To understand the direction in which the country is being propelled by the powers that be, we should consider the recent no-confidence motion debate in the Lok Sabha (August 8-10, 2023) not in isolation, but in the context of the happenings of the past fortnight or so, and a likely scenario for the foreseeable future. A darkening picture emerges.
A pandemic, a natural calamity or war leaves behind death and destruction. A policy disaster such as India’s demonetisation – which struck before the pandemic – had led to mass layoffs and financial dislocation, the brunt of which is still being felt by the country, especially its poor.
But the recent events we have witnessed in the country, and the more such that we may in the near future, are of an altogether different character, and indeed of a different order of things.
The strategic aim of their proponents is to overturn the constitutional state in India that took its rise in the democratic and non-violent movement helmed by Mahatma Gandhi and the democratic polity it engendered.
Steeped in it, and in part shaping it through his actions and writings, was Jawaharlal Nehru, whose devotion to a liberal order of parliamentary democracy, and whose commitment to a free India for all Indians in a world freed of shackles, nurtured the Indian state upon independence.
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The opponents of Gandhi and Nehru were communalist thinkers and actors of the pre-1947 Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha of V.D. Savarkar and Nathuram Godse. Neither showed an interest in the ending of colonial rule. Their interest lay in creating and winning religious wars within.
The League under Muhammad Ali Jinnah succeeded in partitioning India with colonial encouragement and assistance. For all practical purposes, the Hindu Mahasabha folded up with the assassination of Gandhi by a man whose founding allegiance to the RSS had transferred itself to the Mahasabha under the inspiration of Savarkar without the severance of emotional links with the RSS, the fountainhead of the Hindu rashtra thought.
For the past ten years, the followers of the RSS have enjoyed practically untrammelled state power under the guardianship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and it is this which is now their aim to extend – at any price. Their immediate objective appears to be to prepare for an ideological seizure of India by the scruff of her neck. The ideas of Gandhi have to be rooted out.
A beginning was made on August 12 by bulldozing the structures of the Sarva Sewa Sangh in Varanasi, the constituency of the prime minister, even as thousands stood to protest this wanton high-handedness imbued with communal hatred and hatred of Gandhi, the man whose ideals mark the line of separation between a democratic India and a communal one.
Communal conflagrations have to be lit – as Nuh in Haryana showed. But Nuh underscores careful preparation since the start of the year, when Muslim cattle traders were lynched and burnt to death. The idea was to give birth to provocation and anger.
In Manipur, the launch of open war against the tribal people and their (Christian) faith is the path that the idea of assertion of the Hindutva forces has taken.
Brutality, atrocities, and brazen disregard for human life and human values have scarred Manipur, but neither condemnation nor effective action has come from the highest authorities. The criminals roam free. Anyone who stands in the way of the project sanctified at the very top has to be rudely shoved aside.
Also Read: Manipur and Mewat: On Reading Two Landscapes of Social Suffering
The perception of danger comes from the zeal and the ideological clarity of the senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and the 26-party opposition coalition called INDIA, which was born in the wake of the Congress’s spectacular victory against the BJP in a campaign led by Modi himself in Karnataka.
After his Bharat Jodo Yatra, Gandhi has become the focal point of the ideological combat in prospect, with the organisational underpinning of the Congress and the INDIA bloc. The PM’s reply to the no-confidence motion debate in the Lok Sabha amply demonstrated this.
The PM refused to answer questions on Manipur. He mocked Gandhi, his mother, his name, his party and said boorish, un-funny things which excited mirth among his ministers and the BJP in the Lok Sabha.
After the vile show was over, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary, was suspended from parliament. His crime? He had asked why Narendra Modi had become “nirav”, or silent, on Manipur. In the Rajya Sabha, the senior Aam Aadmi Party leader Raghav Chadha has been suspended. Remember, not long ago, through machinations, Rahul Gandhi had been thrown out of parliament.
In its issue of August 13, a contemporary journal, the Sunday Guardian, not known to be critical of the regime, has this to say: “…after the end of the no-confidence motion, an impression, rightly or wrongly, was created that the Indian parliament had given a flying kiss to Manipur. The treasury benches seemed determined to intimidate the opposition.”
Since India is not yet a Hindu rashtra, although forces to reach that goal have been unleashed, there is no getting away from the election process for now, even if this is rendered a sham through a manipulated Election Commission, as a new move of the government would appear to suggest.
Thus, the route through which the Modi establishment will seek to exert its will seems to lie through elections in the first instance.
Also Read: Why the BJP Won’t – and Can’t – Give Up on Hindutva as an Electoral Strategy
Perhaps the regime calculates that if it is able to divide or polarise public opinion on religious lines to the extent that it can obtain the endorsement of roughly half the Hindu voters, then it may be able to win approximately more than 40% of the national vote in the next Lok Sabha election (as against 37.4% in 2019).
Every single ugly event of a communal nature that happens or is made to happen these days flows from this imagination. Planned violence appears to fill the Hindutva followers with pride and faith in the capacities of the present dispensation – or at least this seems to be the thinking in powerful sections of the establishment and their adherents. There is no serendipity here, only plotting and calculation.
If the vote goal can be secured, the position of the current rulers will become unassailable in the next parliament, and a Modi Mark III government can be formed with the project of firming up a Hindu rashtra.
Should that come to pass, laws in the direction of establishing a Hindu state can be worked upon even as armed social gangs are entrenched as a regular feature with close links to the police system and the administration, as already appears to be the case in BJP-run states, notably Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
The striking emblem in these states of the Indian Union is the so-called bulldozer justice, in which the administration is complicit and the lower judiciary too frightened to act. The constitutional state has capitulated. The effective declaration of the country’s principal religious minority as second-class citizens has occurred.
Justice by bulldozer has become a celebratory symbol for some BJP supporters. Photo: PTI
In Manipur, however, the principal minority is not the same as in the rest of the country. And then there are other historical conditions that have shaped the state.
The principal of these is the narrative of the “illegal outsider”, which also lies at the bottom of the belief of Hindutva votaries about Muslims in the rest of India. Given Manipur’s particular circumstances, bulldozer justice would just not have worked.
Therefore, a wholesale assault by the state on the tribal minority has been made to occur. The bulldozer is replaced with murder, mayhem and burning. The emblem is rape justice. And the government’s observations on the situation, including that of the prime minister, constitute a soliloquy of silence.
In August 1947, in the aftermath of the horror of Hindu-Muslim Partition-era killings, the RSS had hoped – records of the period and scholarly writings show – to weaponise inflamed anti-Muslim feelings, and nursed the ambition to take a hold over power. The post-colonial Indian state was in its infancy. A putsch was in the minds of men. But they had not reckoned with the ideological sturdiness of the first prime minister.
The murder of Gandhi also inflamed public sentiment against the RSS. Much water has flowed down our rivers since then. It is the RSS followers who are now in the saddle. The ideological inflection point is once again here. How will India respond as we approach our 76th Independence Day?
Anand K. Sahay is a journalist and political commentator based in New Delhi.