“Incidents like Dadri and Ghulam Ali are really sad but what is the role of the Centre in them?” These are the words of Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, who finally appears to have broken his silence in this statement made to the Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika on the increasing instances of sectarian killings in the country.
The “incidents” he refers to include the mob lynching of a Muslim man over a rumour of him having eaten beef. Eating beef is not a crime in Uttar Pradesh where the murder took place. Local members of the right wing Bhartiya Janata Party, i.e. the party Mr. Modi leads, announced this “rumour” from a temple loudspeaker.
It has taken him more than a year to speak up after the first such hate killing, which resulted in the death of Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh, a 24-years-old Muslim techie in Pune. This occurred within weeks of his becoming the prime minister. He maintained similar stoic silence over virtually all other hate crimes committed by various Hindutva outfits including those affiliated with the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) whose political arm the BJP is, while choosing to tweet during this period even on local inconsequential BJP victories and even to congratulate individual players of India’s World Cup Cricket team. His silence on hate crimes has continued in the face of murders of writers and activists like Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi allegedly, again, by members of Hindutva outfits.
He has remained steadfast in his silence, until he was hit by an avalanche of writers returning their awards, including those by the Sahitya Akademi, the apex literary body of the country, which is government funded, but autonomous. He has been forced to speak when protests escalated to the extent of Dalip Singh Tiwana, an 80-year-old celebrated Punjabi writer, returning her Padma Shri, i.e. one of the highest civilian awards in the republic. The avalanche of protest made the possibility of his stoic silence unfeasible. Only then has he spoken, to a Bengali newspaper.
Now that he has spoken, apart from the fact that he has spoken, naturally, attention needs to be paid on what he has spoken. And, what he has spoken should bother the country more than his studied silence in the face of attacks and rising intolerance across the country.
This is not the first time India has seen a spurt in sectarian tension. Mr. Modi himself presided over Gujarat in 2002, when one of the nation’s worst communal pogroms that ensued after ghastly attack on a train in Godhra rocked the nation. Many will recall that his – controversial at best and partisan at worst – handling of the pogrom and riots earned him a rebuke from none other than Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India and a founder of BJP. Mr. Vajpayee had asked Mr. Modi then to follow “Rajdharma” and not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed, or religion.
Mr. Modi might claim to be sad over “incidents” like Dadri, but his actions betray both the hollowness of the claim and that he never took Mr. Vajpayee’s advice seriously. Immediately after Dadri murder, Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma pontificated on the nature of injuries, which, for him, showed that there was no desire for the mob to engage in a lynch. As if that was not enough, he also took pride in the fact that the 17-year-old daughter of the victim was not touched by the mob. Mahesh Sharma is not the first minister of the Modi cabinet to indulge in such brazen defence / legitimization of Hindutva fanaticism. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, for instance, is notorious for having exhorted the Delhi electorate to choose between Ramzades (sons of Lord Rama) and Haramzades (illegitimate children).
And, these two do not represent anomalies in the Modi cabinet, which is known for rewarding and not penalising such behaviour. One can recall how Mr. Modi had inducted Giriraj Singh, a first time Member of Parliament from Bihar, despite him facing criminal charges for allegedly delivering a hate speech that suggested that after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister his critics would be banished to Pakistan. Similarly, awarded with a ministerial berth in the Modi Cabinet was Sanjeev Baliyan, who is facing criminal charges over his role in inciting the Muzaffarnagar riots, which claimed more than 60 lives in 2013.
The writing on the wall is clear. Rioting, as well as less intense forms of communal polarization, has long been a prized weapon of politicking in India; even the so-called secular parties have employed them time and again. However, no party has ever dared to bring the associated rioters in the mainstream until now; they have been accommodated and rewarded by different means until now. The republic remembers how many of those involved in rioting against Sikhs in 1984 were rewarded, but it also remembers how even tall leaders of the Indian National Congress like Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler were made to pay a heavy political price for their alleged involvement in the riots. They had to be relegated to the fringe, and they never found their way back into the mainstream.
Even that pretence has now been done away with since the rise of rabid Hindutva politics led by Modi. The experiment that started in Gujarat when a violent murderous fringe started being accommodated in the mainstream has now become successful with the induction of riot accused ministers in the union government.
It is in this context that Modi’s self-claimed helplessness becomes a significant marker of the times to come, and not only because his claim is plain wrong. India, after all, is a Union and the Union government has a plethora of constitutional rights to intervene if state governments fail in their mandatory duty of protecting citizen life, in this case that of minorities.
Further, these provisions are not limited to the much-misused Article 356 of the Indian Constitution that allows for imposition of presidential rule in states. There is also Article 365 that authorizes the Union government to intervene in cases where state governments fail to follow its directions. Article 365 reads as follows in its entirety:
“Effect of failure to comply with, or to give effect to, directions given by the Union Where any State has failed to comply with or to give effect to any directions given in the exercise of the executive power of the Union under any directions given in the exercise of the executive power of the Union under any of the provisions of this Constitution, it shall be lawful for the President to hold that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
The writing on the wall is clear. It is not some constitutional provisions that have prevented Mr. Modi from speaking up or asking chief ministers of states showcasing increasing violence to ensure the rule of law and punish the troublemakers, most of whom are in any case from RSS that Mr. Modi himself owes allegiance to. This is why Modi’s decision not to ask even the chief ministers of states ruled by his party either alone or in alliances, never mind the ones ruled by parties in opposition, becomes tacit approval for such attacks by the erstwhile fringe.
This is exactly what Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut has exposed when he lashed out at Mr. Modi’s “sadness” over Dadri and the cancellation of a Ghazal concert by Ghulam Ali. One does not get an ally exhorting to Mr. Modi’s Godhra past everyday and here is a senior Shiv Sena leader speaking the obvious: Modi is known around the world for Godhra and this is why Shiv Sena respects him.
The irony hidden in the outburst is startling. Shiv Sena has long been the violent fringe of Hindutva politics – the violent and uncouth fringe. It was never known for lacking in guts to call anyone with any names. But then, exhorting the PM’s not so inspiring past with sound logic exposes how far the fringe has travelled.
The problem with the fringe becoming mainstream does not augur well for the future of the republic, and not just for the future of its beleaguered minorities. Once the fringe entrenches itself in power, it turns against everyone, even those instrumental in bringing it there. Experiences from recent history bear witness to this. Pakistan has learnt the lesson that no amount of pretensions can turn a faction of Taliban into a good faction without high cost.
India, too, will arrive there if the governments, both at the union and provincial levels, fail to crack down on the fringe decisively. Being sad is okay but one cannot fight crime with that; it requires prosecution and punishment for those responsible. Sadly, with ministers accused of inciting riots and delivering hate speeches, the current regime does not seem to be particularly interested in the punishment of such crimes.
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About The Author:
Mr. Avinash Pandey, alias Samar is Programme Coordinator, Right to Food Programme, AHRC. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org