As the ‘Ram Janambhoomi Movement’ began gathering steam in 80’s propelling BJP led coalition government to power after a series of communal riots across the nation. Muslims of India would develop a sort of paranoia towards Right wing political entities. In the 90’s as the communal cauldron simmered Muslims would tread on the devious path of ghettoisation giving perennial fuel to stereotypes & the caustic notion that the community is largely retrograde both in its practices & perceptions. Since, the rise of BJP as a dominant political force up until 2014 this strategy of isolationism by a large section of Muslim populace worked pretty well except during the anti- Muslim pogrom in Gujarat & the Muzzafarnagar riots. The community felt no urgency to change the status- quo. In every election a large section of Muslims would vote for the strongest party that could deny BJP power. However, a string of corruption charges against the UPA-2 government would finally change the landscape of Indian polity.
It was the sweltering summers of 2014, the Congress stood utterly obliterated. The Narendra Modi led NDA won a thumping majority on the plank of ‘Minimum government & maximum governance’ effectively burying weeks of coalition haggling that generally follows elections in India & setting a precedent for decisive mandates in future. Having languished at the nether end of various social indicators, the leverage of their votes was the only thing keeping the community relevant in India’s political game. Muslims realized for the first time that a political party could cobble up majority on its own in the lower house without their support. Following the anointment of Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister, elements in the government & the ruling party began vigorously engaging in bitter verbal diatribes & calumnious statements directed against India’s largest religious minority.
The recent spate of violence perpetrated against the Muslims bears witness to the fact that ideological fissures in India have finally begun to bleed. The cold blooded murder of two at Lathehar surely isn’t first such incident in Jharkhand. At the prominent Muslim festival of Eid-Al- Adha the communal cauldron was simmering across Ranchi with sporadic clashes between two communities. It was the same time when campaigning in the strategically decisive state of Bihar was in full swing. Many political analysts propounded conspiracy theories that the violence was deliberately orchestrated to polarize communities in neighboring Bihar. Whether this gory incident proves to be a hate crime or a case of looting is better left to investigation agencies. However, the polarized reaction it has elicited is a clear indication that there’s something grievously wrong here.
A Barkha Dutt vs Anupam Kher is one thing, in fact for a healthy democracy varied opinions are always a welcome (this surely isn’t some platitude). They help keep a check on each other & never allow one ideology to call the shots each time. However, when occurrences like the Dadri lynching & the aforementioned murders easily incite communal passions & when the popular media is conspicuously partisan in reporting such issues, it is then evidently clear that the nation is treading on a sectarian minefield.
The JNU fiasco beseeches immediate attention as it shows us that the ideological divide is increasingly pitting people against each other. The heavy handedness of the government in pressing sedition charges against students is a testament to the fact that ideological fault lines in India can now easily foment revulsion between divergent groups. In the whole JNU row one thing rarely admitted is, Umar Khalid despite being in a situation similar to Anirban Bhattacharya was regularly denigrated by certain bigoted media outlets as a Muslim fundamentalist bent on undermining India’s integrity. Such perverted canards being spun by prominent news channels & their histrionic anchors is no more a poor joke but a menacing threat to India’s already fragile social cohesion. The damage it has inflicted upon the nation’s psyche may turn out to be irreparable. Once suspicion breeds in a society, once mistrust seeps between communities & once people perceive each other as threat, certainly that nation is damned.
Back in the 20th century, Mussolini & Hitler used ultra nationalism to silence voices of dissent. Leaders like Stalin, Mao & Tito ruled with an iron fist over their people literally running police states. The nature of right- wing politics (& even the far- left) is such that it always needs an adversary to rally people towards their agenda. Nothing serves them better than a ‘malevolent’ antagonist invoked as a bogey which can easily be cut to size when need be, no better examples than the Jews of Nazi Germany & the Rohyinna Muslims of Myanmar. What is happening in India post 2014 general elections isn’t an imbroglio rather a cyclic phenomenon where various political ideologies wrest to seize control. The subtext is: people who barely have any stake in this game of power & supremacy end up bleeding the most.
(This post also appeared on HuffPost India)