In a deeply affecting account titled Hashimpura 22 May (Penguin 2016) of the slaughter by armed policemen in 1987 of 42 young civilian Muslim men, police officer and novelist Vibhuti Narain Rai says, ‘Imagine such a close encounter with death that when you open your eyes to bodies – dead and half dead – you may want to touch (your killers) to believe you are still alive. When molten lead rips through your flesh and flings you in the air like cotton balls, there is no pain, no fear and there is not even time for memories to torment you. There are rifles blazing around you and then there is the cacophony of abuses being sprouted by your killers. And with numbed senses, you wait for one of the bullets whizzing past you to enter your body in a way that you are tossed in the air for a moment and collapse on the ground with a thud. How will you describe such a death? Especially when you are seeing your killers for the first time and despite thinking hard your mind cannot just figure out why would they want to kill you’.
I imagine that similar thoughts would have raced through the mind of Bengali migrant worker Afrazul Khan, minutes before he died, in Rajsamand in Rajasthan on December 6, 2017.
When a man he had never met in his life assaulted him suddenly, savagely, incomprehensibly. Initially unable to grasp what was happening to him, he realized in the last seconds of his life that the man for some reason wanted to take his life. ‘Babu’, he begged him plaintively, desperately, ‘let me live’. But his killer persisted. Did he notice that a young teenager was filming his killing? Was there time even for memories of his loved ones before he was knocked unconscious and set on fire?
Through his book on Hashimpura, Rai is tortured by another question. Why the soldiers ‘put their rifles on the chest of unarmed hapless youngsters and shot them and even after they fell on the ground shivering, kept on pumping bullets in them to make sure they die. All this without knowing them, without any personal enmity! Why?’
The same question has besieged and haunted me as well, ever since I went four days after the brutal hate killing of Afrazul Khan with a fact-finding team of comrades to try to make sense of what had happened. And why?
Through our investigations, it became clear that the man who killed Khan in a video-graphed gruesome murder, Shambhulal Regar, did not even know the man he killed. Even less did he have any personal grouse or enmity against him. It is evident that he murdered him because he wanted to kill a Muslim, any Muslim, as an example to all Muslims.
Khan’s trade as a petty construction and labour contractor allowed him to invite him unsuspectingly to an isolated plot of land – a vacant housing plot that he owned jointly with his brothers – close to the highway but hidden by thick overgrowth. We speculate that Shambhu got Khan’s number on the false ground that he wanted some construction work done on his land, possibly a boundary wall.
To understand what may have motivated this man to kill a stranger, my colleagues and I visited his home. He was born into the Regar caste, deemed to fall very low in the caste hierarchy. Their traditional caste occupation is the skinning of cattle and the treatment of the hide. Even the Chamar, who traditionally make shoes, regards the Regar to be unclean and untouchable.
The small town in which he lives is settled in colonies divided mostly by caste. He lives with his brothers in a joint family in the town’s Regar colony. We found that not just Shambhu’s family but many others of their caste seem to have raised their economic situation over time. The colony had paved roads, cemented drains and concrete houses, although the roads were mostly blocked by stray cattle. Shambhu’s family lived in a three storeyed home, with a lift and an iron gate.
His family met us outside the gate of their home, and understandably were cautious and guarded as they spoke to us. Shambhu has a mentally challenged daughter, who he is seen holding close to him in one the videos in which he rants against Muslims. In the first visit to their home by my colleagues, she was playing outside. Unaware of the gravity of the crisis into which the family had been plunged, and affectionately insisted on touching the feet of all the visitors.
It was clear that no one in the family now pursued their family trade. Rajsamand is famous for its marble business, and Shambhu’s family too had benefited from this. His father had shifted his base to Anand in Gujarat, where he built and installed marble temples in the homes of the devout. I am sure that he would not have revealed his caste to his customers. One of Shambhu’s brothers worked as a laboratory technician in the government hospital. His other brother was doing well in his furniture business.
Shambhu, they said, was ‘doing nothing’ these days. He had built up for himself a fairly successful marble business, and even had an office in Gurgaon. But they said that his business also collapsed under the pressures of demonetisation. Since then, they said that he spent most of his time glued to the internet. He was most drawn to videos circulated on the internet by many Hindutva groups that are full of venomous propaganda against Muslims and Christians.
In circulation are also videos of hate and lynch attacks against Muslims in many parts of the country, circulated by the hate attackers themselves, as convinced about the masculine valour of their aggression and blood of what they feel is the defence of their religion, as they are of their impunity. We spoke to other residents of the Regar colony. They all spoke of his addiction to Hindutva videos. Some said he also watched the execution videos of Islamist groups like the ISIS. Others spoke of his other addiction, to smoking ganja.
No one among his family and neighbours spoke of him being mentally disturbed or agitated. None would have suspected that he could have done what he did. He was, of course, full of hatred against Muslims. They did not, of course, support his killing, but they seemed to find both explicable and justified his loathing of Muslims.
We asked them what the cause was of this hatred. They spoke in particular about them as predators of innocent Hindu girls, in the evil conspiracy of love jihad. We asked them to cite specific instances. They were able to recount only three instances of alliances of Muslim men with Hindu woman.
One dated back 12 years, a second 9 years and the third 7 years. We met the young woman involved in the last incident. She did go as a young teenager with a much older Muslim man to Malda in Bengal. She said that Shambhulal Regar took some money – around 10,000 rupees – from her mother to ‘rescue’ her and bring her back. She refused to return with Regar. But on her own volition some months later, she returned to her mother, as she was unhappy in the man’s home. The past five years after her return, she has tried to study and rebuild her life. She is now studying for her Class 12 examination, and wants to be a nurse. She is furious with Regar for dragging her name as a rationale for his horrific crime. She wishes to be left alone, and so I do not mention her name or other details here.
When people of different communities live side by side, it is surprising that there were not more instances of people being drawn to one another across faith. In our meeting with local Muslims of the district (and not the migrants), they said that since many among them were doing well in the marble business, they were able to send their children to college. They now live in dread that if even one of their sons befriends a Hindu girl, the consequences can be catastrophic for the entire community.
Shambhu explains his reasons for enmity with Muslims in three videos that he circulated. One was a rant that followed immediately after his nephew records his murder of Afrazul Khan. A second shows him at a temple, and a third with his mentally challenged daughter. I quote the substance of his tirade in the Fact Finding Report that I wrote with John Dayal and Kavita Shrivastava. ‘He speaks of love jihad which he alleges targets innocent Muslim girls for sexual bondage to Muslim men; of counterfeit notes that fund terrorist groups; of films (and he specifically mentions PK and Padmavati) which make fun of Hindu gods and distort ‘Hindu’ history; of a Muslim conspiracy to destroy a generation of Hindus by attracting them to drugs; of mafia dons who find safe havens in Pakistan while looting India; of sinister black-robed Muslim men who surround mosques; and of the Babri Masjid where a Ram Temple could not be built even after 25 years. Being born to a disadvantaged caste, he significantly calls for the breaking of caste boundaries for all Hindus to unite against the multiple jihadi conspiracies of the Muslims in India’.
The defence of the Sangh organisations will surely be that his was a lone wolf attack, and that he was not an enrolled member of the RSS or any of its affiliate organisations, or that we was mentally disturbed. This was their defence when Dara Singh burned alive Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons; and even earlier that Nathuram Godse who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi was not a member of the RSS. This is what an RSS spokesperson said to me in a heated television debate on the question: he charged that I and others like me from the ‘Left’ had a ‘jaundiced eye’, and saw blame the RSS and its affiliates for the crime of a man who was no more than a deranged murderer.
These are, however, very thin defences. There can be little doubt that Godse shot Gandhiji because he was intensely influenced by the relentless venomous ideological fusillade of the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS against Mahatma Gandhi’s conviction that India belonged to its Muslim citizens as much as it belonged to Hindus. Likewise that Dara Singh was swayed by the Sangh propaganda of Christian evangelism threatening to bribe ‘innocent’ tribal people to Christianity. (Even Atal Vajpayee said in barely disguised defence after the killing of Staines and his sons that there should be a national debate on conversions). In the same way, Shambhu’s communal rant on the videos he and his nephew made reflect intense internalisation sustained through the past century of the ideological anti-Muslim propaganda of the Sangh organisations and the BJP.
We need to stare the truth in its face. Shambhulal Regar killed an innocent Muslim man in a public videotaped performance because he was taught and programmed to hate all Muslims.
India’s perilous obsession with Pakistan
By Nissim Mannathukkaren
Come Indian elections, the bogey of Pakistan has overwhelmed the nationalist discourse in the shrillest manner, with the Prime Minister and other Ministers’ relentless branding of the Congress/Opposition as ‘anti-national’ and as ‘agents of Pakistan’. Further, the Prime Minister even made an unprecedented threat of using nuclear weapons against Pakistan.
As a country born of the two-nation theory based on religion, and then having to suffer dismemberment and the consequent damage to the very same religious identity, it is obvious why Islamic Pakistan must have a hostile Other in the form of a ‘Hindu India’. But what is not obvious is why India, a (much larger) secular nation, must have a hostile antagonist in the form of Pakistan.
It is widely recognised that the fulcrum of the Pakistani state and establishment is an anti-India ideology and an obsession with India. But what has scarcely received notice is that India’s post-Independence nationalism has been equally driven by an obsession with Pakistan. Of course, this obsession acquires a pathological dimension under regimes, like the present one, which thrive on hyper-nationalism and a ‘Hindu India’ identity.
But, this hyper-nationalistic urge to ‘defeat’ Pakistan and to gloat over every victory, both real and claimed, is ultimately self-defeating, and comes with huge human and material costs. Much of these costs are hidden by jingoism masquerading as nationalism.
Words often used regarding the Pakistani state’s actions, even by critical Pakistani voices, are ‘delusional’ and ‘suicidal’, and rightly so. For, no level-headed state would seek to attain military parity with a country that is six and half times larger in population, and eight and a half times bigger economically. HussainHaqqani, the Pakistani diplomat and scholar, compared it to “Belgium rivalling France or Germany”. Pakistan’s vastly disproportionate spending on the military has been self-destructive for a poor nation.
In 1990, Pakistan was ahead of India by three places in the Human Development Index. In 2017, Pakistan was behind India by 20 ranks, a sad reflection of its ruinous policies.
More critically, the Pakistani state’s sponsorship of Islamist terror groups has been nothing less than catastrophic. What the world, including India, does not recognise is that Pakistan, ironically, is also one of the worst victims of Islamist terrorism. In the period 2000-2019, 22,577 civilians and 7,080 security personnel were killed in terrorism-related violence in Pakistan (the number of civilian/security personnel deaths from Islamist terrorism in India, excluding Jammu and Kashmir, was 926 in during 2000-2018).
The fact that Pakistan has suffered much more than India in their mutual obsession cannot hide the equally serious losses that India has undergone and is willing to undergo in its supposedly muscular pursuit of a ‘no dialogue’ policy with Pakistan.
Wars and military competition produce madness. Nothing exemplifies this more than India-Pakistan attempts to secure the Siachen Glacier, the inhospitable and highest battle terrain in the world. India alone lost nearly 800 soldiers (until 2016) to weather-related causes only. Besides, it spends around ?6 crore every day in Siachen. Operation Parakram (2001-02), in which India mobilised for war with Pakistan, saw 798 soldier deaths and a cost of $3 billion. This is without fighting a war. Add to this the human and economic costs of fighting four wars.
Granted, the proponents of India’s muscular nationalism who want only a military solution in Kashmir might close their eyes to the killings of some 50,000 Kashmiri civilians and the unending suffering of Kashmiris, but can they, as nationalists, ignore, the deaths of around 6,500 security personnel in Kashmir and the gargantuan and un-estimated costs of stationing nearly 5 lakh military/para-military/police personnel in Kashmir for 30 years?
Ten years ago, Stephen P. Cohen, the prominent American scholar of South Asia, called the India-Pakistan relationship “toxic” and notably termed both, and not just Pakistan, as suffering from a “minority” or “small power” complex in which one is feeling constantly “threatened” and “encircled”. Tellingly, he argues that it is the disastrous conflict with Pakistan that has been one of the main reasons why India has been confined to South Asia, and prevented from becoming a global power.
Here, one should ask the most pertinent question: why does India compete with Pakistan in every sphere, from military to sport, rather than with, say, China, which is comparable in size and population, and which in 1980 had the same GDP as India? (China’s GDP is almost five times that of India’s now.)
Of course, emulating China need not mean emulating its internal authoritarianism or its almost colonial, external economic expansionism. On the contrary, it is to learn from China’s early success in universalising health care and education, providing basic income, and advancing human development, which as AmartyaSen has argued, is the basis of its economic miracle. It is precisely here that India has failed, and is continuing to fail.
Therefore, despite India being one of the fastest growing major economies in the world since 1991 (yet, only ranked 147 in per capita income in 2017), its social indicators in many areas, including health, education, child and women welfare, are abysmal in comparison with China’s. Worryingly, in the focus on one-upmanship with Pakistan, India’s pace in social indicator improvement has been less than some poorer economies too. The phenomenal strides made by Bangladesh in the social sector are an example.
Here, a look at the military expenditures is revealing: while India spent $63.9 billion (2017) and Pakistan $9.6 billion (2018-19), Bangladesh spent only $3.45 billion (2018-19). Only a muscular and masculine nationalism can take pride in things such as becoming the fifth largest military spender in the world, or being the world’s second largest arms importer. The bitter truth hidden in these details is that India, ranked 130 in the HDI (and Pakistan, 150), simply cannot afford to spend scarce resources on nuclear arsenals, maintaining huge armies or developing space weapons. Besides, in an increasingly globalised world, military resolution between a nuclear India and Pakistan is almost impossible.
The more India, the largest democracy in the world, defines itself as the Other of Pakistan, a nation practically governed by the military, the more it will become its mirror. Any nation that thrives by constructing a mythical external enemy must also construct mythical internal enemies. That is why the number of people labelled ‘anti-national’ is increasing in India. India has to rise to take its place in the world. That place is not being a global superpower, but being the greatest and most diverse democracy in the world. That can only happen if it can get rid of its obsession with Pakistan.
Symbol of New (Hindu) India?
By Sanjeev Ahluwalia
BJP president Amit Shah is technically correct to say that SadhviPragya Thakur, one of the accused in the September 2008 Malegaon (Maharashtra) bomb blast case, who is on bail, has a right, under our liberal electoral laws, to contest the elections. It hardly matters that she voluntarily claimed being part of the Hindutava forces which had pulverised the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 and that an FIR has been registered against her by the Madhya Pradesh police on the orders of the Election Commission.
A galaxy of BJP leaders headed by Lal Krishna Advani, who went on to become deputy prime minister, and Hindutava firebrands Version 1 from the 1990s era — SadhviRithambra, VinayKatiar, Hari Vishnu Dalmia, et al — were criminally indicted for conspiracy but let off by a CBI special court in 2001. The Allahabad high court upheld the order of acquittal in 2010. But curiously, the Supreme Court directed that the case be revived in April 2017, under the NarendraModi government.
To be honest, there was little reason, back then, not to indict both Kalyan Singh, the BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and P.V. Narasimha Rao, the Congress Prime Minister. Culpability for dereliction of duty runs deep and inefficiencies in the judicial system help gaming transgressors.
Our laws consequently acknowledge this judicial gap and do not bar a candidate from political office, even though serious criminal charges have been drawn up in court against the person and a trial is under way.
But that does not fully explain why the BJP chose her. After all, Bhopal is not just any other seat. It is the capital of Madhya Pradesh and she has been pitted against Digvijay Singh, a former chief minister of the state and a senior Congress leader.
More to the point, isn’t she out of sync with the BJP government’s soothing signature tune of “Sabkasaath, sabkavikas” (with everyone, for everyone)? Does this signal a major change in stance and hitherto is revisionist social policy likely to overshadow the imperative for economic growth?
Pragya Thakur has no qualms about evoking her mystical powers to “damn” (curse) her opponents, demonstrating a conflation between her private well-being and that of all Hindus — a distinction which is necessary in those holding public office. But ascetics and mystics live by the code of “bhakti” — a submersive ecosystem, in which the followers are one with the guru. This leaves no space for the rule of earthly, common law.
Bhakts believe the spiritual power of an ascetic’s curse causes irreparable harm. Such pervasive, blind faith begs the question — should India have lawmakers who exult in evoking their spiritual powrs to shield themselves from the law?
Given these rough edges, what compelled the Modi-Shah team to field SadhviPragya from Bhopal? Two motivations suggest themselves.
First, electoral strength breeds hubris. Nominating Pragya Thakur sends the message that a new, assertively Hindu India is on its way and those with different views should make way.
Hinduism is resilient because it absorbs and subsumes other beliefs. Think Tamil Nadu 70 years ago. Anti-Brahmanism, rationalism and primacy for Tamil culture and language — versus Hindi — drove the atheist Dravida movement to its peak. Today, with political power firmly with the Tamil middle castes, ritualistic Hinduism is resurgent in Tamil Nadu.
Hinduism facilitates Sanskritisation — a religious version of the Stockholm syndrome, where the marginalised empathise with and seek to emulate their oppressors, thereby perpetuating the status quo.
Even the Congress Party has succumbed. The symbols of ritualistic Hinduism — special prayers at temples and endorsements from Hindu religious leaders — are the norm. This is canny, since Muslims and Christians have nowhere else to go, at the national level — though the BahujanSamaj Party and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh; Trinamul Congress in West Bengal; TelanganaRashtraSamiti in Hyderabad, the Communists in Kerala and the AamAdmi Party in Delhi offer classically secular, regional alternatives.
An alternative driver behind Pragya Thakur’s nomination could be sheer desperation, in the absence of a NarendraModi wave, unlike 2014. After all, the party lost Madhya Pradesh along with two other cow belt states to the Congress only a few months ago during the state Assembly elections. Fielding the Sadhvi is sure to rake up Hindu resentment against the Congress for subscribing to a counter narrative of “Hindu terror” around the 2008 bomb blasts. The credibility of our police agencies has sunk so low that in the public’s perception, the “caged parrot” syndrome of ruling party capture, overrides the merits of any police action.
But multiple poll surveys, thus far, do not validate significant electoral loss for the BJP. The most recent endorsement comes from SurjitBhalla’s new book Citizen Raj: Indian Elections 1952-2019. He forecasts a simple majority of 274 for the BJP on its own. Lord Meghnad Desai, a British peer of Indian origin, also endorses a clear win.
NarendraModi is no one’s tool. Were he to succeed, his game would be to tame the tiger that he is riding. This is risky. But a more grounded strategy could well emerge, which seeks to rid Hinduism of its caste-based fractures; infuse the religion with modern concepts of universal human rights and worry more about generating income and wealth for all, rather than protecting India from without whilst dividing it from within.
The Modi-Shah duo’s dodgy electoral tactics are not new. Encouraging social divisiveness; kitchen cabinets to bypass government structures; centralisation of authority; a quasi-presidential form of campaigning and the systematic decimation of potential opponents — all these have all been used by other parties in the past. Banyan tree leadership is hardly unique to today’s BJP.
What is new is the blinding speed with which the Modi-Shah team has executed their strategy of building a “New India” — a narrative which promises to change social endowments and norms in ways that have never visualised previously. Status quoists will resist this seismic makeover. Beneficiaries will support it. Make up your mind, dear reader, where you belong.
‘The TINA trick’
By Anil Dharker
This state of despondency arises from many factors, the major one being the disappointment with the performance of NarendraModi’s government (bhakts always excepted).
Two abbreviations crop up in any conversation about the elections. Both give a dispiriting picture of the mood of the nation. The acronyms are NOTA and TINA, which as we all know, expand to None Of The Above and There Is No Alternative.
This state of despondency arises from many factors, the major one being the disappointment with the performance of NarendraModi’s government (bhakts always excepted). In 2014, there was a genuine Modi Wave caused by disillusionment with UPA’s drift and its alleged corruption; in direct contrast were Modi’s enticing promises of “development” and rooting out corruption and black money. The disasters of demonetisation and GST, rising unemployment and the unaddressed tragedy of agrarian distress has taken the sheen off Modi’s many promises.
NarendraModi knows; everyone in the BJP knows; thinking party supporters (bhakts always excepted) also know, that repeating the same promises again and again doesn’t fulfil them — action does — but implementation has either been negligible, or poor. This is why not one single speech of Modi talks of his government’s performance. It’s a strange thing to hear a prime minister going to the people for re-election without a word about five years of his government. Instead, he talks about his “muscular response” to Pakistan and he talks about Hindutva in a demagogic way reminiscent of Bal Thackeray, using words which a chief election commissioner like T N Seshan would have acted more strongly against.
Sadly, the EC is not the only institution the Modi government has eviscerated. If you really wanted to know what the BJP government has achieved in its five-year term, it’s this: Every institution, the Enforcement Directorate, CBI, the police in BJP-ruled states, the Income Tax department… name them, and they do the government’s bidding, even if many of their actions on the eve of elections are clearly political in nature and meant to influence the electorate.
This is where the TINA factor comes in. Even BJP supporters disillusioned with NarendraModi ask: If not Modi, who will be PM? Rahul Gandhi? Mamata Banerjee? Mayawati? They find all these options unacceptable. Unfortunately, people have short memories. Political turmoil brought in prime ministers as diverse as Morarji Desai, V P Singh, I K Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, DeveGowda and Charan Singh. Not all of them were a disaster. In any case, all of them were in the chair for just around a year each (except Desai, who had two years), far too short a time to judge a prime minister’s performance. More than that, it’s important to note the classic definition of a prime minister in a functioning democracy: He is the first among equals in the council of ministers. Would anyone in the present cabinet dare say that of NarendraModi? No wonder the BJP’s slogan for 2019 is “phirekbaar, Modisarkar”. And its manifesto is replete with photographs of Modi, significantly even on the cover. Apart from re-emphasising that Modi’s council of ministers consists of lightweights; the slogan underlines the fact that the BJP government is Modi, Modi and Modi. That’s how the TINA factor gets reinforced as part of the BJP’s planned campaign strategy.
Contrast that with the Congress’s slogan, “abhoga NYAY’, a play on the Hindi word to mean justice as well as highlight the party’s ambitious social welfare programme, with which it hopes to make an impact on the elections. It also removes any hint of a personality cult in the party, although clearly, Rahul Gandhi is the prime force in the election campaign. Perhaps, it’s also a tacit admission that the public perception of Rahul Gandhi as an unsuitable candidate for prime ministership hasn’t changed, although the man himself has grown impressively into a leadership role. But you need an open mind to notice that, and an open mind doesn’t seem to be a common attribute of our electorate, especially its urban component. The more educated you are, the more you are likely to hold on to your prejudices.
An interesting point to note is that even Indira Gandhi, a towering personality if ever there was one, used the slogan “garibihatao”, and not a personality-centric one. But that concealed the fact that she ruled her government and her party with an iron fist. Another interesting point to note is that in his constant attacks on “The Family” and “Dynasty”, Modi hasn’t said a word against Indira Gandhi. For all his visceral hatred of the Nehru-Gandhis, Modi is strangely silent about Indira: There’s obviously an unspoken and sneaking admiration there. When you think about it, it’s really not surprising. Indira Gandhi was the government, and no one else mattered. NarendraModi is the government, and he has made sure no one else matters. For all those enamoured of strong leadership, it might be salutary to remember its perils: Mrs Gandhi imposed the Emergency, she nationalised banks (a disaster in the long run), she abolished privy purses (a constitutional guarantee), she subverted most of our institutions, including even the judiciary, and she used departments like Income Tax to get even with political opponents. Aren’t the parallels uncanny? On the other hand, low-key, self-effacing personalities like LalBahadurShastri and Narasimha Rao made excellent prime ministers; in fact, the former had he not died so tragically early, may have lived to be our best PM ever.
NOTA, of course, is an expression of dissatisfaction with the whole political process, and who can blame people when we see the way our electioneering has been conducted, with its abuse and personal invective? But NOTA is not an option; the option really is this: Better not the devil we know than the devil we don’t, because the latter may turn out to be not a devil at all.