The BJP leadership, which is over-sensitive about the subject of election victories, and is fully aware of who delivers the ruling party its electoral dividends, obviously chose not to disappoint the perpetrators of violence. If violence could only be stopped after 96 hours, it is entirely possible for the union government to control it within 12 hours in the national capital.
The trailer of civil war that the Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi, spoke about in the Parliament was played out in North-East Delhi. Speaking about the impending civil war was, perhaps, the acknowledgement by the Prime Minister that the ghost of communalism was out of the bottle, and would be beyond his capacity to put it back. Otherwise, why would the Prime Minister and his trusted colleagues not object to any kind of violence when a precious foreign guest was in the national capital?
The ruling party’s junior leader, Kapil Mishra, clearly warned in a hate-filled speech that anti-CAA protesters would be taught a lesson if they didn’t suspend the protests before Trump’s departure from India. However, the people he was addressing, who turned into the violent rampaging mob, were in no mood to wait for three days for Jaffrabad to be cleared of anti-CAA protests. It was something that the Union government definitely didn’t want to happen during the visit of the President of the United States of America, and it was a catch-22 situation for the government. If it failed to crack down on the perpetrators of communal violence, it would universally get a bad press. If it prevented the violators of peace from continuing the violence, its reputation amongst the perpetrators would be damaged to a great extent.
With the success of the Muzaffar Nagar riots in 2013, it is clear that communal polarization favoured the BJP in two successive Lok Sabha elections and an intermittent state election for the Uttar Pradesh assembly. Therefore, the riots and violence in north-east Delhi can only be seen as a boon for the party. North-east Delhi has a local population of Jats, Gujjars, Dalits, and Muslims, along with upper caste, OBC, Dalit, and Muslim migrants from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Known as Purvanchali, these migrants are potent carriers of communal venom cooked in half-truths to their native places. Compared to this political advantage, a few days of bad publicity in international media is not a matter of concern for this government.
Much is being talked about the complicity of the Delhi police, the utter insensitivity of judiciary barring few honourable exceptions, and the Arvind Kejriwal government’s timid response to the riot situation. One needs to look at these institutions as part of society. Their actions and inactions, including the irrelevance of the Congress – the grand old party – in such situations, is merely a reflection of the overwhelming sentiments that are prevalent in our society. This should be a grave concern for the Republic of India.
As to what these sentiments are, here’s a comprehensive list. One, that anti-CAA protesters, as the majority of them are from minority communities, are jihadis. Who created the impression that if it is Muslims who are protesting, they must be jihadis? It’s the public statements by the top brass of the government that made people think of the protests against CAA-NPR-NRC as actions by jihadis. Even in a polarized society, the vast majority still looks at the people in high offices with a great deal of respect and accepts their words as the gospel truth. These people are not to be blamed for their blind faith, as they have memories of leaders speaking the truth as a routine while in public office for the last 7 decades. This trust between the leaders in public offices and the people they governed was one of the important pillars of a democratic polity in India. The incumbent regime is taking undue advantage of this trust and abusing it to say anything and everything they can against their political opponents.
Public statements such as ‘protesters can be identified by their clothes’ and ‘Delhi CM Kejriwal is a terrorist and there is enough proof of it’ are supplemented by vitriolic campaigns on social media that reiterate that protesters at Shaheen Bagh would enter the homes of Hindus and rape their women. There is not an iota of truth in linking these protests to the jihadi movements. Rather, the leader of the nation should have been proud of the fact that people have the space and the conscience to protest peacefully and democratically, whilst holding high the principles of the constitution and the ideals of great leaders such as B R Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi. But what if the leader himself considers this nation as belonging to the Hindus only? When the protesters are being branded as jihadis, one must ask if these jihadis are the outcome of a 6-year rule of a strong government that takes pride in defending Hindu interests. This sentiment of equating anything that is Islamic or having the participation of Muslims as jihadis is an outcome of the central thought process in the RSS that Muslims and other minorities could never be a part of India. In the past, such a thought process on the part of Mohammad Ali Jinnah on the one hand, and the Hindu Mahasabha as well as the RSS on the other hand, led to a bloody partition and large scale violence. Today it is forcing the nation into what the Prime Minister has termed as a civil war.
The second sentiment associated with this process is a total disregard for the rule of law, and a hyper tendency to take the law into one’s own hands. This is a salient feature of a civil war or civil war type situations across the world. When the union minister openly called for ‘shooting the traitors,’ when lawyers decided to beat Kanhaiyya Kumar in front of the police on court premises when the union minister felicitates an accused in a lynching case publicly, when a union minister tries to justify the complicity of the police in the current violence in Delhi by citing the killing of Sikhs in 1984, and when a battery of leaders from the ruling party unhesitatingly justify such deeds on national television, the mobs feel free to act as they have been bidden! Even when mobs shout Delhi Police Zindabad, they do not consider it right to ask the Delhi Police to take action against what they consider as anti-national. This sentiment and its acceptance in the government and judiciary sound a death-knell to the very existence of India.
If the government and the judiciary think that this lawlessness could only be directed against the Muslims, they are far too short-sighted. Once routinized, the tendency to take the law into one’s own hands based on notions would soon turn against vulnerable populations, like women, tribals, and Dalits. These two sentiments – one, equating everything that is Islamic, by the Muslims, or even having the participation of Muslims as jihadi and two, a complete disregard for the rule of law – have reached such hegemonic proportions that constitutional institutions and political organisations are falling into the trap, or becoming irrelevant. The constitutional institutions and some of the political organisations were somewhat effective when the liberal ideas of the rule of law, equality before the eyes of the law, human rights, secularism, non-violence etc. dominated the society. These ideas kept India together and kept us going for 7 decades. In its absence, we do not know what lies ahead in the coming decade, or whether what we have just witnessed in Delhi is what is in store for India in the near future. Perhaps it was just a trailer, and perhaps we must prepare ourselves for the complete show in Eastman colours that will be coming soon closer to our homes.
Parimal Maya Sudhakar
28 Feb 2020