Monday, 30th October 2017

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The coming of night

India's descent into muscle power

By Rudrangshu Mukherjee
  • Published 28.02.16
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The famous declaration of Gopal Krishna Gokhale about what Bengal thinks today India thinks tomorrow has become an irrelevant cliché. No one seriously thinks of Bengal today as the harbinger of the future in the world of ideas or in any other sphere. But the time is upon us to revive and retrieve that declaration not with pride but in shame.

Not a very long time ago a posse of policemen aided by Trinamul Congress cadre entered the Jadavpur University campus at the dead of night to break up a students' sit-in; students, including girls, were beaten up. (The TMC member of parliament who spoke so eloquently and admirably in the Lok Sabha the other day to condemn police action in Jawaharlal Nehru University and about the Janus-faced character of nationalism conveniently erased this police action in Jadavpur University perhaps because the university is in his own constituency.) More recently a student was arrested from JNU and was beaten up badly by lawyers while the police remained passive bystanders. In neither case were any of the offenders - those who took the law into their own hands - charged or arrested. Did Bengal show the way?

There is one other similarity to which attention needs to be drawn. In both cases the concerned leaders remained eloquent by their silence.

These events and others where supporters of the sangh parivar in Delhi and elsewhere and the cadre of the TMC have used violence, boasted about using violence and incited violence are revealing an ominous political trend in India. It is significant that there are groups of people, supported by political leaders who are unashamed - on the contrary proud - of their use and advocacy of violence against individuals and groups who do not share their views.

The counterpart of this kind of exhibition of intolerance of dissent is authoritarianism. Political leaders with massive popular mandates are assuming that they have the right to impose their views on people who disagree with them. The first step is to label the dissenters with epithets that incite passion - "anti-national'', "Maoists'', "terrorists'', "perpetrators of sedition'' are some of the common labels being used for anyone who dares to criticize. These epithets are then being used as an alibi for State action - arrests, humiliation, denial of bail. The State action is being bolstered by actions of party cadre and party loyalists who are rushing in to harangue, abuse and beat up so called "offenders''. The abuse continues in social media. An ambience of terror and intimidation is being generated.

The target of this terror is a predictable group, the secular, anti- Hindutva, pro-democratic sections of the population, India's most endangered species - the secular intelligentsia. What is also alarming is that attacks against this group are tapping into a pool of public opinion that believes that India should be a strong State, that tolerance is not a virtue, that nationalism is an unalloyed virtue, that universities should have no autonomy and what is worse, "some people should be taught a lesson''. It would be simplistic and erroneous to believe that only the ignorant and the obscurantists hold such outlandish views. These views are held by educated people, seen and heard in clubs and cocktail parties, people who one would expect to be upholders of the rule of law and the Indian Constitution. This pool of support and the popular mandate provide the sanction for the slide towards authoritarianism.

It could be said - and will be said - how can there be a slide towards authoritarianism when Parliament still exists and is functioning to the extent that the Opposition is voicing its concern on the floors of the two Houses of Parliament? The authoritarianism is manifest in a different, but not an irrelevant, theatre. This is at the street level - the way supporters and party loyalists are mobilizing themselves to suppress dissent and the articulation of criticism. They are also choosing their own ways of punishing those who differ with them - smearing them with ink, humiliating them, beating them up, lynching them and so on. These are acts akin to those the storm troopers and the Hitler Youth carried out in Nazi Germany. The processes of the rule of law have ceased to matter; what is decisive is the use of muscle power to impose one particular ideological view, Hindutva.

Such actions have the consent of the ideological and the political leaders. It has become clear over many incidents that the prime minister, even though he was elected as the prime minister of India, will not utter a single word to condemn such actions. This has raised eyebrows among certain circles, especially among those who, without being champions of Hindutva, had hopes that Narendra Modi would provide good governance.

There is a fundamental misconception in the expression of such surprise. Mr Modi does not condemn because he does not believe such acts deserve to be condemned. The violent suppression of dissent and the imposition of the Hindutva ideology are essential parts of his core ideology. These are beliefs that he has imbibed when he trained as a loyal cadre of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The fact that as the chief minister of Gujarat, he put the veneer of development on his ideology does not mean that he has abandoned his core beliefs. He believes in Hindutva, in making India a Hindu rashtra and in making sections of the Indian population into second class citizens or if possible in eliminating them. If all this requires doses of violence so be it: it will make Hindu India a strong State. Mr Modi has failed to be the prime minister of the people of India. His aims and aspirations are fundamentally at odds with the pluralist spirit of the many civilizations that have made India.

This is not to suggest that Mr Modi is ordering or directing the violence, the intolerance and the suppression of dissent. He does not need to. His supporters are second-guessing him and carrying out actions that they know will win his approval. Mr Modi does not need to implement his own ideological agenda, there are people - many of them physically far away from him, ordinary cadre of the sangh parivar - who are doing that job of implementation and doing it mercilessly. They are working towards Hindutva and therefore towards Mr Modi's core beliefs.

The emergence of Mr Modi as the undisputed and unchallenged leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party has resulted in greater clarity in the ideological goals. This has been facilitated at the level of ruling by the erosion of collective government. Everyone - cabinet minister and babu - knows from where the power flows. Mr Modi's personalized form of rule is creating conditions for initiatives from below and his foreign trips are winning for him a claque of applauders who have no stakes in India. The mood carries Mr Modi in as much as he makes the mood.

Thus is created the social and the charismatic basis of a form of rule that will not only destroy democracy but also bring down forms of civilized existence. A form of rule in which only brutality will prevail. Students of history know what such regimes of power are called.