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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 30 DECEMBER, 2014

2015: Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New


The year is drawing to a close, with a resurgence of the Hindutva right wing brigade. The climate in the country is of fear, resentment, anger, insecurity as the poor and the minorities find themselves under aggressive threat with the relentless onslaught that seeks to communalise and divide India in what might become an irreparable effort unless it is checked with the same determination.

Assam is burning, in fact it has been burning since the Lok Sabha elections when hate speeches stoked the fires, with violence erupting against the minorities in what is now called the autonomous territory of Bodoland. Bodo militants attacked the poorest of the poor, driving them into the waters where the strong currents carried them to death. Again hundreds---this time the poor Adivasis-- have been killed by Bodo militants with at least two lakhs of people displaced as they fled their homes in search of security. Some relief camps have been opened, but these are too little to cope with the mass displacement of the Assamese who have become refugees in their own homes.

The ‘Love Jihad’ program declared by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its front organisations struck terror in Uttar Pradesh an d was extended from the western districts of the state to cover other parts of India. The Ghar Wapsi conversions program is hitting out at both the Muslims and the Christians who find themselves under attack, with most instances of intimidation in the districts unreported.

In short the districts of north India in particular are in the grip of sheer terror, as the police and the authorities are either part of the gameplan or too inefficient to check the perpetrators of violence who are attacking the Indian constitution and violating the law with impunity.

It is as if those with little intelligence, except an indoctrination based on hate, are hurtling India down the path of instability and chaos. Some check was provided by the Opposition in Parliament while it was in session, but that too was in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP is still not in majority. The opposition was able to, through an united effort, place the government in the dock as Prime Minister Narendra Modi ignored demands for making a statement of assurance that the organisations and individuals indulging in hate speech and terrorisation of innocent villagers would be dealt with under the law.

Ever since the 31 per cent voters in India made up their mind to vote for PM Modi and the BJP despite the violence in Gujarat in 2002, the country has been caught in this rather artificial communalism versus development debate. In fact not just artificial but dangerous, as it seeks to separate the two when in reality and on the ground both are completely interlinked.

To mention just two glaring reasons. One, Ordinances passing Insurance Bills, or a slew of economic measures, cannot work unless there is peace and harmony on the ground. Development cannot be isolated from social turmoil, with legislations and Ordinances becoming meaningless when the people of a country are insecure and terrorised. This leads to an environment of uncertainty, and violence, that makes the foreign investor wary and eventually persuades him to stay away. Despite all the “make in India’ rhetoric, the manufacturing sector has still not attracted foreign capital and reports of the continuous terrorisation of the minorities by the hate brigade in American and western media are certainly not going to convince the potential investor that it is worth his or her time to move into India at this stage.

Two, the economic measures proposed remain unfriendly to the poor with even the few progressive programs brought in by the Congress led government being diluted---basically done away with--- by the current government. This along with the strident promises made by the ruling party and its leadership during the election campaign for turning India into a wonderland (more like Alice’s) will---in fact already has started impacting on the poor who find that employment, reduced prices, and the basic ‘roti, kapda, makaan’ demand is no closer to being realised than it was before. And instead, they have to contend with heightened insecurity as every communal riot impacts not just on the minorities but on all the villagers in the vicinity. In Muzaffarnagar for instance, it was not only the Muslims who were of course at the receiving end, who were displaced but also the Jats who had to flee their homes for fear of arrest for days on end. In fact the only ones who were visible were the political leaders who had instigated the violence as they had the protection that the poor did not.

In other words violence cannot be segregated beyond a point. In Assam now the governments at both the centre and the state are having to take a position against the violence that has attracted world attention and disgust, despite the hate campaign by the one ruling party and the inefficiency and apathy by the other. Hence, action against the perpetrators of the violence is imminent---at least to some extent---with the professed crackdown impacting on all concerned. The Advisasis and the Muslims have paid for their existence with their lives, but the misguided and indoctrinated perpetrators of the violence also fleeing their homes for fear of arrest.

So it is not really clear what and why the RSS and its front organisations are doing what they are. And what they hope to achieve through the hate and the divisiveness. Destabilisation which is a definite if this virulent, venomous campaign continues will throw all the Modi government promises of development out of the window, and create an alienation and resentment that will not be limited to their target groups.

The poor in India do not have the luxury of time, and have over the years become faster to change opinion and pull away from the political parties they might have voted for, than even the middle class. This is a recent development but is already visible on the ground where Delhi’s drawing rooms although a little disgusted with in-your-face Hindutva as a socialite put it, are still prepared to watch and wait. Unlike the resettlement colonies, the auto drivers, and the poorest slum dwellers who are already searching for alternatives. The same has been visible in Jharkhand in the recent Assembly elections where the BJP lost 20 Assembly segments in the short span of less than ten months; and in Ladakh where it lost all the Assembly seats despite winning the Lok Sabha seat not just so long ago.

Communal polarisation might deliver the votes in the first flush of victory, but it is never a lasting reason. It cannot be in India that is still impacted, not just by the decades of Independence but also its united struggle against colonialism for many more decades before. And where the people endorsed the decision taken by Gandhi and the others, despite the violence of partition, to be a democratic, secular Republic and not a theocratic state like Pakistan. People essentially want peace, as there is a realisation that without this there cannot be development and all are not as easily swayed as others by the rhetoric of hate.

It is not always possible, however, in the poor, backward districts of India where rumours spread by the unscrupulous elements overtake reality to a point where the people just hit out at the created ‘other’ without even knowing whether they are the attackers or the defenders. This writer has covered communal violence all over India and it is a recorded fact that each incident follows days---if not weeks---of rumours convincing the one that the ‘other’ will get them, or their women, or their land, if they do not defend themselves with violence. These are the rumours that led to the genocide of the Sikhs in Delhi, and to the terrible violence that killed thousands in Assam in the 1980’s, and elsewhere---be it Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar...the list unfortunately covers most of India.

So 2014 rings out on a note of despair as India and all that she stands for is being turned on its head by those who are consumed with sinister hate. The New Year always ushers in optimism, and whatever be the results it is clear that 2015 will witness a huge battle between those who want to save India and those who are determined to destroy this vibrant secular, pluralistic democracy.

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