due to stubble-burning in Punjab and other states. No government has done absolutely anything to solve that problem. Political parties are hesitant to act because it might dampen their prospects in the next elections. Under such circumstances, firecrackers are very easy scapegoat.
It has to be understood here that the reasons have not been invented in order to convince us, the masses, of the necessity of a firecracker ban. The elites do not expect us to be convinced at all and neither are they serious about convincing us. If they were, they would have at least bothered to come up with half plausible reasons.
The Coronavirus is not a plausible reason to ban firecrackers and neither is pollution. There is no solid evidence to suggest that firecrackers are the driving force behind pollution and it is laughable to assert that the coronavirus surge is linked to bursting crackers during Diwali. Anyone who saw the crowds at rallies during the Bihar elections could not seriously believe that crackers are the greater health hazard during a pandemic.
Furthermore, it should also be clear that this is not a Congress issue or a BJP issue. Every political party basically agrees on banning crackers during Diwali. There is no point pretending that Rajasthan would not have banned firecrackers if the BJP was still in power. Karnataka and Goa do have a BJP government and yet, they banned it anyway. Therefore, it has to be very clear in the minds of Indians that the problems with Indian governance are far too serious to be cured merely by voting alone.
The other point to be noted is that firecrackers are bad only during Diwali. When crackers are burst during New Year celebrations or on Christmas, they do not cause any pollution at all. Similarly, no pollution is caused when firecrackers are burst while celebrating victories in elections; by the same parties that have banned crackers during Diwali. Pollution causing firecrackers are only to be found during Diwali.
The firecracker ban highlights the extent of rot that persists in the governance system of our country. Every action of the government is geared towards a demonstration of authority, not efficiency. The governments do not even bother to pretend that there are valid grounds for their action. They just pass the order and people are expected to follow it because the alternative is state-sanctioned persecution.
The inadvertent consequence of such an approach is that citizens do not feel invested in the governance of their country. When the state does not show the faintest bit of concern for the culture and traditions of its citizenry, then why should the ordinary citizen feel anything but a ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude? Why should an ordinary citizen be bothered if the state does not give a damn about what is important to him?
For a country to be great, it is of paramount importance that its citizens feel invested in its future. Governance in India gives every decent individual a million reasons to not give a damn. If an Indian citizen today does not give two hoots about the direction in which the country is headed and only cares about securing the lives of his family, then the lion’s share of the blame must go to the manner in which the country is governed.
The firecracker ban has absolutely nothing to do with public health. If public health was the primary concern, then alcohol and tobacco would have been banned a long time ago. A disproportionate amount of violent crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol and yet, how many states have bothered to ban it?
In fact, during the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, the governments rushed to open up liquor shops which undoubtedly exacerbated the spread of the virus. Public health was not a concern then because taxes were more important. But now, the lives of hundreds and thousands of those employed in the firecracker industry will be destroyed but the state just could not be bothered to give a damn.
It is a remarkable joke that has been played on those who have invested in the firecracker industry. The distress can be gauged from the comment made by one shop owner in Delhi selling firecrackers. “Due to the sudden ban, we have to face losses of approx Rs 15-20 lakhs. Earlier the government said green cracker can be sold and gave us licence. We had already purchased the stock,” the vendor said.
And it can be safely said that he is not the only one. Businessmen across the country are facing the prospect of similar losses due to the ban. Imagine the extent of the depravity for a moment. Throughout the year, vendors were assured that they could sell green crackers and they made investment based on that assurance. They were even provided a licence. Now suddenly, they have banned it and the vendors do not have a ground underneath their feet.
The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, meanwhile, has requested Rajasthan and Odisha to lift the firecracker ban as it would adversely impact the lives of a great many in his own state. Without any conclusive evidence on potential harm, the Indian State has left million of people in the lurch. It is the brainchild of policymakers who wish to come across as virtuous individuals without actually performing any actions that merit praise.
When demonetization was implemented, millions suffered but they endured the hardship because they were told that it was for the noble cause of fighting corruption. When the GST was implemented, small businesses did suffer in the short term but they endured it because they were told it would be good for the country in the long run. Likewise, on numerous other issues, citizens endured hardships because they were told that it would benefit the country. They suffered in silence for the greater good.
But it cannot be a one-sided relationship. As of this moment, Indians are in an abusive relationship with the Indian state. The citizens endure hardships when they are told they would help the country through their actions but as it is with all things, there are certain limits that must not be crossed and people should not be taken for granted. If the state decides to go down that path, there lies nothing but chaos and anarchy.
The firecracker ban also demonstrates that whether be it democracy or autocracy, the masses do not really have a say in matters of governance. Democracy only gives us the illusion of choice. For instance, the masses are overwhelmingly in favour of celebrating Diwali with firecrackers but governments decided to ban it anyway. Conversely, the masses were overwhelmingly against allowing the entrance of women at Sabarimala but the state decided to help faithless atheists desecrate it anyway.
The truth of the matter is, the ban on firecrackers perfectly illustrates the pathetic governance that has come to symbolize our country. And it it safe to say that if current trends hold without any radical transformation, there will never come a time when Indians could really hope to aspire to greatness.
Deluded quick-fixes to long term problems are the hallmarks of mediocrity and until Indian governance wakes up from its Kumbhakarna slumber and shrugs off the cobwebs of mediocrity it has drowned itself in, India will never ever be a great country. The only reason India has not devolved into a cesspit of chaos and anarchy is because there are good men and women in governance whose integrity keeps the system from collapsing into itself. But only the Gods know how long this orgy of mediocrity could carry on.