Karni Sena Has Powerful Patrons, and We Are Defenceless

The reason why the likes of Karni Sena are running amok is the assurance that their actions have the blessings of the senior leaders of the establishment.

Karni Sena activists burn posters during a demonstration against the release of the film Padmaavat. Credit: PTI

Someone recently lamented (in effect) that the state had abdicated its responsibility towards citizens by allowing the terrorists who go by the name Karni Sena to run riot. There is an element of truth in this lament, albeit theoretical, which is that ‘rule of law’ is one of the basic functions of the state, and orderly societies rely on the monopoly over violence that they have granted the state. This power cannot be exercised unchecked, of course, but it does remain the basis on which we expect security in society.

But this is not the whole truth. The reason why the likes of Karni Sena are running amok, much like the cow-terrorists before them, is the assurance that their actions have the blessings of senior leaders of the establishment. This establishment, the Sangh parivar – which extends well beyond the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and of which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a mere symbol – has openly talked about a cultural agenda, and a plan to transform this country as we know it. When state governments have actively abetted violence by refusing to speak up against these terror groups, and have refused to enforce law and order, it should not come as any surprise that violence has erupted.

Now I know that a lot of you will argue that our country has always been this way, and that the blame for these incidents are not to be laid at the doorsteps of the BJP, or more specifically, the prime minister. Those in power have always established their writ in their homes, neighbourhoods and communities. They are better represented in instruments of governance, and have played a part in exacerbating the kind of inequality we witness all around us.

But most of you, who can read my column online, are also a beneficiary of a state system that attempted for the most part, to establish a secular and progressive order. They were not perfect, by any means, and they were at-times opportunistic, but as any sensible state would do, they helped at least a section of society capitalise on the opportunities they could access, and move ahead to live a fruitful life. Was this elitist? Probably yes. Was this a statist and socialist way of governance? Yes, it was. But was it designed to take us forward as a society? Undoubtedly so.

This is where one differs with the current establishment. The Sangh parivar that calls the shots today is not only firmly anti-science, but also anti-progress in every sphere of life. It is not only that they are full of empty promises and gross incompetence, their vision for our societies and our country is one that caters to the lowest common denominator. They are not impulsive – what we are witnessing are a series of well-calibrated steps that will take us to their goal of a Hindu rashtra. This rashtra cannot have dissent, neither can it be diverse – everyone has to agree to certain basic tenets of life – in religion, culture, food habits and social interaction.

Not vote-bank politics

Vote-bank politics is bad. But what the patrons of Karni Sena are practising isn’t vote-bank politics either. This is those terrorists, and their patrons telling us that they are the almighty and we are completely defenceless. It’s the kind of politics that incites both majority and minority communities, both those who enjoy power and those who are out of it. Because irrespective of whoever comes out to the streets, their agenda wins.

Credit: PTI

When those out of power come out on the streets, it helps polarise the powerful (or the majority, as the case may be) by portraying dissent as an attempt to throw our placid lives and routines out of gear. This “inconvenience” then becomes a larger rallying point as the media picks it up, as we recently witnessed with the Dalit protests in Maharashtra. As sociologist Nandini Sundar pointed out, when these communities raise their voices, they are often branded anti-national and the heavy hand of the state deals with them brutally.

On the other side, when those enjoying power (or backed by power, or simply, the ones in majority) come out on to the streets, government representatives make statements about how majority sentiments need to be respected, and how we need to build consensus over these ‘hurt sentiments’. Needless to say, every time one concedes that ‘hurt sentiments’ are reason enough to curtail basic rights of the rest of us, our descent down the slippery slope just accelerates a little bit.

So why complain now? 

Have non-BJP governments not banned books, paintings and movies? Yes, they have. And as I have said before, what has happened in the past is no excuse to continue doing so into the future. Unless what we want to do is to regress back into our history (fictional or otherwise). Is that not what the Sangh parivar really wants?

The attack on a school bus full of children should not shock us. Those who started by threatening beheadings on national television have now just shown us that they are able to act on those threats, and those of us who laughed them off should be watching our backs. This is not new either. A prime ministerial candidate talked openly about a “pink revolution” and as soon as he was in power, cow terrorists started killing people with impunity.

As we witness systematic attempts to dismantle institutions that have been the bulwark against these authoritarian, nay fascist tendencies, those who voted for the Sangh-brand of politics should  pause and re-evaluate their electoral choices. They may have been able to duck this round by staying at home and away from theatres screening Padmaavat, but some of their children came perilously close to being hurt. They have a choice to make, and I hope they make it count. Because the demon they have unleashed may have several faces, but a known all-powerful patron. And we are defenceless.

Suvojit Chattopadhyay is a development sector consultant, currently based in Nairobi, Kenya. You can find his blog here. He tweets from @suvojitc.