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When Prime Minister Narendra Modi returns from his European sojourn, he should ask for M.J. Akbar’s 1988 book, catchily titled Riot After Riot. That was a definite portrait of Old India and Akbar was, by popular acclaim, its most brilliant insider. The prime minister should suggest that Akbar – the brightest among the bright insiders of New India – or someone equally insightful like him tell us why we are witnessing carnival of communal violence in city after city, from Jahangirpuri in Delhi to Jodhpur in Rajasthan.
Surely, the BJP’s old, convenient answer – the Congress party’s appeasement politics – will not do. The Congress is not in power anywhere (except in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh); nor does it have the wherewithal or imagination to indulge in its old habits. And, in any case, we are told that today, thanks to Modi’s leadership and hard work, he has not only rolled back the familiar influence of ‘votebanks’ and ‘tushtikaran‘ but also introduced a new politics of vikas which does not reward any kind of communal games.
Furthermore, the super-architecture of law and order in the country is being overseen by the greatest home minister India has had since Sardar Patel. And, yet, miscreants and mischief-makers are able to hatch a ‘conspiracy’ to disturb communal harmony and social peace. Is seven years not a long enough time to drain out the swamp of conspirators? Even Gujarat, that land blessed by more than two decades of supremely good governance by supremely gifted deshbhakts, plays host to vendors of violence.
So, why is New India looking very much like Old India?
It is useful to remember that a riot, at its most basic, is a simple administrative aberration, which can be easily brought under control by a reasonably efficient and autonomous district administration. Very many distinguished retired civil servants, police and civilian, can recall chapter and verse of how the “steel frame” earned its reputation and its salary by restoring peace in communally sensitive areas in this district or defusing an explosive situation in that district.
But riots are no longer a simple aberration. Conventionally, a riot is usually an exercise and experiment by a group opposed to the ruling political regime, with the idea of rearranging social forces; thus, a riot is engineered to compel groups of citizens to change their political preferences and allegiance away from the ruling regime. The December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid is a perfect example of such intentional rioting. As a sub-strategy, a riot is sometime planned and executed with the intention of making a group – say, the Dalits or the Muslims – pay for their political alignment.
Then, there are cases of organised riots, when an incumbent regime winks at the violence-mongers with the intention of allowing this or that group to reinforce its upper hand. This is, at best, a risky stratagem. But, invariably the ruling clique is confident of its ability to calibrate and control crowds, mobs and violence.
Lastly, of late, some groups in India have come to deem violence as a curative therapy, jolting people out of their sense of complacency and settledness.
It must necessarily be assumed that the ruling coterie is sufficiently sober and adequately responsible to understand the paramount importance of social stability and communal peace if the country has to maintain the requisite level of economic growth. It is also safe to assume that the core of the ruling dispensation is sufficiently familiar with the strategies and tactics of communal violence. And, it must further be assumed that there is an acute realisation at the highest echelons of the governing elites that extremes and radicalism are not confined to a few pockets in the minority community, whatever the Sangh may wish to suggest. Clearly, there are elements in the Hindu community who are out to disrupt the peace – and, perhaps, Modi’s game.
The days of old-fashioned ‘appeasement’ are over. To begin with, we have demonstratively renamed Aurangzeb Road – and have felt vastly satisfied; we have the judiciary’s blessings for a grand temple at Ayodhya on the ruins of the Babri mosque; and the prime minister participates in elaborate celebrations of the Hindu rituals. Yes, we can say with garv that we are Hindus.
So, why do we shout that “Hindus are in danger” and why do we continue to feel the need to countenance a grammar of polarisation? Could it be that the dilemma pre-dates the Hindu Revolution of 2014? The core of the dilemma was delineated years ago by the eminent social psychologists, Sudhir Kakar and Katharina Kakar in their book, The Indians: Portrait of a People:
“A Hindu is born only when the Muslim enters the scene. Hindus cannot think of themselves as such without a simultaneous awareness of the Muslim’s presence. This is not so far Muslims, who do not need Hindus for self-awareness. This presence of the Hindu may increase the Muslim’s sense of his religious identity but does not constitute it.”
Our ‘vishwa gurus’ and all other promoters of Hindutva have not found a way out of this centuries-old asymmetry. The make-shift solution is new asymmetry: Since we are a Hindu rashtra, those in the majority have a right to provoke and have an entitlement to get provoked at the slightest of slights; whereas those in the minority have no right to ‘provoke’ nor have the luxury of getting provoked. These are the new terms of co-existence, invariably enforced by the police officials and judicial connivance at the cutting edge in mohallas and qasbas. The result is a precarious social peace, and the recent incidents of communal violence in Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and elsewhere.
Perhaps the new India has not exactly weaned itself away from the Indian politicians’ conceit that they can control and calibrate violence. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi both paid a price for lending an ear to conceited advisers who thought they could commandeer aggressive men and violent groups to their partisan advantages. Those who think of themselves as custodians of new India’s security and prosperity and national glory should know enough of recent history to know that it all can go away in a jiffy. Narendra Modi cannot be a bulwark of stability against instability instigated from his own corner.