Modi's India: Empowering the Mob, Disempowering the State

In no other modern civilised society have so many men been publicly lynched as have been in India.

From Manipur to Mewat, Narendra Modi’s new India doesn’t portray a pretty picture. It is a holy mess. The shift in nomenclature from Amrit Kaal (auspicious period) to Kartavya Kaal (period of duty) has been marked by a complete dereliction of duty by the country’s top political leadership. It has hampered the security forces, which have consequently failed to bring the violence under control. But this is no ordinary violence of a communal riot or a socio-economic protest that independent India has been witness to many a time in the first seven decades of its existence. It is not even an insurgency like Kashmir or Punjab or Nagaland or Mizoram. The violence is not due to criminal gangs shooting each other on the streets of Mumbai. These are not misguided youth taking up guns to bring about a communist revolution. This is different: violence with a difference.

It is the violence unleashed by the mobs. Mobs, who have been empowered by the state. The political leadership is not simply condoning their action or looking away; it is using these mobs as an extension of the State against a minority community. In Manipur, the majoritarian Meitei mobs are enabled by allowing ransacking of lethal weapons and ammunition from the police armouries. The proof lies in the bewildering fact that not a single miscreant was caught or shot by the cops as these armouries were supposedly being looted. Call it connivance or collusion or co-option, or all of the above, the mobs are the masters of this universe.

The state doesn’t control them; they control the state and are aware of their power. Invariably, these mobs belong to the majority community and are politically from the same parivar as the party ruling the state and the Centre. It is the reason they are empowered in the first place. Their public acceptance as custodians of their religion, popular culture and public morality is devoid of any mandate, except their brute power to inflict violence. It would not be incorrect to see them as adherents of VD Savarkar’s dictum, as cited by Prof Vinayak Chaturvedi, that “Hindus understand themselves as Hindus through acts of violence”. The danger lies in these mobs trying to ensure what Savarkar desired of Hindus: they “needed to embrace permanent war as part of their future”.

When a RPF cop Chetan Singh identifies, selects and kills Muslims, that future seems to be upon us now. He is not a lone wolf but the representative of an empowered mob. The lines between the mob and cops have blurred. In both Manipur and Mewat, this mob is indistinguishable from the cops. In fact, many reports show the two working in tandem, jointly targeting the minority community. In Chaturvedi’s words, “the poor, marginalised, and subordinated sometimes resort to violence, often genocidal in nature – at times in collaboration with the state, in other instances independent of it – in order to stake a claim within…to make history as killers in the name of Hindutva”.

Empowering the violent and hateful mob doesn’t strengthen the Indian State. It weakens and hollows it out. In Manipur, the state has simply ceased to exist. In Mewat, the state has no credibility left. Few trust it anymore to do the right thing. It is not a “soft state,” an epithet BJP used to unleash on the Manmohan Singh government. It is a disempowered state, where the mob has been empowered at its cost. This disempowerment doesn’t remain limited to one aspect or geography. Slowly but surely, it encroaches on to other domains and areas, sapping the state of its energies to accomplish even the minimum obligatory tasks. We need look no further than Pakistan to see where this path leads to. It is surprising that those who imagine India as a “Hindu Pakistan” can be so blind to the eventual destination of their desired journey.

A disempowered state, flailing and fouling, is doomed for disaster. Vigilantism is one of the hallmarks of this journey. We have witnessed it enough in the past decade, whether it be in the name of cow protection or ‘love jihad’. In no other modern civilised society have so many men been publicly lynched as have been in India by Hindutva vigilante groups. The vigilantism of the cops is well known, but that crossed a limit in Gujarat when the state police publicly flogged young Muslims and made a video of it. Even the Taliban regime in Afghanistan claimed a moral high ground over Gujarat Police after that video! Gujarat has seen unbroken BJP rule this century, and makes up the bulk of the top political, bureaucratic and business leadership in today’s India. It was sold as the model state in 2014, which many gullible Indians fell for.

“If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” Nietzsche may have meant it differently but when a state gazes adoringly into the abyss of a mob, it runs the risk of becoming the mob. The use of bulldozers to target residential and commercial properties of Muslims, ostensibly for violation of municipal rules, is vigilantism by the state. It breeds misery and hate. It destroys rule of law and sounds the death knell of our constitutional order. The state has turned into an unjust monster, trying to impose a new moral order – an immoral one.

This mutation had no place in the India that was imagined in the crucible of the freedom struggle and shaped in the Constituent Assembly. The bulldozer is the symbol of Modi’s new India. It is the icon of vigilantism and mob empowerment. It is the withering away of the tate through deliberate disempowerment. A disempowered state can be the stepfather of despotism, but it will not be the mother of democracy. It can be majoritarian, but it will not be democratic. It can be new India, but it will not be our India.

This article was originally published in the Deccan Herald