Beginnings of a regressive era

Vigilante mobs now patrol India’s streets in search of cattle-traders, beef sellers, even normal bearded men doing their own thing to subject them to humiliating interrogation


Sanjay Jha

Sometimes sinister developments leave a perceptible pattern, it is not an one-off casual happenstance. It is deliberate, like warped serial killers who like the police chase. They portend the things to come, giving us sufficient opportunity to prepare ourselves. We ignore the red flags at our own peril. In June 2014, IT executive Mohsin Shaikh was lynched in Pune on suspicion of posting a morphed photo on Facebook. Pune is often referred to have an unassuming unhurried population comprising largely of India’s aspirational middle class. I grew up there. It boasted of its social harmony and genteel hospitality towards all. It bore no animus towards anyone allowing for seamless assimilation into its society. Shaikh’s death was a nasty jarring reminder that things were changing.

The murder received cursory media attention as India remained mesmerised by Modi’s stentorian rhetoric and the incandescent promise of acche din. The Indian media for the most part was practising how it would do the salsa with the BJP for the rest of its tenure. But the techie’s murder was symptomatic of the emerging miasma of hate and violence about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting nation still hallucinating about the golden wand that the supposed King Midas now possessed. But by the time Modi’s tenure came to an end, India had witnessed a bloody orgy of lynching deaths (approximately 45), sadistically videotaped for social media consumption. It was vicious and vomit-inducing horror.

This was Indian society gone rogue, unhinged, its twisted narrative that promoted sectarian distrust mutating into a frightening poltergeist. But other than a few media channels, NGO’s, social activists and political parties, most kept mum. Thus, it was hardly surprising when Jayant Sinha, a first-time MP and a central minister, with prepossessing Rolls Royce credentials, actually garlanded a lynch-accused out on bail in Jharkhand. Normally that ought to have created moral revulsion and national outrage but India remained unaffected with many actually justifying Sinha’s conduct as understandable. As usual, India’s PM said nothing. And silence usually means assent. India simply ‘moved on’.

In June 2019, a young man was repeatedly thrashed in Jharkhand, while a hysterical mob shot a video of the morbid slaughter, done in fine instalments amidst laugher, abuse and a call to repeat Jai Shri Ram. Tabrez Ansari died a few days later. The pattern is familiar, reminiscent of Shaikh in Pune five years ago. We ignored it then, letting the gremlin out of the bottle. This time it might become an implacable Frankenstein, inflammable and out of control. It already has. Ansari was not the only one subjected to the traumatic torture. In cosmopolitan Mumbai, a Muslim taxi-driver was similarly harassed. There is now an aggressive majoritarian strain that is palpable. They are driven by visceral religious bigotry and have begun to see Muslims as virtual intruders in their homeland.

The “Othering” of the minority Muslims, the seminal driving force of the Hindutva Project, is maturing and headed towards a diabolical consummation. A few days ago, a retired Army captain who fought for his country was mercilessly beaten to death in Amethi, following an altercation with local thugs. His name was Amanullah. The conquest of susceptible minds has been done with methodical seeding of distrust. In a shocking instance of the raging anti-Muslim narrative, a man requested Zomato for delivery of his parcel only by a Hindu. A gobsmacked social media fought back but the hate confetti has found a large, willing audience. It is not going away anywhere in a hurry.

Vigilante mobs now patrol India’s streets in search of cattle-traders, beef sellers, even normal bearded men doing their own thing to subject them to humiliating interrogation. They are the new parallel institution for prompt retribution of wounded religious sentiments. Their savagery is indescribably horrible. But they receive abundant political benedictions from the immoral lawmakers in the BJP for whom they are like their quasi-political campaigners. For the BJP, lynching deaths has become the slow-burning communal cauldron that keeps the religious temperature on a boil, interspersed easily across the country, and always convenient to blame as just another sporadic violence without any political connotations. It is a fool-proof game-plan. It is low-risk and easily executable. It attracts transitory media attention and public scrutiny. It sustains local distrust and animosities for a considerable period. This strategy has perpetually paid rich electoral dividends for the BJP. Lynching has already become part of the new normal; it is standard operating procedure from the right-wing manual

The physical ghettoisation of Muslims in Juhapura locality in Ahmedabad is part of the much lionised Gujarat model. What we are seeing now is psychological apartheid on a pan-India scale.

As India celebrates its 72nd Independence Day, it is obvious that it has slipped into a dark abyss from which a return will be a herculean endeavour. The Idea of India is being trashed as a liberal elite construct which Modi has caricatured as the intellectual playground of the Khan Market gang. The BJP has systematically emasculated the Indian Constitution; it began with the burlesque dismissal of secularism as pseudo-secularism and minority appeasement. Today secularism inspires impertinent sniggers and is treated disdainfully like persiflage. Nothing can be sadder for a country with such sublime diversity. Socialism, liberalism, tolerance and progressiveness are next in line. India is seeing the beginnings of a regressive era. It is not irreversible. But to ensure that we do not become a tin-pot tyrannical state and/or a religious theocracy, the Congress will have to galvanise the people of India into believing in their counter-alternative vision of Mahatma Gandhi’s foundational dreams marinated with that of a dynamic modern inclusive democratic society. It won’t be easy. Because in the age of post-truth, fake news and social media machinations, reality remains in an elliptical haze and history becomes a collateral casualty. But, what has to be done must be done.

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Published: 16 Aug 2019, 8:30 PM