The year of bitter fruit
“Ye daagh-daagh ujala, ye shab-ghazeeda seher/ Wo intezaar thha jiska, ye wo seher to nahin (This stained pitted light, this night-bitten dawn/ That we were waiting for, this is not that morning).”
Traitorous felony as it might have become to a fair many to quote Faiz Ahmed Faiz — Communist, Pakistani, Mussalmaan, in other words, as vile an alchemy as it can get — there it is, as apt a description of our station as it can get this New Year’s morning.
The year just gone by was The Year of the Taking Down of India. Or, at any rate, the unabashed inaugural rites of it. That requires a single testament to assert, no more: Indian rejoicing the plunder of another Indian with whetted wickedness. It has been the year, let not the crossroads eruption of current vigils delude us, that Indians wholesomely mandated a regime to go after Indians. The reasons that powered Narendra Modi’s 2019 romp to power were radically different from those that secured him helmsmanship in 2014. These reasons were not about vikas, these reasons had nothing to do with rage or ennui at a dispensation that had descended into corruption and paralysis, these had nothing to do with hope or aspiration for a surging modern India. Modi had not delivered credibly on any of those to have secured a more robust endorsement. What he had begun to deliver on was his core, and often deceitfully unspoken, promise: Hindu rashtra.
The rushes of what was to come had been screened ahead of the vote of 2019; it should be none of Modi’s fault that folks did not see or absorb the meaning of it. The sectarian lynchings and the recurrent commendation of crime. The spur to ‘Go to Pakistan!’ The oft-repeated rhetoric of paanch-pachees and shamshaan-kabristaan, as naked a trope for minority-flogging as it gets. The showcased dishonouring of sacred customs and symbols. The deification of Nathuram Godse and the flagrant belittling of Nehru. Sniper attacks on the Constitution from the ruling ramparts. The promotion of Adityanath, hate monger and avowed chauvinist, as potentate of our most populous province. Any surprise that the paragon of uncouth prejudices, Pragya Thakur, followed suit into Parliament on a record vote?
The outcome of May 23, 2019 brought just reward to the potential the Modi regime had demonstrated in the preceding five years, the potential of what it could wreak upon India given another opportunity and a more robust mandate. To me, the single reason Modi was voted back resoundingly still resonates in the words of a young man in Varanasi.“Ek kaam 70 saal mein nahin hua thha, woh ek kaam Modiji ne kar diya.” (There was one job left undone in 70 years, that job Modiji has done.)
There’s no code to understanding what job; it’s an open-code thing, it’s the thing that chorused from the rostrums throughout the campaign just gone. But if it still needs explaining. No need to specify what’s that one thing; everybody knows. It’s the pointed exclusion and Othering of India’s largest minority, its formal notarizing as the unwanted and dispensable ones, even as the ones that constitute the useful construct of the enemy.
That ticket handsomely encashed, Modi has lost no time in bringing to bear the promise to his votaries. This has been the year of the bearing of bitter fruit; the year of one Indian privileged with the plucking of it, another Indian pulverized with the stuffing of it. This has been the year of the applauded throttling of India. This has been the year of the scalding of her soul. This has been the year of the gnarling of her body. This has been the year of the perversion of her mind. This has been the year of the poisoning of her voice. This has been the year of the mutilation of her crown.
India is no longer a composite geography whose longitudes ring with the romance of Kashmir to Kanyakumari; now, if at all we celebrate a diversity, it should be termed a Ladakh to Lakshadweep diversity. Get used to the ring of it, for Kashmir is no longer our prided crown, it is a castrated, humiliated Union territory which can, at best, aspire to the will of a municipality. A muffled, jackbooted municipality that does not even enjoy the right to transmit its voice to itself, much less to the world. Such is the thing we have made of what classical metaphors named paradise. Ayodhya was ceded, by the fiat of a judiciary that cannot bring to effect the fundamental writ of habeas corpus, with no apology, much less punishment, for the unembarrassed vandalism of December 6, 1992. And then comes the toxic triple-antigen called CAA-NPR-NRC, a separator vaccine administered to the body politic with no intent other than to render it rabidly torn. Everybody, proponent and opponent, is aware of the reasons and results of that triple-antigen: civil war is being injected into this nation’s bloodstream. It is the ‘Othering’ litmus, you are either us or you are them. Recognize them by their clothes, those clothes are not us. And the sight of those clothes will beg that infamous question asked in Nazi Germany of the Jews: “Your papers please?” Those clothes have already enacted before us the roll-out of our own Kristallnacht. Recall the wanton lynchings. Please pay heed to what has recently happened in minority precincts in Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh. Sectarian vilification. Organized violence by uniformed men in select localities. Targeted arrests and torture of Muslims and their sympathizers. Unlawful, and showcased, collection of protection money from the community. The replay of human power and prejudice in a transferred geography, in transferred times, is shudder-worthy. And yet we seem to be, largely, at peace with what transpires around us, quietly pleased, if not merely indifferent. This is what Daniel Goldhagen wrote of the state of mind of Germans during Nazi ascendancy in his critical work, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: “[T]he evidence indicates not Germans’ ‘indifference,’ but their pitilessness. It is oxymoronic to suggest that those who stood with curiosity gazing upon the annihilative infernos of Kristallnacht... looked upon the destruction with ‘indifference.’ People generally flee scenes and events that they consider to be horrific, criminal, or dangerous. Yet Germans flocked to watch the assaults on the Jews and their buildings, just as spectators once flocked to medieval executions and as children flock to a circus.”
All of this, the vocal excess of the people of India validated and voted for, let there be no mistake. This is of our making. But let us be warned for what we applaud; let us give ourselves no excuses for saying we did not know. We do know. And we are happy for it, for the dismembering of who we are. The 2019 Modi manifesto was a ‘keh ke lenge’ manifesto, it laid bare the ominous plans he had. This nation endorsed it; the consequence of that endorsement this nation must bear. Or denounce.
But is there a denouncing of the ‘keh ke lenge’ manifesto anywhere in evidence? Doubtless, the eruption of protests across datelines has revealed a rebellious bone in us. But not yet a spine. Are we to believe that a people who handed Modi formidable numbers just half a year ago have had a sudden change of heart? A change of heart has perhaps indeed happened, but that change is that we have revealed ourselves to be heartless.
The temptation is to resort to the dark audacity of rephrasing Faiz: “Ye daagh-daagh ujala, ye shab-ghazeeda seher/ Wo intezaar thha jiska, ye wohi to seher hai.”
Have a peaceful and prosperous year ahead, country people; and remember that governments come and go, nations, good nations, transcend them.