There are no elections due in the state of Uttar Pradesh where chief minister Yogi Adityanath rules with a crushing majority. There is no need for him to woo his constituency for another four years, or whenever the panchayat elections come around before the next dash for the state assembly. What then could be the reason for his associates in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the RSS to choose Republic Day as the occasion to trigger a conflagration in the small town of Kasganj, once known for its Christian hospital and nursing school which trained nurses and midwives for clinics all over north India.
Alas, the only possible answer is that after the rash of lynching by gau rakshaks, the self-styled protectors of the holy cow, across the northern and western states backfired, and invited international opprobrium, a different classical reason was needed to polarise the nation preparing for the general elections due officially in 2019.
The communal fires in Kasganj raged for almost a week before a semblance of sanity returned. The governor did call it a blot, but the chief minister and the leaders of the government and party in New Delhi have been rather silent.
Bureaucrats and senior serving and retired policemen from the state have pointed out that the provocation of the Muslim community has been deliberate and aforethought. A former director general of police has come on television to denounce the unabashed politicisation of the situation. A district collector has wondered, aloud, why some groups want to enter Muslim localities to shout anti Pakistani slogans, and have never mouthed a protest against the more powerful inimical country, China. “Muslims are our brothers, our blood, our DNA is same...the sooner we understand it the better for our state and country,” wrote District Magistrate of Bareilly Raghvendra Vikram Singh on Facebook. Later, under pressure, he deleted the post.
This reporter has been touring various parts of the country rather intensively since the second half of 2017, both with Harsh Mender’s Karwan-e-Mohabbat and with other groups, and it has been crystal clear, from Kerala to Haryana and Rajasthan to Assam, that there is a cold-blooded effort by the BJP-Sangh Parivar to create tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Often, the local police and administration, school teachers and journalists, are complicit.
Even in small towns of Bengal, the most unlikely of places, and northern Kerala, this is becoming increasingly apparent.
Many had wondered which place would be chosen for a full-fledged riot. Kasganj on Republic day has provided the opportunity. Ironically, the Muslims, now targeted as murderers, were celebrating Republic Day with the Tricolour when their home area saw motorcycle riding youth come with the national Tricolour and the Sangh’s saffron flags.
It is tragic that a young man, Mr Chandan Gupta, has lost his life in the clash, but with the appearance of several videos on the internet about the clash in which he got shot, it is still not clear who fired the pistol shot which took his life. Also killed was another young man, Naushad. One must condemn Chandan Gupta’s killing with all vehemence. The government has ordered the statutory enquiry, but the conspiracy needed a court-monitored investigation.
The mischief of the state Sangh Parivar comes clear in the memorandum they have sent to the government seeking compensation for the family of the young man. Apart from the usual demands for a 50-lakh compensation, house, jobs, which the family of the dead man deserve, the memorandum refers to the lynching of Akhlaq in the state, and calls him a “butcher” while seeking comparable monetary compensation. The memo also wants Gupta to be declared a martyr by the state. What could have been dismissed as a clash between two groups of youth has now been defined by such grammar as a clash between a patriotic community and an antinational violent community. This is the targeting of the Muslim community that we so abhor and have consistently condemned.
Kasganj and other hot spots need mature political handling. The BJP of Mr Narendra Modi and Mr Amit Shah will be seeking a heavy price from the nation if they want to regain power in 2019, and possibly even earlier as indicated in Mr Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind’s insistence on simultaneous elections. Economic progress and social development can be built in a peaceful India at ease with itself and with its neighbours, not a landscape where towers of smoke rise from conflagrations such as Kasganj.
But it remains a moot question if the political apparatus and its leaders will want to show any maturity. The economic situation has indeed panicked them. The populist budget allocations for health insurance, housing and curiously the bullet train, will seem mere promises without funds, unimplemented at the grassroots. Will it end farmers’ suicides, now averaging 100 per month? No, it seems clear.
The Union government’s Economic Survey for 2017-18 makes for depressing reading. The noted economist, Prof Prabhat Patnaik, in his analysis in The Citizen, points out rather pithily “Like the person on the proverbial tiger, the Indian economy is currently riding a precarious course. The Economic Survey recognizes this frankly, but its panacea is to keep one’s fingers crossed and hope that the ride continues.” The economy, he says, seems riding by the government’s own admission on the subdued oil prices and the stock market boom. In other words, speculation on stock helps the current growth rate remain steady. Should oil prices rise, should the stock market bubble bust, there could be a collapse. Oil prices depend on the mood of the US, and its president Donald Trump, and the inflammable clutch of oil producing and exporting countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia whose future itself is in doubt with the Crown Prince galloping with reforms that his extended family opposes.
The budget has not given any additional assurance of massive numbers of jobs in the private and public sectors in the short run, desperately required to cater to the needs of a growing segment of the population in the 18 to 30 years’ age bracket, most jobless despite education.
This is a desperate situation. The countryside is seething, disillusioned with the promises which have not been kept, seeking non-existent opportunities for employment, suffering injury and alienation in mass migration for ill paid employment. The plight of the massive Bihar-Odisha-Jharkhand labour in Kerala, of the Bengali labour in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and of the women and men from Jharkhand working in the northern states has not even begun to be understood.
The sops that the Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, metes out in his monthly and patronising radio talk Mann Ki Baat are now going unheard by the people for whom they are meant – the person in the village home, in the small town baste, in the urban spreads. It also contrasts most cruelly with the tone of the same Mr Modi in his international and corporate avatar, nattily dressed with stoles and headgear to match. The more energetic, and possibly successful, he is in wooing the western political and business leaders, the more he alienates the jobless at home.
As most observers and critics predicted at the beginning of his tenure in May 2014 – his massive victory propelled by the most poisonous and acrid campaign in electoral history in India – Mr Modi and his associate Mr Amit Shah would talk development, but would as their Brahmastra, their most powerful secret weapon, put their faith in the 2013-tested hate campaign based on Hindutva, hoping their vote bank would forget economic deprivation for the moment and vote the BJP back to check the “Muslim threat”.
This has been a winter of hate.
Many have recalled this year events of the year 1948, and Mahatma Gandhi’s hope that the newly independent India will have got over the trauma of its bloody Partition which saw perhaps a million dead, Muslim and Hindu, and crores displaced and translocated. He knew what was obvious, that the exchange of populations could never be a hundred per cent, that vast numbers of Muslims will remain in India, by choice and circumstance. Earlier, he had gone to Noakholi where the Muslim majority was bent on killing the Hindus trapped amidst their mohallas and villages. He had fasted, threatening he would die if the violence continued. The fast, now iconic in its historic memory, did prick the conscience of the people.
The situation in Delhi and north India was explosive. Vast numbers of Sikh and Hindu refugees had poured into the city, evicted ruthlessly from their homes in West Punjab and other provinces. They were seething with anger, and hurt. They had occupied houses of Muslims and Mosques, many empty because their residents had been killed, or had fled to Pakistan, but surely many killed by their neighbours. Gandhi thought no Hindu should occupy a mosque, a place of worship. People and their leaders laughed at him.
On 12th January, Gandhi went on an indefinite fast in Birla House, at the edge then of Lutyen’s New Delhi. He wanted to tell the Hindus that the Muslims in India had equal rights with them. Gandhi, an old man, was used to long fasts against the British, but by now his stamina had weakened. His health deteriorated rapidly. Across the globe, there was a fear he would die.
The collective conscience of the ordinary people was awakened. The people of Delhi, among them Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Christians, came to him to plead he break his fast. Gandhi insisted the security of Muslims, religious minorities in general, be assured in every part of the country. The people agreed, and wrote a Delhi Declaration, which he finally accepted.
“We wish to announce that is our heartfelt desire that the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and members of other communities should once again live like brothers in perfect amity and we take a pledge that we shall protect the life, property and faith of the Muslims and the incidents that have taken place in Delhi will not happen again”, said the Delhi Declaration. It spelled out the freedom of religion that Muslims and others would enjoy, not just in matters of faith but in practical ways, including livelihood and residences. These, in 1950, formed part of the Preamble of the new Constitution of India.
Gandhi broke his fast on 18th January 1948.
On 30th January, in the same compound of Birla house, he was shot dead as he came out to lead the evening prayers. The assassin was Nathuram Godse, a Brahmin from Maharashtra, part of a group of the RSS whose other members included Munje and Savarkar. They had thought he was soft on Muslims. According to them, India was the sacred birth land, work land and mother land of only Hindus and others could live but as second class citizens. Muslims, Christians and Communists, they believed, were enemies of the Bharata or Hindu Rashtra of their dreams. Godse was convicted, and hanged. Savarkar escaped the death penalty. In recent years, there have been attempts to build temples not just to Bharat Mata as deity, but also to Godse and Savarkar. Several times, local municipal authorities have razed these temples. But perhaps some do exist. The MP state government is understood to be in favour of a Bharat Mata temple. It could be built soon.
The hyper nationalist slogan that motivated Godse that fatal day is now no longer dormant. It is part of the pectoral rhetoric. Judicial pronouncements have strengthened it. The continuing military tension with Pakistan – the other half of the Partition story – makes it very tangible, very real. Muslims are not identified just as lecherous men who use triple Talaq to leave their wives and marry afresh, perhaps four times. They are dubbed anti nationals, enemies of the state who need to be sent to Pakistan, or worse. “Pakistan or Kabristan” was not a figment of someone’s nightmare. It was a very real slogan leading to the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
There is no avatar of Mahatma Gandhi on the horizon. The feeble civil society tries, but it seems puny in the face of a soft Hindutva adopted by the Congress party, and most regional parties. The Left itself is fragmented, and on several occasions have not been able to find courage to condemn Hindutva in the intrinsic required. In Kerala, where the bogey of Islamisation is the most potent, former cadres of the Marxist community party are making a beeline to the BJP as the once northern party seeks to enter South India to replace both the Congress and the regional parties.
This is a depressing scenario.
But the same journeys that bring us face to face with the schisms and religious divides also engage us with people’s groups determined not to be divided, determined to keep the unity so needed if economic development is to be achieved. Among them are generations raised in the educational institutions that Jawaharlal Nehru built, and the moral superstructure that Gandhi erected. The people are resisting the attack on Gandhi and his ideals, and are challenging attempts to erode Gandhi’s legacy.
Together, the Gandhi Nehru heritage is gearing itself up to be tested in the next general elections, held as scheduled in 2019, or later this year, as some predict.(Published on 05th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 06)