Amongst the many horrifying conclusions one can draw from last month’s horrific communal riots in Delhi that left 53 people dead, the starkest ones are those that have made it clear that India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has now firmly hitched their wagon to a strategy of incessant Hindu radicalisation. A remorseless political party continues to use the fig leaf of ‘civilisational issues’ to justify their communal agenda (and at times, to obfuscate their failure in improving the lives of ordinary Indian citizens). India’s hardline government and the poison it is pumping through people’s minds should concern as all. Yes, all the talk about development was always just window dressing and the BJP has always been transparent about their cultural agenda – but the pace at which events have unfolded in the past six months demands that we reflect on how the Indian society is being torn apart, particularly as a result of the radicalisation of Hindus.
In India, we have for a while now made a distinction between radical Hindutva and Hinduism. In the past, this frame of reference helped identify the fringe extremist elements of Hinduism, who for reasons of political dominance or religious purity, took a hard-line stance. The Hindutva idea of a state is a majoritarian one, essentially theocratic in the way it demands the subjugation of minorities to the benevolence of the majority. For a very long time, we could say with a high degree of assurance that the vast majority of Hindus did not entertain these ideas. Diverse in religious and cultural practices have co-existed, at times limiting social interactions or causing localised communal conflicts, but that usually did not translate into a normalisation of expressions of bigotry and violence against people unlike themselves. It would be quite difficult to continue to make this distinction, as the events that unfolded in Delhi revealed.
The seeds of this moral degeneration were sown much earlier.
The Gujarat model
Narendra Modi, one must recognise, is a politician who has always thrived on a society rife with communal tensions. Irrespective of the judiciary’s verdicts on his role in the Gujarat riots of 2002, it is undeniable that Modi was quick to seize on the opportunity presented by the naked polarisation of Hindus in Gujarat. The effects of 2002 were long-lasting as the displaced Muslims were consigned to ghettos.
As veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar observed in 2008:
“What is surprising is the freezing of division between the two communities as if something permanent has taken place. In every state, even in Delhi after the 1984 Hindu-Sikh riots, the ousted people have gone back to their home and business places to restart life. Gujarat is the only state where the victims have not been allowed to return, the government probably proving that the line delineated between the two communities in 2002 will not change.”
In parallel, Modi reinforced this divide through his references to Gujarati asmita – what later transformed into the campaign calling cards of ‘vikas’ and ‘sawa-sau crore deshwasi’. This rampant Hindu radicalisation yielded rich political and electoral dividends for Modi and his lieutenant, Amit Shah. The Hindutva laboratory in Gujarat was a sophisticated one – it focused on shifting the discursive context from a contest over resources or state patronage to one where Muslims were side-lined from public conversations. This ‘Gujarat model’ changed the idiom of communal polarisation. Once Modi moved to Delhi in 2014, it was easy to foretell that similar experiments would be carried out in the rest of the country.
Replicating the Gujarat model nationally
Since coming to power in 2014, with the levers of the state in its hands and more importantly a vast amount of financial resources at their command, the BJP and its ideological parent the RSS have been busy at work challenging this social fabric. Incessant propaganda aimed at aggravating religious divides was unleashed. That perhaps was not enough, and therefore, the narrative also focused on real and imagined grievances starting from medieval times. Muslims, and Christians to a lesser extent, were positioned as threats to the lives of ordinary Hindus. The goal was to erase the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva, placing the latter as the central
Modi’s first term in power saw a rapid escalation in violence targeted at vulnerable Muslims – often individuals as one saw in the mob lynching and murder of Akhlaq in Dadri and Pehlu Khan in Alwar. Under the garb of protecting Hindu religious sentiments, various vigilantes and militias emerged, murdering and lynching with impunity. In 2019, the BJP fought the Lok Sabha election on the plank of majoritarian politics and national security. In both instances, there was little doubt as to who were being identified as the ‘threat’ and the ‘villains’. Once the Lok Sabha was secured, the BJP doubled down on its Hindutva politics, finding great success in banning Triple Talaq, followed by the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir and the territorial lockdown. Prominent politicians in J&K remain under house arrest to this day.
Thanks to the BJP’s rising confidence in having radicalised Hindus even further, we have seen a clear escalation in their communal agenda. The devious nationwide-NRC and CAA were perfectly designed to deepen social fissures and relied on Hindus siding with the BJP. This was also evident in the way the BJP conducted its assembly election campaigns in Jharkhand and Delhi. Pratap Bhanu Mehta described the BJP’s strategy quite accurately thus:
“The BJP’s poisonous campaign during the Delhi election was a classic Catch 22. First, we discriminate. Then we make sure there is no institutional redress. If there is protest, we use it as further proof of the perfidy of minorities, intellectuals and other so-called anti-nationals. BJP leaders then call for violence to be unleashed, and when violence is unleashed, we blame them for violence. Never has a more diabolical moral circle been created.”
BJP’s pogrom in Delhi
Recent events in Delhi and beyond suggest that this ‘diabolical’ strategy has indeed succeeded. What transpired in Delhi is no doubt a pogrom. The violence was initiated by armed Hindutva mobs who were egged on by prominent BJP politicians. The central government showed no interest in either controlling the hateful propaganda or enforcing law and order in Delhi. Delhi Police now resembles a neutered force, standing around helplessly as violent mobs shouted slogans and went on a rampage attacking Muslim homes and businesses. At its worst, the Delhi Police joined in with the perpetrators, as several accounts have now confirmed, and was probably on display most clearly in that viral video where five young men were beaten while being made to sing the national anthem. No doubt these videos were meant to go viral, and the BJP has cynically calculated that a wide cross-section of Hindus would support them in spite of such scenes.
Videos emerged of a mob shouting ‘goli maaron saalon ko’ at the Rajiv Chowk metro station in Delhi – this group was apparently apprehended and let go in quick time, perhaps keeping with the Delhi Police’s now established reputation of giving pro-government goons safe passage in tricky situations. The media, always a willing accomplice to the BJP’s machinations, has been deployed skilfully to spread the canard that the anti-CAA/NRC protests are against Hindus. Propaganda via Whatsapp continues as usual. The muted reactions to the calculated violence in Delhi and its aftermath point to unfortunate levels of Hindu radicalisation that has justified this violence in their own minds as something Muslims ‘deserved’ for their protestations against the CAA.
While political parties will come and go, the damage this level of Hindu radicalisation is doing to India is bound to be extremely hard to undo. India’s founding fathers rightly rejected narrow sectarian considerations at the time of independence and formulated a constitutional republic committed to liberty, equality, and secularism. However, a thoroughly radicalised Hindu population has started ensuring that majoritarian interests prevail over constitutional values. An atmosphere of hate and radicalisation can never sustain a prosperous society. We seem to be sliding headlong into a deep abyss. One hopes it is not too late to start pulling ourselves back up.