The beginning of 2020 is as ominous as the end of 2002—it portends the complete degeneration of India into an authoritarian state where the only instrument of mass subjugation will be hate.
The comparison with 2002 is relevant because this mass production of hate as a political project succeeded that year in Gujarat. In 18 years, it has become a pan-India threat with the help of the machinations perfected and patented in Gujarat.
You get that 2002 feeling almost everywhere now in the post CAA, post 370, post Ayodhya. Like in Gujarat, Muslims across India are now the target of the masses worked into hysteria by the BJP’s dog whistles. For this communal ‘uprising’, many institutions are being co-opted—the police, for instance, have turned into replicas of the Nazi Schutzstaffel, ready to do the bidding of the political masters like a private militia. People in places meant to be the sentinels of democracy are either speaking the language of the street–and getting post-retirement rewards for it— or just watching in silence for fear of upsetting the executive and its crazed mobs. Meanwhile, the civil society resisting this descent of India into an authoritarian state founded on bigotry is being crushed with the help of every agency at the state’s disposal.
In 2002, almost every institution failed us. The biggest failure, of course, was of the biggest institution in a democracy—its people. On the streets of Gujarat, the masses not just participated in the massacre on the streets, but also validated it as an instrument of governance through an electoral verdict. Similarly, the police had failed the victims of the rioting, and the courts had, for various reasons, failed to instil the fear of law into the perpetrators. Unfortunately, all of Gujarat participated in mainstreaming of rabid communalisation as a profitable political enterprise, either through complicity and
acquiescence, or silence.
But, why blame Gujarat alone for our tryst with this destiny. In today’s (January 1, 2020) edition of The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta argues how all of us overleapt reality in the euphoria of hope, and surrendered ourselves to one pied piper over the past decade. And now, as Mehta writes, we are suffocating for breath, caught in conflict not just with the government but also fellow citizens, as if in permanent combat.
There is a popular line by poet Rahat Indori that sums up the perils of this phase in Indian polity—faisle lamhat ke naslon pe bhaari ho gae (generations suffered the consequences of momentary decisions). Or, if you are a fan of poetry, you may have heard of the oft-quoted couplet by Muzaffar Razmi: lamhon ne khata ki thi sadiyon ne sazaa payee (aeons were punished for mistakes made by moments).
The challenge, thus, is to resist this descent into a black hole, to ensure India doesn’t turn into an authoritarian regime with fascist tendencies, a country that’s arrayed against its own people, a civilisation that’s burning in bigotry and hate. Because, generations to come will suffer the consequences.
How does one resist a narrative underlined with communalism, especially in a country where the majority itself is cheerleading this hysteria? The task becomes even more challenging when the political opposition to this narrative is discredited, incompetent, plain
pusillanimous (think Mayawati) and opportunistic (think Nitish Kumar). Also, in a milieu where being liberal, secular or intellectual is seen as a slur (primarily because of the deep inferiority of those lacking these civilizational gifts), how does one find the idiom and the language for communicating with the masses the horrors of quasi- fascism? These are some questions India will have to deal with this year.
The end objectives, though not the process, are well defined. One, India will have to reclaim Hinduism from the BJP and its pracharaks.
The Hindutva of the BJP is not the Hinduism of this ancient land—it is a faith rooted in diversity, assimilation and the principle of revering every person as a part of the universal soul.
In this context, it is heartening to see a large section of Hindus take up the fight against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed national register of citizens that has a communal subtext.
On that count, India’s students, youth, intellectuals and people outside the cow belt have shown they will not let India become Gujarat without a prolonged fight. But, this fight will have to be tested in the face of a blowback by a repressive state bent on retribution, counter-violence through its agencies and division through polarisation.
Two, India will have to look at its history as a shared heritage instead of a battleground to avenge imagined slights. A good beginning would be to remind ourselves that after the 1857 revolution, its leaders chose a reluctant Bahadur Shah Zafar as their patron, the emperor of India even when they could have gone to dozens of eager Hindu rulers. India will have to start taking pride in its history of syncretism, secularism and sultanates.
Three, the political space all of India ceded to one leader in the hope that he has the magic wand to take us forward (it was a leap over reality, Mehta argues) has to be re-conquered. The BJP has not led us forward, it has pulled us back by decades on almost every front. The New Year can begin on a happy note only with a mass awakening to this reality, and the perils of ignoring it further.
Otherwise, welcome back to 2002.