Watching a television discussion on the ‘Not in My Name’ marches on Wednesday, two points by a high-pitched spokesperson of the BJP struck me: first, she said, that the killing of Junaid Khan was not because of his religion but was over a tussle over a seat in a train and second, the protestors all over the country were the usual anti-government elements.
To which the responses should be obvious: if indeed Junaid was not beaten and stabbed because he was a Muslim (his brothers, who were with him, have said otherwise), then the BJP should have no problem with a march to condemn the incident. Indeed, the party would have won some praise had it participated in the marches. Instead, BJP spokespersons were uniformly critical, claiming that the marchers were Modi-baiters.
The bigger question is: why, after three years of winning an impressive victory and dominating the political landscape of the country, with no worthwhile opposition in sight, is the BJP still full of resentment and victimhood about the much-reviled liberals who they say are intuitively anti-Modi? Lutyens-media, elitists, libtards, presstitutes and so many other colourfully coined phrases are code for the same thing – a privileged minority which has not come to terms with the changing India and has not fully grapsed that there is a new dispensation in command. Not a day passes without insults and invective being thrown by the party’s official spokespersons and by their fellow travellers and media supporters at this tiny minority, which, by the BJP’s own reckoning, is of no importance.
The family television channels did their best to ignore the march; others, who showed it, slipped in snide remarks about the participants. Though the print media gave the protests adequate coverage, several leading newspapers carried the news buried inside, lest the establishment gets hot and bothered. Trolls – sophisticated and crude – were at their best in running down the protests. Some bright spark came up with statistics of lynchings in the past (presumably the sub-text was, this happens all the time in India, why this sudden anger?) Clearly, the denizens of the Right Wing ecosystem took the protests seriously and were very irritated by it.
But such is the blind hatred for anything that remotely sounds critical that, as if on auto-pilot, the BJP and its mouthpieces go straight for the jugular, instead of calmly assessing the situation and responding with sense or nuance. The culture of viewing dissent as treachery and an opposing point of view as an act of war is deeply ingrained and when there are ‘left-liberals’ involved, it is immediately seen as anti-Modi.
Had the BJP been a bit more sensitive, it would have immediately grasped that there is a lot of genuine anger building up against the senseless lynchings of innocent people – mainly Muslims and Dalits – in the country. In some cases, elements from the wider Sangh parivar have been involved, such as in the killing of 60 year old Ghulam Ahmed in Bulandhshar by Hindu Yuva Vahini activists. Because these have not have been firmly dealt with and because no one in authority has come out and declared that lynchings are wrong, freelance lynchers have now got into the act. The sheer brazenness with which a Mahesh Sharma or a Sangeet Som behaved after Mohammed Akhlaq was killed in September, 2015 undoubtedly encouraged all that followed. Junaid’s cold blooded killing was the last straw and civil society rose in protest, somewhat like what happened after the rape in Delhi in December 2012.
The BJP’s reaction to this protest has been downright churlish, even foolish. It was not a political conspiracy; the protestors were common citizens appalled by these random acts of violence and by dismissing the marches all over the country, the BJP’s spokespersons were ridiculing these citizens. One might well ask-does the BJP want to be seen as a party that sides with the lynchers or the victims?
PM breaks silence on mob lynchings, says "no person in this nation has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country" pic.twitter.com/9zDbDymTRw
— The Wire (@thewire_in) June 29, 2017
Prime minister Narendra Modi’s statement about the lynchings – the day after the protests – indicates that he understood their import. The total numbers who came out on the streets may not add up to much but their voice has been heard. Many Indians may wonder if the prime minister has remained unmoved by the killings. Besides, the amplification by the mainstream and the social media , both domestic and international, have made sure that the protests have been noticed internationally. At a time when Modi is travelling the world, he doesn’t want to be asked why India has become a country where cow vigilantes – and others – are going around killing people on mere suspicion.
With the marches, civil society has scored a big victory–it has launched countless conversations on the issue, which could eventually move from so-called ‘elite’ circles to the hinterland. While this will not necessarily stop miscreants from inflicting violence on people (especially those from the minorities), it will ensure that governments are firmer in handling such cases. But ‘Not in My Name’ cannot be a one-event affair. This momentum needs to be kept up, if only to send out a clear and unambiguous message to the ruling dispensation, that Indians will not stand for hate-mongering and violence against their fellow citizens whatever their caste, community or religion may be.