Acts of outright cowardice being celebrated as heroism, virtue, statecraft and nationalism in BJP regime

The recent incident of Assam police killing Mounil Haque with an automatic weapon and then the photographer jumping on his body and kicking and pummelling shows that basic humanity has gone missing

Acts of outright cowardice being celebrated as heroism, virtue, statecraft and nationalism in BJP regime

Samir Nazareth

India is a land of diversity, spanning lingual, religious, climatic, dietary and what have you. In the last few years, Indian citizens have witnessed, participated in, or watched - from the safety of their silos - a kaleidoscope of brutality wrought on their brethren.

Not a week goes by when the country finds to its horror that its citizens can sink even lower in the scale of brutalism and depravity. The savagery and wickedness inflicted on Indians is not only from each other but from the Indian State and its organs, and from those in political and administrative power.

Besides the verbal abuse and insinuations from leaders and the lay, there is the abuse and misuse of power by the State through the application of draconian laws on citizens, and the physical and mental abuse that is perpetuated on citizens by others.

The Assam police killing Mounil Haque with a bullet from an automatic weapon and then Bijoy Bania jumping on his body and kicking and pummelling it is just another chapter in the long list of abuse that the country watches.

There is now a recognisable trajectory and lifecycle to the response to such egregious acts. The first is outrage from some citizens at the barbarity, then there is outrage at the outrage from other citizens because they claim that the original outrage is bigoted and selective. By then, political parties into the act. Depending on their role, no matter how ancillary, political parties play up or down the incident.

In the case of the recent incident in Assam, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) played down the incident. Today, it takes no time for an incident to get coloured with the many hues of religion, culture, history, ethnicity, and nationalism. This gives rise to alternative narratives. In all this, what is lost is basic humanity.

To understand Mounil Haques’ killing and Bijoy Bania’s actions, it is important to break down what was recorded. The travesty can be broken into nine scenes.

The first, well-armed police walking, some point their automatic weapons; a solitary policeman fleeing towards the policemen; a man with a camera fleeing immediately behind this policeman; a man wielding a stick chasing them; policemen unable to respond to the situation and instead retreating; finally one policeman kneels and shoots the man with his automatic weapon; police pounce on the man and batter him with their batons and disperse on realising he is dead; man with camera jumps on the dead body, kicks and pummels it; he is taken away but returns for a repeat.

Each sequence is alarming and raises several question: Why was the police carrying automatic weapons when even during the farmers’ protests, the police wielded batons and used tear gas to disperse the protesters? How did one policeman get separated from the main body of policemen? Why was the photographer with this policeman? Seeing the lone protester chase these two, why did the other baton wielding trained policemen get scared and not stop the man? Was there any need for a kill shot? Did the policemen need to beat the fallen individual?

The homeowner chasing the policeman and the photographer is a desperate act to preserve his home. The official photographer’s dastardly act may have been a consequence of religious hate. On the other hand, it could have been an act of a coward who suddenly finds courage because his assailant is no longer a threat or because he is now surrounded by those he assumes will protect him.

India is being bludgeoned by these acts of cowardice. These have become a social, political, governance and administrative norm. They are now celebrated as acts of heroism, virtue, statecraft and nationalism.

The Hindutva brigade’s attacks on mixed religion couples, on religious and caste minorities, are brazen and continue because the assailants know they have the backing of the government, its organs and more importantly by many sections of society. Cabinet Ministers can call Indians and Indian businesses ‘anti-national’ because they know that business houses will remain silent, fearing raids by central agencies.

Modi’s silence on issues concerning the common Indian and his unwillingness to speak to the press is seen as a leadership style. The ‘56-inch chest’ is quiet as a mouse except when in front of a servile and fawning audience.

President Biden’s observation that the Indian media is ‘better behaved’ is a statement to the outcome of the treatment of the media early in Modi’s tenure. They did not cover the protests in the US against Modi nor the embarrassment to India when PM Modi recently addressed an almost empty UNGA. Like the BJP IT cell and BJP’s supporters, they stuck to the ‘positive’ or manufactured it.

That a man as thin as a reed wielding a stick could strike fear in the police, who then kill him to deal with the situation is an unfortunate metaphor. The government fears all forms of criticism because it believes that it reduces their manufactured aura and authority. Therefore, the government comes down heavily on its opponents using the administration, police, and draconian laws.

Then the supporters of the government attack the silenced critics who are unable to defend themselves just like how Bijoy Bania attacked the dead man. They can do this because they know that they have the silent support of the government and its organs.

Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power by claiming that Indians are victims. Modi promised that he would take away the taint of victimhood and establish national pride. Unfortunately, what he has accomplished is the normalisation and glorification of cowardice.

The people, like their ruler, do not like criticism. Criticism is perceived as a personal affront and an undermining tactic. Like the ruler, the ruled behave like they are not accountable to anyone. This belief is justified. Not only are institutions that enabled accountability been made ineffective, but facts and truth have been made redundant with the manufacture and promotion of alternative facts.

The Sanskrit aphorism ‘Yatha Raja, Tatha Praja’ truly exemplifies the current situation in India.

Views are personal

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