At latest count, the tragic Delhi riots left 49 dead, hundreds wounded, and numerous vehicles and properties torched.
For two days, Delhi police watched passively while rampaging mobs killed and burnt with impunity. Its unabashed bias mirrored the Jamia, JNU and Gargi College episodes, but here they even instigated the rioters. The riots uncannily matched the 1984 and 2002 pogroms in ferocity, inhumanity, police complicity, apathy and political patronage.
The common refrain was “teach them a lesson”.
BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s inflammatory speech was the trigger. Media channels that invariably act as BJP’s apologists and cheerleaders created false equivalence by repeatedly citing Waris Pathan’s speech. This was crass obfuscation since Pathan had spoken in distant Hyderabad many days back, while Kapil Mishra incited local people just a day earlier.
Innumerable rabble-rousing speeches by Amit Shah and other leaders for Delhi elections had already heightened tensions.
Was this riot an unplanned, one-off episode? Or, was it a link in a long-term strategy?
Apparently, BJP still cannot stomach its humiliating defeat in the bitterly contested Delhi polls despite Modi ji staking personal capital. Support that Shaheen Bagh type protests across India are receiving from all communities also unnerves BJP since that neutralises polarisation. Hence, the riots aimed at triggering counter-violence to discredit these Gandhian protests.
BJP’s communal polarisation strategy is rooted in RSS’s obsession since the 1930s with Hindu Rashtra. Most Indians, however, were dedicated to the secular Gandhiji-led freedom struggle, from which these outfits stayed away and even colluded with the British.
Yet, communal venom spread by the RSS and Muslim League caused the catastrophic Partition, leaving a million dead and millions uprooted.
Our founding fathers adopted secularism due to India’s vast religious, lingual and cultural diversity, which the RSS resents. Consequently, India’s stable democracy not merely survived, unlike many countries, it flourished and brought rapid development. Political instability of late-1980s, however, allowed RSS and BJP to reinvigorate their Hindutva agenda.
Unlike the pre-1989 communal riots, which were mostly isolated, localised clashes, riots following the Rath Yatra, Babri Masjid demolition, Mumbai blasts and Gujarat carnage were conspicuously strategy-driven, far more widespread and virulent.
RSS and BJP realize that most Indians being secular, they would not support Hindu Rashtra. Despite its best ever tally in the 2019 polls; BJP’s vote share was only 37.4%. They reckon that with several States lost, and recession, unemployment and agrarian distress worsening, only increased polarisation can increase Hindu votes to help attain their objective.
BJP, therefore, is into overdrive to rush laws and expedite court judgments, which go against Muslims. Public statements by its leaders are now increasingly offensive, and Hindutva zealots more belligerent and violent. Aim is to intimidate and humiliate Muslims to provoke violence. Every riot widens the communal divide and distrust replaces age-old bonds. Since all communities suffer collateral damage and disruption, every riot chips away at the edifice of secular Indians and convinces many to mount the Hindutva bandwagon.
But, is it logical for RSS-BJP to provoke confrontation and disturbances when absolute normalcy is imperative for reviving the economy? Why risk censure from friendly powers and World bodies for discriminating against own people? Is it because they calculate that present momentum can help attain the critical mass of Hindu support? Their Hindu Rashtra obsession apparently trumps factors like economy, internal stability and world opinion.
Their strategy also has been to induct ideologically attuned experts, officials, judges and educationists into governance and policymaking bodies. Tight control over media and domination of social media enables propagation of misinformation and propaganda to wean away seculars. Since, controlling key instruments of state power is vital, police in BJP-ruled states stands saffronised.
A former COAS donning RSS uniform and numerous veterans parroting RSS’s ideology on social media signify targeting of our secular Armed Forces. In 2008, Col (retd) Chitale of Maharashtra Military Foundation had boasted to senior journalist Saikat Datta about indoctrinating Col Purohit and 1000 students, who later joined the Armed Forces. RSS is also opening an Army school in Bulandshahr to prepare students for entrance to military academies. This is sinister, as they would have imbibed Hindutva, albeit labelled ‘Nationalism’.
With 177 million Muslims, India cannot afford Islamophobia. Despite having world’s second largest Muslim population, India is free of Global Jihad primarily because it is secular. Any change in that would be disastrous for India’s integrity and destabilising for the entire region.
Shaheen Bagh type protests are coalescing into a broad coalition of Muslims, lower castes, and secular Indians. This could grow larger if the unemployed and farmers also join. Inevitably, RSS-BJP would certainly disrupt these protests by orchestrating violence and using brutal force, confident that an obliging judiciary would shield them, given the ominous signal of posting out a recalcitrant judge overnight.
India is thus at a critical crossroad. The very idea of a democratic, secular and just India, as enshrined in our constitution, is at stake. Do we retain its pristine character that has stood us well, and brought us to present state of economic development and military power? Or, do we allow alteration by legislative manipulation or a contrived de facto Hindu Rashtra?
The former will ensure continued growth in a peaceful and harmonious environment, with economic and social justice. The latter would give a Hindu Rashtra with upper caste domination, patriarchy, gender and caste inequality, and archaic orthodoxy that is antithetical to all modern freedoms, along with chronic religious and social strife.
How do we make that crucial choice, which affects generations? Given BJP’s brute majority, we may see several discriminatory and draconian laws before the 2024 polls. All right-minded Indians lament the absence of a credible alternative due to inability of opposition parties forge unity.
Violent protests are not an option since people would cede the moral high ground of Gandhian protests.
Besides, they would provoke counter-violence by Hindutva outfits and give the government a reason to crush them ruthlessly. Sadly, recent events portend more troubling times ahead.
Brigadier (retired) Deepak Sethi, PhD, is a retired Brigadier of Indian Army and is present, a professor of International Business Strategy and Management in the USA.