Be alert to Operation ‘Dhakka’

There one moment, gone the next — statue of Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov, known internationally as Lenin, March 5, 2018, Belonia, Tripura. “Bharat Mata ki jai!” saffron-sporting men yelled as they felled the statue of the Russian communist revolutionary. It did not matter to them that Lenin had hailed that same Bharat, its revolutionary ardour, for struggling to free itself from British imperialist and indigenous yokes. It did not matter to them that Lenin had been the inspiration to generations of Indians, leaders and led, in their strivings for a just Bharat. What mattered to them was that Lenin had inspired the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government in that northeastern State, which had been un-seated after an un-broken 25 years of ‘red rule’.
A second Lenin statue was to be similarly toppled at another site in the State shortly thereafter. A report said the statue’s decapitated head was turned into a ‘football’. Visuals of the statue’s ‘slaying’ and of the ‘slain’ figure lying amidst what looks like garbage sped across the globe. And millions watched them in disbelief. ‘What ever happened to Tripura? Where is Indian democracy headed?’
And the chronology unfolded in thinking, remembering minds of other demolitions, charrings that seem to belong to a family of hate, of violent hate. The Babri Masjid, Ayodhya, December 6, 1992. The WaliDakhaniMazaar, just outside the office of the Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad, March 1, 2002. An estimated 272 minority shrines in Gujarat over six days thereafter. St. Sebastian’s Church, DilshadBagh, Delhi, Christmas eve, 2014.
“Ekdhakkazor se (one more shove, and make it strong)” was an inflammatory cry that was heard at the time of the Babri Masjid demolition. The list of demolitions together can be called ‘Operation Dhakka’.
What does one say to this sample scroll?
That the mindset of the people of India is now happy with the bulldozer? That it now endorses the blade that cuts, crushes, decimates the ‘other’? Does it approve the claw that then moves the heap away?
The nationwide response to the vandalisation rejects that despondent hypothesis. So swift was the reaction, all in real time, even before the news condensed into cold print the following day, that the Bharatiya Janata Party functionary who tweeted with the speed of sound to the effect that ‘Lenin today, Periyar tomorrow’ had to retract that with the speed of light. Thank God, one might say, begging Periyar’s atheistic pardon, for Periyar’s giant stature. Even in death, his stature remain stronger than any statue bulldozer.
And the Prime Minister, sensitive to world opinion, and aware of the reaction to the Tripura shame, has asked the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to say that what has happened is not acceptable. He has done what is only right and proper. And quickly enough. He deserves to be complimented. The new Chief Minister, too, deserves appreciation for his expression of disapproval. Those who said things that seemed to explain away the dhakka will be hopefully be sobered by the Prime Minister’s admonition.
The questions remain: Why do supporters of his party feel that they can do what they have done, in the first place? Why do they feel they can do that and get away with it? Or that – even if the administration was to prosecute them – the dhakka has done its work and so, yay!
The Prime Minister’s chastisement, last year, of cow vigilantism was salutary, though it came not nearly as fast as his response to the Lenin dhakka. But did cow vigilantism stop? Is the cattle trade now free of fear? We know the answer.
Why? Because the culture of dhakka is abroad. And so it will be until India gets another clear message, direct and unmistakable, in continuation of his advisory to the MHA, from the Prime Minister saying he is deeply troubled and hurt by what happened in Tripura, that no one owing allegiance to ‘saffron’ will ever conduct such an ‘Operation Dhakka’ again, not just because a statue of a great world leader was vandalised but because that vandalisation reflects political coarseness, un-democratic belligerence.
Bullies are not democrats. And democracy is not a bully. That adds up to a paradox: the bullying of democracy and the enfranchising of the bully.
Democracy, as organised for us by our Constitution, does not disentitle bullies from participating in election campaigns, electoral contests. Why? Because, to borrow and adapt, begging his pardon, Gandhi’s famous description of God, the bully is “an indefinable mysterious power… which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof…”
Unveiling the electoral process for the electing population, our democracy says to the voter what a voter may or may not do as that essential digit in democracy, namely, the elector. It says to the candidate and campaigner what they may or may not do in the run-up to the polls. It says to election officers what they may or may not do as the polls are on. It says to Presidents and Governors what they should or should not do, how they should and should not act when scrutinising results to see who should be called to form governments.
But democracy does not tell the public to not let the anti-social, the anti-democracy bully take the law into his hands and hold peace to ransom, peaceful change to ransom, the democratic process itself to ransom. Democracy does not tell us that but governance can, administrations should. And that, through the medium of the laws, the dicta of ‘law and order’.
Operation Dhakka has therefore happened right under democracy’s nose and above governments’ heads. It has happened, I said. But that is surely an under-statement and, in fact, a mis-statement. It has been allowed to happen, it has been enabled to happen. ‘No flout without clout.’ Certainly no flout of the scale that Operation Dhakka represents.
But stopping the culture of dhakka cannot be left to the administration’s law and order maintenance mechanism.
Relay and retaliatory dhakkas are likely, with the defacement of a Periyar statue having been already attempted, incredibly, and a Syama Prasad Mukherjee statue in Kolkata being black-inked. This is an incendiary risk which only political leadership can address.
Treating the risk as a ‘law and order matter’ is not the answer, for the dhakka challenge runs deeper. It threatens to erode the very fabric of our democracy.
It is imperative that all democratic forces unite in saying no one should repeat or retaliate in copy-cat shames, the Tripura shame. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s statement has been frank and fearless. “Karl Marx or Mohamati [The Great] Lenin are not my leaders,” she said.“But they do matter in Russia. Different people are leaders in different countries and different places formed this [the world]… but you [the BJP] do not have the right to raze the statues of Marx or Lenin, just because you came to power.”
Strong words. The communist parties of India and the Trinamool Congress can recall violence for which they hold the other squarely responsible. But surely the time has come for them and all parties that sense a new danger from dhakka-ism to democracy to now arouse India’s faith in democratic choice and thereby bulldoze bulldozing.

 
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