Newly Created Cultural Assets: Division and Violence
The ‘Telegraph’ editorial of Tel 10.3.19 read thus: “The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-led-BJP has enriched Indian culture with two gifts: division and violence in everyday life.” And it has had disastrous consequences. Marginalized communities have suffered the most. State violence is not far behind mob violence. The police feel accountable only to their political masters. Asian Centre for Human Rights revealed that 1,674 deaths took place in custody in India between 2017-2018. Reports of violence and torture of under-trial prisoners are increasing day by day. Sensitivity has gone dead. Rahul accuses Modi of promoting Hypernationalism and hate. Anyone who disagrees with the PM is called pro-Pakistani, anti-Indian, anti-Hindu.
The Gujarat Model: “Blood for Blood”
The story of Modi-inspired anger begins in Gujarat in 2002, during the tenth year after the destruction of the Babri Masjid. The tale is told by Revati Laul in her ‘Anatomy of Hate.’ The author begins with describing the VHP, the Sangh Parivar, as “A Hindu revivalist group that was designed to harness anger” (The Anatomy of Hate, by Revati Laul, Westland Publications, Chennai, 2018, pg. 12). She analyses carefully how hatred and anger spread, and get planted into new hearts.
On 28 February 2002 the Sabarmati Express carrying VHP volunteers to Ayodhya was halted at Godhra, a Muslim-majority area, and set on fire. Fifty-nine of the passengers perished in the fire. It was a great tragedy, undoubtedly. But what followed was a World Record. Violence broke out all over Gujarat, the homeland of Mahatma Gandhi, in fierce response. A headline in ‘Sandesh’ read thus, “Blood for blood” (Laul 3-4). The movement looked as though State-sponsored. It sounded like the ‘Surgical strike’ claim or Balakot boast of our own days. The cry heard everywhere was, “They should all be cut to pieces.” A very large number of Muslims were killed in the cruellest fashion, many burnt alive (Ibid 7).
Many Perpetrators Were Tools in Hindutva Hands
Most activists were tools in the hands of the Right Wing strategists. Revati Laul makes it abundantly clear that, in many cases, the young perpetrators of violence were not sure of the real issues (Ibid 12). The grievance was not theirs. There was no hatred in their hearts, it was stirred up. They had good relationship with their neighbours. Little local jealousies and annoyances were sucked into somebody else’s Larger Hatred, and they were all pulled into a mob. Tribals and Dalits were told to appropriate the grievance of the Hindutva rabble-rousers, with whom they had little in common. The VHP was visibly active. Their great leader stood in front of a temple and issued the order, “Burn those Muslims” (Ibid 15). The rest of the day was all about “maaro, kaato, aur jalao” (Ibid 18). Many Muslims were killed, and their houses burnt.
Some members of the Bhil tribe who were caught into this violent venture had their own hesitations. A few had joined the VHP, but were not sure whether they really belonged there... whether the anger that became theirs was their own. Dungar, as an insecure tribal, knew he belonged to a ‘despised group.’ He was ready to do anything to win ‘recognition’ from the higher castes. Violent activism alone could win him what he was longing for. He says, “We were told again and again at meetings that Muslims belong to Pakistan. This is Hindustan. Hindustan is for Hindus.” As time passed, he wondered whether the VHP manoeuvrings were meant merely to suit the elections (Ibid 13). Power mattered to the powerful. To the humble of origin, it was only a threat. But they too long for ‘recognition.’ Meantime anger gets rooted in new hearts.
Once the Mood is Created...
Once the mood is created, looting of Muslim shops becomes easier, ‘normal’ (Ibid 23). Police stationed nearby give the looters ample time to do whatever they want to do. Then comes the official police van, with the mandate to impose Law and Order. By that time everything is over. After a few incidents, the activists get used to the pattern. There is more of fun and benefit in looting Muslim shops than in expressing anger (Ibid 25). Then comes the fun of looting Hindu shops too, with equal benefit to the looters. It has to be done on the quiet, shifting responsibility to the neighbouring Muslims (Laul 26). Unfortunately, people are slow to learn that cruelty offered to other communities only harden the hearts of the activists, and that they in due time will do the same to their own people; that State-sponsored rowdyism and mob-lynching gradually turn State-sponsored breakdown of Law and Order...and finally no one can restore order except a Strongman. Chaos is the bridge towards Dictatorship.
Revati Laul shows how gradually things slipped in Gujarat in 2002. The activists learned that cruelty can be great fun: they would tie a poor Muslim on two bikes and drive them in opposite directions. One would boast “In my hometown they cut up fifteen or twenty of them” (Laul 26). Others would boast of greater performance. Sadism knew no limits. They had the support of highly respected people too. For example, a Head of the College department nearby would approve of the goings on. Witnesses affirm that the local BJP MLA Maya Kodnani was instigating the mob (Ibid 129). She was arrested after five years, but acquitted.
The great tragedy that Revati Laul sees is that such happenings acquire a rhythm and style of their own, and develop an internal logic independently of the protagonists and their individual personal feelings. Somebody else’s mind takes over. A mob loses its own sense, and things take an unforeseen direction. Actors lose their control over choices. Group anger is a tidal wave that has its own internal laws and patterns. It is the madness of the moment. Individuals have a personality before they become a mob (Ibid 27); then they lose their identity. Who is responsible? Certainly those who ‘planted anger’ in their hearts. But where are they when bullets come? When arrest warrants arrive?
Anger is a resource that is constantly being tapped in these days. Amit Shah boasted after filing his name for elections that his party’s Ideology is built on “Hindutva and nationalism.” Unfortunately these are being firmly planted on Anger, if we go by their external manifestations.
“Teaching a Good Lesson”
In villages, geographical position of communities is according to their caste status (Ibid 47). Dalits are pushed to the “farthest extremity.” The unexpressed idea is that they should be kept out of sight (Ibid 48). Humble members of society like the Bhils and Chharas compete to gain a minimum of recognition from the higher castes. There are times when it can be won only by harassing the Muslims. If you had a government job, of course, you would have less of anxiety (Ibid 42). Before Partition, Muslim traders were prosperous; today they have come down to lower positions. Most poor Muslims are humble labourers and have to work for Hindu landowners, whom they try their best to please (Ibid 48). The oft repeated refrain they hear is, “These Muslims should be taught a lesson” (Ibid 49).
Slogan Shouting, Trishul-Distribution
In the 1990s there came a “new wave of Hindu evangelism” (Ibid 59). Bajrang Dal began organizing weekend camps in villages, with speakers describing the terrible condition in which the Hindus are in the present times. They would shout, “Down with Muslims, children of Babur.” Others, including the tribals and Dalits, would repeat the same slogan, little knowing what it all meant. The programme proposed was to bring down the mosque at Ayodhya. For young people, all these excitements were mixed with a desire to be better placed in society (Ibid 60).
This was the ambition that made Dungar, a Bhil, to echo the slogan of his betters, “If you are a true Hindu, there is only one party for you. The BJP” (Ibid 68). He was eager to show to his bosses how he had the ability to mobilize his people. The youthful urge to display muscular power too added vim to the movement (Ibid 63). He mobilized a mighty crowd. “A new wave of militant, trishul-wielding tribal youth had signed up in thousands to defend the faith” (Ibid 68-69). The VHP-VIPs were mightily pleased. The new recruits for Bajrang Dal (whom a BJP top brass recently called “vanaras” to the shock of everyone) were given shiny trishuls. After the priest recited some incantations, each recruit was made to repeat, “I will protect all Hindus. I will protect the holy cow—our mother...” The priest cautioned the enthusiasts that the trishuls were “poison-tipped,” that it was meant against Muslims, especially those transporting cows (Ibid 92).
The “Invisible Hands” of the VHP
In a few days, Dungar could boast of having saved 15 cows from different owners (Ibid 92). His image went up among the upper caste Hindutva leaders. He was making a mighty effort to shake off the pejorative connotation that the name Bhil, Adivasi, Tribal had in society, which hurt him immensely. He was trying might and main to establish a non-tribal ancestry (Ibid 69). Low self-esteem, the sense of insecurity linked to a lower caste feeling had been pursuing him for years. His support of the Sangh Parivar was aimed at upgrading himself (Ibid 70). As a Bhil he was embarrassed about his own culture and language, and was proud of his newly acquired Hindu identity; but at the same time it was the cause of embarrassment. After all, he wasn’t sure whether he really belonged there. For, the Bhils are not Hindus (Ibid 73).
Then, suddenly everything changed. He was offered a good job in a tribal welfare office. It seemed good to affirm his tribal identity from which he was trying to run away. He could help fellow-Bhils with government grants and take a commission in addition (Ibid 90). He began frantically looking for a tribal certificate. VHP’s “invisible hands” helped him (Ibid 91). Dungar set up the Vanvasi Kalyan Sanghatan affirming his tribal identity, combined with Ghar Chalo Abhiyan, which was an invitation to return to the Hindu fold. Identifying with the VHP gave him an acceptable public face (Ibid 91).
Driving Permanent Fear into Minds
Locally, they were casual incidents that led to the great flare-up after the Godhra tragedy. But once it started, more than 15 districts of Gujarat worked like “one body mass. One fever. One ball of hate.” The task was to “drive a sense of permanent fear into the minds of Muslims.” Many anti-Muslim activists were no more than tools (Ibid 107-08). Some of them even joined the NGOs doing relief work soon after the great destruction. Pranav, for example, was only afraid that the Hindu leaders would resent the service he was rendering to the Muslims (Ibid 117). He feared especially the Sangh Parivar. And yet, there was so much to be done with 25,000 people in relief camps (Ibid 118).
Dungar’s rioting leadership had landed him in jail. The VHP sent a lawyer to help him, to no avail. But what really worked was the threat he held out to possible witnesses when cases began coming up. Even the more daring ones among the victims preferred to remain silent for mere survival. That is India’s justice-system today! Meanwhile the VHP lawyer began to ask for a big fee. Dungar was angry at everything, now that he had appropriated the VHP anger (Ibid 123), but anger did not help him. Slowly wisdom began to dawn on the public: communities needed each other whether they were Hindus or Muslims...markets, shops, services; the refugees must return (Ibid 127). Gradually, they did return.
Diligent Inculcation of Duplicity
Aggressive propaganda makes people victims of anger (Laul 137). Agents of anger are also victims of their own anger, planted into their hearts by someone else. People learn gradually that it is good politics to pose as true Hindus and act the opposite, e.g. giving drinks, offering bribes, shifting parties, buying votes, purchasing MPs. Election officers have already seized 540 crores moving around to purchase votes, in addition to liquor, narcotics, and gold. Unfortunately, even victims turn opportunists, e.g. seeking money to give witness in behalf of their own people (Ibid 176), and inflate bills while doing relief for their own community (Ibid 179).
Simpler people are “used” as foot-soldiers to threaten, loot and kill. Practical people come to the conclusion that it is OK using religion for self-interested politics (Ibid 154-56). Identity claims are used to make people aggressive and perpetrators of crimes (Ibid 158). Party loyalists know for certain, while campaigning for the Dominant Party, that they will do nothing of what they promise (Ibid 204). They are campaigning against their convictions, and they remain loyal as long it pays. Contradictions co-exist. Principles have lost their convincing power. Values have vanished. But in good times and bad, one thing becomes clear: the Upper Castes get access to the people who matter, obtain the help they seek, find the door open to the future they desire (Ibid 104).
Make Your Choice: “War Hysteria” or “Bharatiya Parampara of Peace?”
As the elections draw near, people differ in opinion about the present situation and possible developments ahead. Some feel that there is no future for the BJP in India because there is no further space for “hate to grow”!! (Ibid 212). Others swear that what they see is not a Modi-wave, but a Modi-tsunami. A Modi-admirer, Sakshi Maharaj of BJP predicts, “This is the last election in the country.” These words sound ominous, but we are not sure what he really means. Will a Fascist type of Dictator take over? In fact, Arvind Kejriwal compares Modi to Hitler. “Hitler goons beat up people and killed them, and the police filed cases against victims.” Kejriwal ridicules the Party that claims to be the guardians of Bharatiya Sanskriti. He asks, ‘does the Gita or Ramayana teach violence against Muslims?’ Referring to Modi’s Party, he says, “The party is an army of scoundrels, blackguards, and goons.”
I.P.Singh, the former State spokesperson for the BJP in UP, on the contrary, has suddenly turned an enemy to Modi. This is Modi’s New India! Singh scowls, “Two Gujarati thugs are fooling the Hindi heartland.” Modi, on the contrary, revels over his achievement in Balakot. Addressing a crowd in Odisha he shouts, “Pakistan is still counting the bodies, and here they are asking for proof.” Imran Khan is getting anxious about India’s election-related “War Hysteria.” In fact, the whole world is worrying about growing violence in India: within and at the borders. Fifty members of the European Parliament wrote to Modiji asking him not to use pellet guns on crowds, and have expressed their concern about the misuse of AFSPA and PSA. There has been 28% increase in communal incidents.
Congress warns people against the PM’s “muscular politics.” Pakistan considers Modi’s war-hype and postures quixotic. In any case, anger and violence have become the national song today. Aggressive attitudes are being pumped into the national bloodstream. “The nation’s blood is boiling,” Modi cried. Rajnath Singh has been justifying his tantrums. Amit Shah wants India to join the club of America and Israel who pay back rivals in equal measure. No wonder, violence and anger have become part of our collective culture so fast. More than 33% of sitting MPs have criminal charges against them. When law-makers become regular law-breakers, the nation begins to move downhill.
Rahul’s anxiety is that Modiji and his cohorts are consistently cultivating the “killer instinct” in Indians, and implanting a vengeful attitude. Consistent anger, Rahul says, is not part of the Indian character. Ashoka deeply regretted his acts of violence. Not a word of boast about his ‘surgical strike’ into Kalinga! No! Bharatiya parampara is not about revenge, it is about Karuna and Shanti! Restraint is our strength.(Published on 8th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 15)