The two aspects that stand out as Narendra Modi is set to complete his term as Prime Minister is the exclusive focus he has brought to bear on electoral results and perception-management.
Politics for him, much or most of it, means electoral victories and most of his governance appears reduced to managing perception by generating narratives, mostly fictitious and based on misplaced facts. The current regime under Modi`s leadership firmly believes that if perceptions are managed, the rest is all just a matter of detail and mostly inconsequential. This in a sense has been the mantra of governance under Modi to manage all differences of opinion and the way to achieve electoral victories.
When the Rohith Vemula incident took place in the University of Hyderabad, it was not about why he was pushed to the brink but that he was not a Dalit but an OBC, as if an OBC committing suicide did not matter.
When the incidents in JNU came to light, it was based on fabricated videos but succeeded in creating a narrative about JNU being anti-national and thereby creating social support for the unilateral steps the current Vice Chancellor took since then. Just before the elections in Uttar Pradesh, Demonetisation was unleashed in a surgical strike style with close-to-midnight announcement accompanied by a tirade against the rich and the corrupt. While black money remained untouched and got back to the banks, it yielded electoral dividends to Mr. Modi.
Now, as we are inching closer to the general elections in 2019, perceptions have to be created and narratives have to be managed and this time around it is about the urban naxal, and the series of arrests based on alleged letters that are being discovered on a daily basis.
Decoding urban Naxals
First, we need to decode the link between incidents at Bhima-Koregaon, and the Maoists. This is set to recast the anti-Dalit attacks that took place by the Hindutva forces, to argue that those involved in the protests in Bhima-Koregaon incident were not Dalits but Maoists. Last time with Rohith Vemula it was not Dalit but OBC, now it’s not Dalit but Maoists.
At a second layer, very intriguingly, it was discovered in course of investigating the Maoist-Bhima Koregaon link, the references to a possible plot to assassinate the prime minister. This for the first time has been linked to social activists working as part of various civil rights organisations. There is a further story of mafia-style money exchanging between these identified activists and unidentified Naxals. Such botched up stories always exploit the ambiguity that exists in public domain. The fact that it is an `unidentified` Naxal lends credibility to the fact that it is a dangerous threat.
This is not the first time that it has been alleged that Narendra Modi`s life is under threat. It was a similar narrative that was generated with Ishrat Jahan case that is still pending in courts and many human rights activists claiming it to be a fake encounter and that Ishrat Jahan was a college going student with no known links to any terrorist organisation.
This relation between Dalit-Maoist-threat-to-Modi in a sense frames a hidden narrative of alleged conspiracies to ‘end Modi-Raj’. It also frames an impending threat to the ‘unity and integrity of the nation’. The threat is made graver because those involved in terror related activities are not those armed in remote forests but those living in urban and middle class localities in the city and those who look and speak like middle class professionals.
The sense of threat is sought to be multiplied by claims of violent activities in the cities by the educated middleclass professionals, very much like the educated Jihadi terrorists in Europe. It is thereby claimed that Varavara Rao is appointed to negotiate a weapons deal, and Sudha Bharadwaj is supposed to carry money to be paid to a ‘comrade’. ‘Urban Naxal’ sums up the impending threat to ‘New India’, a possible conspiracy against a developed global brand that Modi is working towards for India.
Finally, no story is ever complete when BJP directly and possibly other Sangh organisations indirectly are involved without a reference to the Muslims. Here comes Gautam Navlakha, a civil rights activist who has been working on issues related to democratic rights including rights violation of radical-left activists but more importantly, he also has evinced keen interest all through his career on violations in Kashmir. This is yet another layer to the narrative, Dalits-linked to Maoists-linked to the plot to kill the Prime Minister, which is in turn linked to the Jihadi activities in Kashmir.
The fact that Kashmir kept simmering in these years unabated since Modi took over the reins will lend in popular imagination credibility to the way it gets linked to Dalits and then the Maoists. In fact, since the days of Rohith Vemula and the crisis in JNU, there have been purported attempts to link issues of Dalit assertion with the Muslims and then Kashmir.
Even Jignesh Mevani, during the Gujarat elections was alleged to have got funding from Jihadi groups. Dalit-Muslim-Left has been the new other that the BJP style campaign has been attempting to create for some time now. To make the threat more palpable it was not armed Maoists but urban naxals was invoked, which also poses a grave threat to the emergent developed ‘New India’.
Just in case people cannot figure out how these urban looking, middle class individuals can create a mayhem it is figuratively clarified by invoking ‘Kashmir type situation’ and ‘Rajiv-Gandhi style killing’, which invokes the imageries of an educated suicide bomber, and possibly with some appeal to those living South of Vindhyas.
Hindutva politics is squarely based on the idea of a Hindu community that is under constant threat from one corner or the other. Without fear there cannot be a political culture of unquestioning trust and faith. Without a sense of being short changed by first history and then by designs to bring down the ‘New India’, there cannot be a nationalist fervour and high pitched temper maintained for too long.
The narrative therefore again plays up the same old card that was played in building brand Modi in Gujarat. Instead of questioning what Modi achieved in the last four years, the thrust should be on people extending unquestioned support. Here the very act of questioning becomes anti-national, and a way of doubting your nationalist credentials.
To squarely establish this recent narrative of ‘urban naxal’, police picked up the most well-known and visible activists who have been associated with some of the marginalised communities in India. The threat is much graver when it is posed by those in India than those that come from the `outside`.
Dr. Ajay Gudavarthy teaches at Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi