Aisa bhashanbaji ka kya matlab hai? Woh to Hindustan ka shahenshah hi hain. Chahe to woh yeh qatl rok sakta hain, jaise ek raat mein notebandi kiya tha. ("What is the meaning of this sort of speechification? He is the king of Hindustan. If he wants he can stop these killings, just as he imposed note ban in a single night.")
-- Jalaluddin, father of Junaid Khan, 16, who was lynched on a train near Delhi, at Khandawli village in Faridabad district of Haryana.
"It can no longer be classified as mere intolerance. It is the emergence and establishment of an oppressive regime that literally wants to do way with the minorities of India and proclaim Hindu Rashtra as conceived by the founders of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)."
-- Justice Rajinder Sachar, retired Chief Justice of the Delhi Hig Court, to Frontline .
THESE two statements made within a gap of two days broadly underscore the portents of the contemporary social and political context in India marked by a spate of lynching of members of the Muslim community across different States with the active connivance of governments at the Centre and in the States concerned. Jalaluddin’s outpouring came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi used his participation at the centenary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat on June 29 “to express pain and anger” at the sectarian developments, especially the “murders in the name of gau bhakti ” (reverence for the cow). Jalaluddin, whose teenaged son was lynched by a mob which taunted him as “beef eater”, pulled his beard, and trampled on his skull cap before stabbing him to death, only saw platitudinous rhetoric in this so-called expression of pain and anger. He put it straight: just as Modi imposed demonetisation in one stroke, he can put an end to lynchings in the name of gau bhakti if he wants to. The unstated element in Jalaluddin’s lament clearly points towards how the Prime Minister and his political structure, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the RSS-led Sangh Parivar, are colluding with the perpetrators of the lynching spree.
Justice Sachar’s pained observation came on the day thousands of people across 17 cities of India, including the national capital, gathered to protest against the targeted lynching of Muslims, with the slogan “Not in my name”. The 93-year-old former Chief Justice headed a committee set up in 2005 to study the condition of the Muslim community in India, which resulted in the preparation of a comprehensive report on its social, economic and educational status. The report suggested concrete measures to improve their lot.
Justice Sachar told Frontline that the government at the Centre had not only turned a blind eye to most of the salutary recommendations made in the report but was also promoting and facilitating a social and political structure aimed at trampling even the minimal rights and privileges enjoyed by the minority community.
Indeed, it was on the day between the “Not in my name” protests and Jalaluddin’s anguished comment that Modi came up with his “expression of pain and anger about developments that have taken place in India”. Jalaluddin’s observation about the lack of sincerity and absence of positive intent in the Prime Minister’s statements to take concrete measures and live up to his own pronouncements is not an isolated case. Scores of social and political observers have made similar observations while analysing similar statements made by Modi in the past. The brutal lynching of yet another cattle trader in the eastern State of Jharkhand almost at the same time when Modi was holding forth in the western State of Gujarat also shows how Modi and his associates in the BJP are not ready to walk the talk in terms of protecting the minorities from the perpetrators of violence in the name of love for the cow.
Cow bhakti violence In the past three years, Modi has referred to the barbaric assaults in the name of cow protection only thrice. Each time, the references were made only after public sentiment had built up to such levels that the government’s publicity managers and the BJP leadership realised that further silence would damage the personal and political image of Modi and his government . Equally significantly, in each of these references there was no specific condemnation of the perpetrators of the attack or specific individual condolences offered to the victims. All the references were essentially rhetorical. The first reference came during the campaign for the Bihar Assembly election in October 2015. Eight days before that comment was made, on September 28, 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was killed by a lynch mob at Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. The mob barged into his house alleging that he had killed a cow and stored its meat in his refrigerator. The reference, of course, was not directly to the killing but was a roundabout and platitudinous one that merely contained the exhortation that Hindus and Muslims need to fight poverty together. Perceptions at that time were that the electoral climate in Bihar was turning against the Hindutva forces on account of the outrage caused by Dadri and other such incidents, and Modi was attempting a limited damage control.
The second reference to “cow bhakti” violence came when the BJP and its governments as well as organisational associates suffered damage to their political image. This was after the incidents at Una, Gujarat, in July 2016 where four Dalits were flogged for killing a cow. A video of the incident went viral, rousing public indignation not only in India but in several parts of the world. Modi’s reference at that time seemed to be a bit more direct and concrete. He stated: “I have seen some people who indulge in anti-social activities for the whole night, but wear the garb of gau rakshak s during the day.” He said he knew that 70 to 80 per cent of the so-called gau rakshak s were criminals and directed officials to open crime dossiers on these anti-social elements.
In the third reference, on June 29, Modi increased the drama quotient even further. His pronouncements were as follows: “I want to express my pain and anger about developments in India. The country that never killed an ant. The country that fed stray dogs roaming around. The country that fed fish in the ocean. The country in which a man like Bapu taught us the lesson of ahimsa. What has happened to us? Is this my country, the country of Bapu? What are we doing?”
Responding to this seemingly impassioned statement, Akhilesh Yadav, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and president of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), told Frontline that while the theatrics were of a high order in these statements, they gave a rather poor picture of Modi’s own governance record. “He has been ruling this country for the last three years proclaiming that achche din [good days] are here, and, now, he himself turns around and asks what has happened to the country? This could have been treated as a ludicrous political joke had it not been for the fact that the things he is referring to are heartbreakingly tragic and could literally debilitate the nation.” Akhilesh Yadav wanted to know what had happened to the so-called criminal dossiers that Modi had ordered to be prepared on gau rakshak s one year ago. “Obviously, nothing has been done. It is nothing short of a cruel gimmick, which ultimately helps the so-called gau rakshak s and other Hindutva fringe elements run amok causing grievous loss of lives and property. Make no mistake, the BJP leadership, including its Chief Ministers, are part of this Hindutva fringe facilitation.”
Developments in Jharkhand on the day of Modi’s speechification at Sabarmati, including the lynching of a cattle trader, Alimuddin Ansari, in the Giddi area of Ramgarh near the State capital, Ranchi, as also the cases filed with regard to the incident underscore the point made by Akhilesh Yadav. Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das condemned the killing formally, but the cases filed have some interesting and devious twists and turns. The primary case is against “at least 10 men who intercepted Ansari’s van near Ranchi and attacked him”. But, there is also a parallel case, which has the parameters to investigate the role of Ansari and his family in the alleged transportation and sale of “prohibited bovine meat”. The second case has also set the premise that the attack on Ansari could be a consequence of individual or trade disputes between the victim and the suspects. “It is anybody’s guess, given the track record of the current BJP government as to which of these cases would gather greater investigative momentum,” said Supriyo Bhattacharya, general secretary of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the principal opposition in the State.
Talking to Frontline over phone from Ramgarh, Mustafa Ansari, secretary of the village masjid committee, said harassment in the name of cattle had become an everyday affair in these parts and the political establishment was certainly part of this torture by other means.
The statements made by other BJP leaders, including Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Union Minister Giriraj Singh, justifying gau rakshak violence and asserting that if people wanted to stay in India they would have to abstain from eating beef, have to be seen in this context. Another stark pointer to the current context has come in the form of the cancellation of the annual Eid Milan of the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind, one of the largest Muslim organisations in the country, citing the heightened communal atmosphere in the country that is making daily life extremely difficult for members of the minority community. All these add up to the establishment of a communally oppressive Hindu Rashtra regime as pointed out by Justice Sachar.
Public hanging of beef-eaters The recent proclamations made at the so-called “Hindu Rashtra” Conclave held in Goa between June 14 and 18, which sought the establishment of a formal Hindu Rashtra by 2023 and the public hanging of beef-eaters and “seculars” (sic) who support them, is also relevant in this context. It is claimed that some 100 Hindutva organisations attended the conclave, organised by Hindu Janajagriti Samiti (HJS) and the Sanatan Sanstha. Members of the Sanatan Sanstha are among those accused of the killing of the rationalists Narendra Dabolkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi. The conclave also called for a ban on cattle slaughter, declaration of the cow as the national animal, a ban on all religious conversions, and construction of a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya. At the conclave, Sadhvi Saraswati, considered to be a rising star in the Hindutva circuit, calling to mind the firebrand speaker Sadhvi Rithambara of the Babri Masjid demolition days, exhorted the government to go in for public hanging of beef-eaters. “Whoever harms the cow abuses the country and can only be termed as our enemy. Those politicians who are supporting the consumption of beef in the country and those who see it as a status symbol should be publicly executed by the government. Protection of the cow is our duty. We should apply the same laws that are applied to homicide cases against people found butchering cattle,” she said.
Although the official Sangh Parivar, including the RSS and the BJP, have distanced themselves from the conclave and its proclamations, its message has had some resonance among many Hindutva groups, including sections of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Talking to Frontline in Ayodhya, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, president of the VHP-led Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, a trust with the proclaimed objective of constructing the Ram temple in Ayodhya, said that while a formal declaration of Hindu Rashtra would be a good idea, the country was already moving in that direction informally under the leadership of mahapurush (great men) Modi and Yogi Adityanath. Das explained that Hindu Rashtra as conceived by “margadarshak mahapurush” (guiding great men) Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar was a geographical and socio-cultural entity where people’s lives were defined by the parameters of race, religion, culture, language and the way of life including food habits. “Whoever accepts the preponderance of the Hindu Rashtra tenets on these parameters can stay on in the country, whatever religion they practise and whichever God they pray to. Those who do not accept this preponderance would fall out of the pale of real national life. What you are seeing in different parts of the country is the process towards this socio-cultural filtering,” Nritya Gopal Das said, adding that the political domination of nationalist forces in the country was a key factor in this process.
According to a number of Sangh Parivar activists in Ayodhya and Lucknow, the resolution of the Goa Hindu conclave marking 2023 as the year to proclaim the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra and Modi’s own repeated references to 2022 as the year to create a “New India” are not accidental and must be seen in conjunction.
The year 2022 would mark the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Hindutva-Hindu Rashtra thesis propounded by Savarkar. It is not for nothing that these two years have become talking points after the BJP’s phenomenal victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in February/March.
Nearly 23 years ago, in 1994, after the BJP faced a shock defeat in the Uttar Pradesh election the previous year, Nritya Gopal Das’ former associate, Mahant Ramchandra Paramhans, told this writer that the project for Hindutva hegemony was a perennial work in progress for the Sangh Parivar, which would continue irrespective of gains and reverses. “We have set our sights on the final goal, and the main path through which we sought to reach the goal was by creating a pan-Hindu political identity. Many symbols, including that of the Ram Janmabhoomi and the Ram temple, came up in this struggle. Time and again we faltered, especially in the face of casteist identity assertion of Dalits and Other Backward Class (OBC) communities. All these reverses, and gains too, are taken in our stride, keeping in mind the final goal.”
Evidently, sections of the Hindutva combine perceive that they are near that goal, especially in the context of significant rallying of many dominant OBC communities behind the Hindutva agenda, both politically and socially.
Members of some OBC communities have been identified as leaders of the attack in a significant number of incidents relating to cow vigilantism, including lynching.
Against this background, what merit is there in the exhortation of Bapu’s name and ideals from Sabarmati? In the United States, a country Modi has visited several times after becoming Prime Minister, the fundamental guiding principle of governance, the Bill of Rights, asserts a Natural Contract between the people and the government through mandate, to be ruled and to rule in order to attain the gross pursuit of all happiness in people’s lives.
The proponents of Hindu Rashtra, and those who believe that they are close to establishing it, however, have no faith in the gross pursuit of all happiness in all people’s lives. The series of lynchings and the oppressive social climate imposed on minorities underscore this appalling and calamitous violation of rules and propriety of democratic governance.