At the time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was hosting US President Donald Trump, the capital city was also simultaneously witnessing an unprecedented bloodshed and destruction that it had not seen in nearly four decades since 1984 Sikh Riots. This persecution that began on the night of February 23, and continued in the broad day light over the next three days was communally driven where Hindu-Nationalists or Saffron-Supremacists targeted predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods and houses.
Innocent people were beaten, lynched and burnt alive, properties looted and burnt, while Mosques were vandalised and torched as well. These acts were resoundingly similar to the troubling historical events, published in The New York Times on November 11, 1938, titled ‘Germany Nazis smashing, looting and burning Jewish shops and temples until Goebbels calls halt’ or ‘Nazi Mobs loot, burn, murder - Night of terror for Jews in Reich’ that appeared in the Daily News.
Much of the violence in Delhi was charged with the war-cry in the form of loud chants of ‘Jai Shree Ram (Hail Lord Ram!)’, that incidentally echoed to the similar chants heard in the Indian Parliament while celebrating the landslide victory of the Saffron-Supremacist government in May 2019. The intent to heckle the elected Muslim leaders was similar, only the scale and its darkness was different and flagitious on the streets of New Delhi.
The scenes of criminalised youth installing saffron flags on a mosque in Delhi after desecrating it were reminiscent of the Babri Masjid demolition and ensuing events that resulted in nearly 2000 fatalities, with the majority being Muslims. Some reports have also found parallels to the Godhra Riots of 2002 that happened under the watchful eyes of Modi as first-time Gujarat Chief Minister.
While the political and social landscape of 2002 is vastly different from 2020, Modi’s positioning at the helm in both instances is not different and neither is his response strategy. He follows his textbook standard operating procedure (SOP) – wait for a few days until the rioters are done with their carnage, then call for peace and harmony, but never condemn the violence or the rioters, let alone condoling for the victims’ loss of lives or sympathising with the families of the bereaved victims.
In addition, this SOP includes a celebratory tactical diversion — case in point, the Godhra riots were immediately followed by a much controversial Gaurav Yatra celebrating the ‘pride of Gujarat’ while the victims were still mourning their losses in rehabilitation camps, and similarly Modi 2.0 (Delhi) is immediately followed by a calculated deflection by the announcement of quitting the social media and then later on gimmicking about celebrating Women’s Day.
In the grand scheme, Modi, who boasts of large following among the Saffron-Supremacist base, sets a dangerous precedent because in the absence of unequivocal condemnation from the supreme leader and complete silence over the loss of lives tends to legitimise the violence of the extreme members of his party, and rather appears to offer silent dog whistles for the future.
New Delhi: Victim of hate speech and a pogrom
The seriousness of hate speeches can be understood by visiting the Rwandan genocide that witnessed an estimated 1 million deaths with members of the Hutu ethnic majority killing Tutsis, a minority ethnic group. Dehumanisation of the Tutsis began with the local radio station colluding with the government where they associated Tutsis as inyenzi, or “cockroaches,” and as inzoka, or “snakes,” and called people to ‘exterminate the cockroaches.’ In many ways, the 1994 genocide was a culmination of ‘decades of hate-mongering and the indoctrination,’ what can also be argued leading up to the Delhi pogrom.
Rooted in anti-Muslim sentiment, Delhi saw the burning of nearly 92 houses, 427 shops, 500 vehicles, six warehouses, two schools, four factories, four religious places and more than 450 people having suffered injuries of various aggravations, with early estimates indicating economic loss of nearly $35 billion.
So far, 47 deaths have officially been reported with many victims being inhumanely brutalised while some bodies are also being recovered from the drains.
It has been called from anti-Muslim brutality, communal riots, Delhi carnage, state-sponsored genocide, Delhi pogrom, New Delhi riots or to a combination of a classic riot leading into a pogrom, as per Ashutosh Varshney, a Brown University professor and Director of Center for Contemporary South Asia.
While people grapple with appropriating the right label to suit country’s collective conscious, there is little doubt that these terrorising events are an outcome of a calculated and systematic assault on India’s pluralistic values, its social and secular fabric, and that springs from the politics of fear, hate and polarisation championed by the Saffron-Supremacist forces over decades.
Therefore, arguably referring to it merely as a riot with two sides clashing for survival is simply being an apologist and downplaying the systemic nature of violence, consistent disenfranchisement of the minority community, and critically ignoring the current political environment that has in fact bred all of it.
Disturbing accounts highlighted direct police involvement in brutalising young Muslim men while taunting them to sing national anthem while being visibly injured. Police inaction has also been called out by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bacheletor.
Further, the hate speeches such as calling Muslim immigrants as termites, sloganeering to shoot the traitors; or encouraging people to vote to electrocute Shaheen Bagh protestors or serving ultimatum to ‘clear up streets’ at any cost, given by top BJP leaders furthered the party’s agenda of instilling hate and polarisation in an already religiously-charged climate.
It will be naive and callous for anyone to assume that the pain and loss of the few Hindu lives does not deserve mention or call for sympathy but with the majority victims as Muslims, all of these point to implementing a pogrom under Modi’s flagship Make in India – where unfortunately India is truly becoming a victim of her own self.
Is India a Fascist State under Modi?
Walter Laquer in his book, ‘Fascism: past present future’, argues that fascism is not a static phenomenon, and Jason Stanley, Professor of Philosophy at Yale University suggests that the fascist politics attempts to dissociate people from reality where they are given an alternate version grounded in nationalistic viewpoint painting an imagery about the country’s decline and once glorious past, and that only a strong leader can bring it back to its ultimate glory.
Laquer also argued that ‘fascism is overtly nationalistic, militaristic, and expansionist,’ and a closer look at the Italian Fascism suggested that it found support among ‘war veterans who could not be reintegrated into civilian life and among unemployed student youths.’ Another prominent scholar Umberto Eco in 1995 developed fourteen features of fascist ideology many of which appear tailor fit with Modi’s politics. For instance, cult of tradition, anti-intellectualism, equating dissent with treason, appealing to the frustrated middle class, creating plots around the ‘other’ as if dominating the majority space if not controlled are some of his signature characteristics.
The fascists strive for absolute power, and they were not above a non-parliamentary approach to achieve this goal. With India’s current political landscape where the opposition is nearly neutered, independence of several institutions is seemingly compromised, the once called demographic dividend left unemployed with highest unemployment in decades, and a declining economy owing to the climate of fear, the question is, has Modi prepared the grounds to onslaught an Indian version of the Italian Fascist regime?
To quote Ian Fleming, “Once is a happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is enemy action,” and as Gandhi would say, ‘even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth,’ and that today is, either PM Modi is grossly incompetent to govern in the spirit of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas, Sabka Vishwas or is calculatedly malicious that we get to witness yet another pogrom under his watch.
Perhaps, it is the political yearning from the party’s ideologue, the RSS under whose marching orders Modi brandishes the extremist members of his party who openly engage in arousing anti-Muslims rhetoric and cultivates a consistent hatred in othering of the Muslim population in India.
Today, India is at a cusp of becoming a victim of either pernicious or simply an incompetent governance with compromised morale positioning amiss secular credentials leading the country. The question is, are people prepared to see India’s further weakening of its foundations and social structure?
(The writer is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Stockton University, US. Views expressed are his own)