From Tripura to Maharashtra the bitter harvest of hatred and lesson for the rulers
It is a sad picture of India of the 21st century that communal fires have erupted in States as far apart as Tripura and Maharashtra, one triggering the other and fed mostly on half-truths and hatred
Many governments in free India have reached their low point as a result of communal violence. Riots begin small but explode in no time to take on proportions that can be unimaginable. A citizenry that is otherwise mindful of law-and-order boundaries suddenly crosses all limits and it is not uncommon to see mobs attacking police, burning vehicles and taking to the streets on the slightest rumour. Violence begins on some or the other pretext or cause, real or imagined, and unless the response of the State is not immediate, clear and to the fullest against any and all sides indulging in violence, it is violence that wins and the administration that loses. That has been the history of many riots. The administrative lesson is simple: do not play with this kind of fire.
It is a sad picture of India of the 21st century that communal fires have erupted in States as far apart as Tripura and Maharashtra, one triggering the other and fed mostly on some half-truths and a lot of hatred that has been suffused into the political system. Tripura’s response has been shocking. By booking over 100 journalists and lawyers under the stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the BJP-ruled State is covering its failure to control majoritarian violence with action to control reporting of the violence, as the Editors’ Guild of India has correctly pointed out.
In Maharashtra, the situation is different. The communal disturbances in Amravati and some other districts of the State began with protests against reported incidents in Tripura. The violence that followed poses a new challenge to the State government, which has been running an experiment in a unique confluence of non-BJP forces glued together to contain an increasingly successful and arrogant BJP. Reports over the weekend indicated continued tension, protests and stray violence, which is not good news at all in a volatile atmosphere made worse by sectarian forces to foment trouble and present the picture, as the BJP has been trying to, of a coalition that is unable to govern.
Yet, it is the government of the day, led in this case by Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena, that is in charge. He is responsible for outcomes, irrespective of the political forces ranged against him. It is the duty and responsibility of the government to not take this rioting lightly and to put down disturbances with a single-minded devotion before the fire spreads. Any delay in responding with all the resources at its command will be suicidal as violence can spiral out of control, particularly with the opposition working overtime to discredit the government. Already, a four-day curfew has been imposed and internet services have been restricted -- a good response in these times.
The State government will do well further to take some lessons from the late former Maharashtra Chief Minister A R Antulay, much discredited for alleged scams but a well-informed barrister who knew how to keep his administration in check. He was once at a meeting with the Chief Secretary when news came in of some violence in Bhiwandi. He asked the Chief Secretary to go straight from the meeting to the spot, vesting in him all powers of the Chief Minister, and ordering him not to come back till the violence was stopped and the situation normalised. That violence was not heard of beyond that day.
Maharashtra is right now going through some challenging times. A former State home minister is behind bars. A former police commissioner of Mumbai is absconding. All this amid the fact that the alliance that has taken power in the State – Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv-Sena, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party and the Indian National Congress – has put up a stiff political challenge to the BJP.
The BJP had taken it as a given that it would return to power and reinstall its nominee Devendra Fadvanis as the Chief Minister with the Shiv Sena relegated to a poor second partner. Events turned dramatically. The BJP hasn’t been able to digest the fact that the Shiv-Sena saw through the game of being gobbled up, demanded its fair share of power and eventually discarded the BJP to snatch power with new partners in tow. The BJP and its sympathisers hate this; they cling to any straw to put the State government down.
With the three-decade long Shiv Sena-BJP partnership broken, the Shiv Sena has come up as one of the fiercest critics of the BJP. This is a political development of some significance. Two parties which have risen on Hindutva politics are now at loggerheads, presenting interesting insights into what friends-turned-foes can do to expose each other. As the Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut once said in the Rajya Sabha, with Union Home Minister Amit Shah seated across him in the House: “We don’t need a certificate in patriotism from anyone … The school (Hindutva) that you study in, we have been the headmasters there.”
The Maharashtra communal differences have to be seen in the light of this tension. The communal divide has sought to be pushed in the State again and again since the BJP lost out on sitting in government in the financial capital of India, Mumbai. Consider the communal commentary from some sections when two sadhus and their driver were killed in a place called Palghar, when what had happened was a case of mob reaction to saffron-clad travelers who were rumoured to be child lifters. Over 270 were arrested in the case and seven chargesheets were filled eventually. Or consider the divide sought to be created in one of the most harmonious of work places – the Hindi film industry. A communal divide has no place here but there has been attempts to create one. The case of Aryan Khan plays into a game to demonise Bollywood.
The result on the ground is a tinderbox. More fuel is being added to it, and we know not when it may explode, taking with it dreams of a strong, vibrant, plural India that grows to become a developed nation and makes its mark on the global stage.
(The writer is a journalist and a faculty member at SPJIMR. Views are personal)
(Syndicate: The Billion Press)