“SO Mohammed, Pardon me for guessing your name, but you’ve got to admit the odds are pretty good that it’s Mohammed.” Fixer, the self-anointed saviour of the world in comic artist Frank Miller’s hugely controversial “propaganda” graphic novel Holy Terror, addresses a member of a group of terrorists with these words. This speech balloon is presented as a key remark in the novel and sets its totally prejudiced and anti-Islam tone and tenor that brands all Muslims as terrorists. Miller, the creator of many popular comic art books, including the Batman series, had created the character of Fixer and made him the protagonist of Holy Terror for propaganda against Al Qaeda terrorism. However, the sensibility behind it was one that painted the entire Muslim community with the same brush.
Reviewing the novel on the Internet portal Comics Alliance, author David Brothers said that Holy Terror once again made him “wary of conversations that are framed as ‘Us versus Them’, where ‘Us’ is a nebulous notion of ‘Americans’ and ‘Them’ equates to ‘Muslims’.” He went on to add that “Islam is explicitly and exclusively depicted as something out of the Dark Ages, and the word ‘Al Qaeda’ isn’t mentioned until something like eighty-five pages” in the 120-page book. “As a result,” Brothers points out, “the enemy in Holy Terror is not so much the terrorist organisation, Al Qaeda, but the religion of Islam.”
Fixer’s devious role-playing in a work of fiction, however, is assuming appalling realistic dimensions in contemporary India through the shenanigans and physical onslaughts of the Hindutva combine consisting of Sangh Parivar outfits, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its associate organisations, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) , the Bajrang Dal and the Dharam Jagran Samithi. This vicious assault is founded on fundamentalist precepts such as the so-called holy cow and sections of the Sangh Parivar do term it the holy war. A conspicuously collusive Union government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also involved in advancing this vile stratagem, which is obviously targeted at assaulting and terrorising minority communities in general, and Muslim minorities in particular, to create a Hindutva hegemony in the social, cultural and political spaces of the country. In the process, a climate of intense religious and cultural intolerance is being developed across the country.
This game plan manifested itself in an exceptionally ghastly manner on September 28 when Mohammad Akhlaq of Bisara village in the Dadri region of western Uttar Pradesh was lynched by a mob following propaganda by Hindutva outfits that Akhlaq’s family had indulged in cow slaughter and was storing and consuming beef in their house. The hideousness of the assault was exemplified by the fact that the mob literally invaded the house of Akhlaq and, along with him, attacked his aged mother as also his young son and caused widespread destruction to the place. All this on the basis of a motivated propaganda, including through the public announcement system in the local temple, that Akhlaq had kept beef in his refrigerator (see separate story from Bisara). Later, forensic tests proved that it was not beef that was in the refrigerator but mutton.
But long before this report came out, further intensifying the culpability of the perpetrators of the crime, the invasion of a private dwelling space of an individual on the basis of the alleged eating habits of the person and his family shocked the country, evoking a string of responses from several prominent personalities, including the President of India Pranab Kumar Mukherjee. Speaking at a function which had no direct bearing on the happening, the President warned that India could not allow to waste the core values of its civilisation that celebrated diversity and promoted and advocated tolerance, endurance and plurality.
Distinguished writers and cultural personalities, including Nayantara Sahgal and Ashok Vajpeyi, returned the awards they had received from the government in protest. One point they asserted underscored the complicity of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in creating and perpetuating a climate of intolerance. They pointed out that they were as much aggrieved and upset by the silence and inaction of the government in speaking out and acting against the perpetrators of the crime as by the lynching itself. Nayantara Sahgal specifically referred to the manner in which Prime Minister Modi had refused to even acknowledge the incident for almost a fortnight after it had happened. Both the renowned writer as well as Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, pointedly stated that the Prime Minister’s silence was a factor that contributed majorly to the brazen malevolence of the Sangh Parivar outfits.
On his part, Prime Minister Modi took public notice of the incident on October 8, as many as 10 days after Akhlaq was lynched. By all indications, this was forced out of him by President Mukherjee’s reference to the incident a day earlier. But even then Modi did not openly condemn the Dadri killing, but merely mouthed his oft-repeated platitude that Hindus and Muslims should not be fighting each other but should jointly fight poverty. In doing so, he equated and positioned both the victims and the perpetrators at the same level, completely giving the idea of natural justice a go-by. He followed this up by harking to another pet axiom of his, development. This exhortation, too, was incongruous in the context of the Dadri killing as well as the climate of intolerance that was being built around it. In fact, the current climate of intolerance had striking similarities to the 1980s and 1990s when the BJP and the Sangh Parivar diverted national focus from development to communalism driven by Hindutva identity politics. Several studies have shown how costly this adventurist Hindutva movement has been to the country’s social and economic health. And yet, here was Modi trying to project a development face, glossing over the enormous damage potential of the new Hindutva hegemony expedition.
Evidently, by equating the victims and the perpetrators and by glossing over the incongruities in his development dialogue, Modi was giving enough leeway for his associates in the Sangh Parivar to pursue their communal hegemony game plan. While Modi was rather oblique in following this stratagem, his colleagues in the Union government and in Parliament were more open in facilitating the game plan. Union Minister Mahesh Sharma, who belongs to western Uttar Pradesh, asserted repeatedly that there was no conspiracy behind Akhlaq’s killing and that it was an accident. The BJP’s controversial MP Sakshi Maharaj and VHP leader Sadhvi Prachi went one step ahead and stated that all those who indulged in cow slaughter would meet with Akhlaq’s fate.
In fact, reports from different parts of north India over the past one year have underscored the vicious climate created by the multiplicity of voices and silences that perpetuate the Hindutva assault. These reports have emanated from regions close to the national capital of New Delhi to Bhagalpur, Samastipur and Sitamarhi in election-bound Bihar. Assaults with regard to alleged cow slaughter were reported in February from Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh when 24-year-old Jahangir was lynched and in June when a Haidar Ali was beaten up, tied to a motorcycle and dragged in Pilibhit district.
According to senior officials in the Uttar Pradesh administration, there have been close to a hundred minor and major assault cases over alleged cow slaughter. “These days the issue of cow slaughter is the norm, but before that we had seen similar communal assaults on issues like love jehad and ghar wapsi, or forced reconversion,” a senior security official told Frontline . More recently, election-bound Bihar witnessed similar localised attacks in Bhagalpur, Sitamarhi and Samastipur, all in the name of alleged cow slaughter.
The current orchestra of voices and silence emanating from the BJP, its government and other outfits in the Sangh Parivar exemplifying various hues and shades of complicity and collusion is very much in tune with the track record of the Hindutva combine’s multiple social, cultural and political adventures since the 1980s. Multi-speak is an instrument that the Sangh Parivar has used to the hilt over the past three decades. One of the most striking manifestations of this was in the Ayodhya Ramjanmabhoomi agitation that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Various Sangh Parivar outfits had then come up with different tones of aggression and moderation, but finally all joined hands to bring down the historical masjid.
“What we are witnessing now is a more involved game plan in the context of the absolute majority that the political arm of the Sangh Parivar enjoys at the Centre. All the templates of the current exercise were fixed a long time ago through the activities of a clutch of Hindutva-oriented organisations. The templates are basically about enforcing a Hindutva-oriented way of life as conceived by the Sangh Parivar. The 2014 electoral victory in the garb of development and the climate created by it are being exploited to put the stamp of legitimacy on these templates,” said the Lucknow-based political analyst Sudhir Panwar.
Panwar added that while the hegemonic imposition of this Hindutva-oriented way of life was the long-term objective of the Sangh Parivar, there were other short- and medium-term objectives pursued by these communal assaults. “The short-term target is, of course, Bihar elections. The effort in that State is to once again try and repeat the cocktail of communalism with aspirational politics as was successfully tried in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The medium-term objective is to advance this climate for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2017.
“Religious divide after the Muzaffarnagar riots [in 2013] provide the ideal setting to experiment low-key communal conflagrations to sustain the politics of communalism and to prove the ruling Samajwadi Party government as pro-Muslim. The signal from the Central government in elevating Sanjeev Baliyan, an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, with a ministerial berth and the security cover given to other accused BJP leaders Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana all point towards this collusion and the pursuit of different objectives,” he said.
While talking to Frontline , Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar advanced a similar reasoning on the basis of the communal assaults. He pointed out that the basic attempt of the BJP and its associates in the Sangh Parivar was to terrorise 85 per cent of the people of India by demonising and assaulting the 15 per cent minority population. He added that a multitude of political instruments and communication devices, including traditional forms of communication and social media, were being employed to take forward this terrorising plan. “We are seeing it all over the country, and now in a more focussed manner in Bihar,” he said.
Akhilesh Yadav also pointed out to Frontline that there were systematic efforts after the Dadri lynching to use social media, especially WhatsApp, to generate large-scale rioting. “But, alerted by the experience of the Muzaffarnagar riots, our administration and cyber cell initiated strict action, combining both social media manoeuvres and normal policing. This helped in preventing further aggravation of the situation,” he said.
However, the understanding of both the Chief Ministers is that the success in preventing Dadri escalating into a bigger riot would by no means put a halt to the long-planned and systematic communal hegemony plan of the Sangh Parivar, which has short- and medium-term objectives too incorporated into it. As the late Mahant Ramachandra Paramahans, who was the chairman of the Ayodhya Sri Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, the VHP-controlled trust that formed a key component of the Ram temple agitation, had pointed out repeatedly to this writer through the 1990s, the Sangh Parivar strategy to wrest geographical, social and cultural control of the country was a work in progress lasting several decades and it moves on in starts and spurts, highs and lows, shock and awe, as also thrust and retreat. The Dadri lynching would certainly be designated as a shock-and-awe moment in this array of ploys.