On the Delhi Pogrom

Against the Current, No. 206, May/June 2020

Radical Socialist, India

INDIAN PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi, who recently hosted Trump, is a longtime member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an extreme Hindu-nationalist organization and its party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The ideology of the RSS is Hindutva (“Hindu-ness”), which defines Indian culture as solely composed of Hindu values. This statement by the Radical Socialist was written in response to the communal violence that occurred during the state visit. It was posted March 8, 2020 (www.radicalsocialist.in) and has been edited for publication, with parenthetical explanations in Against the Current.

THE COMMUNAL VIOLENCE that erupted in the National Capital Region of Delhi on February 24th, and carried out for a week, marks another orchestrated step in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s strategy of deliberately polarizing the Indian public along Hindu-Muslim lines.

In the past such politically motivated communal assaults have been large scale and episodic. After 2014, such targeting of Muslims by the cadres and supporters aligned to Hindutva has taken the form of attacks, sometimes fatal, on individuals or very small groups. This occurs especially in the [national governing party] BJP-ruled states where the perpetrators mostly can get away with what they have done.

Such low-intensity violence makes attacks a routinized, normalized and banal affair. It displaces any blame onto the failings of the local law-and-order machinery. It thereby disguises the machinations of Hindutva’s hate-filled project of terrorizing, inferiorizing and ghettoizing Muslims as it deliberately spreads fear among local Hindu communities of possible Muslim retaliation.

The Delhi violence marks something of a departure from this post-2014 pattern in that it took place in the capital city. It overlapped with Trump’s visit and was contained afterwards within a few days. Unlike the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, it was not allowed to be as widescale.

Most importantly this incident took place after the BJP’s failure to make substantial electoral gains in the early February Delhi Assembly elections, although the BJP did somewhat expand its vote share and seat tally.

It is not a coincidence that the violence was worst in the northeast region where there is more solid support for the party. That helped it gain five out of eight assembly seats.

Frustrating for the Sangh (Buddhist mon­astic orders) was the fact that the anti-CAA/NPR/NRC sit-ins and agitations [that opposed discriminatory immigration and citizenship legislation] did not show signs of fatigue. Indeed there was greater international media exposure of these protests as well as criticism of the BJP central government than before, all the more so because of the Trump visit.

Senior BJP leaders — already preparing the ground for the assaults through their calls for violence and hate speech before and after the Delhi elections — felt that a more hurtful message, albeit in a more contained time-span, had to be sent.

What was not expected was that sections of the minority community, out of impending fear, made preparations for self-defense. As a result, the casualties were less than they otherwise would have been. But it also meant that there would be some casualties in Hindu majority areas, including the unfortunate death of (police) IB officer Ankit Sharma. This death was played out of all proportion by BJP leaders and an absolutely biased media determined to ignore and divert attention from the reality. Most of the casualties — as well as property damages — were suffered by Muslims. So far, a total of 53 deaths have been counted.

Making matters worse, there was video proof of the police either being silent spectators or actually participating in the assaults launched by pro-Hindutva cadres. According to local witnesses, many came from across the Uttar Pradesh border.

This repeats the earlier cases when the Delhi police did nothing to prevent masked intruders from entering Jawaharlal Nehru University and beating up leftwing students, and even teachers. Nor have those intruders been rounded up despite visual evidence enabling identification.

Earlier, in Jamia Millia Islamia University, the police had illegally entered the campus and caused serious injuries. They attacked students with stun guns, rubber bullets and teargas as well as making lathi (a heavy, iron-bound bamboo stick) charges. The police also went into the libraries and dorms to carry out further physical assaults and to damage property.

In neither case have the police been held responsible, nor will this happen in regard to the latest, more serious Delhi violence.

That there were also remarkable and heart-warming instances of Hindus sheltering besieged Muslims, and of Muslims protecting Hindu neighbors, doesn’t alter the more disturbing reality of pre-planning. In Hindu-majority areas Muslim shops and houses were marked prior to the subsequent burnings and attacks.

Moreover, police complicity and subsequent behavior, clamping down on all violence only after the passage of a few days, can only be explained by sanctions, messages and orders coming to them from the political masters at the Centre [national government].

Violence with Impunity

 Most disturbing is the failure of the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, to order the immediate trial of Sangh hate-mongers or to condemn the police. In asking Harsh Mander [a leading opponent of Hindu-nationalist violence] to prove his bonafides, the Supreme Court seems to have gone beyond that.

This augurs ill for hopes of just, fair and impartial punishment later on for all those guilty of criminal violence. Should we be surprised then if there are unusually favorable rulings given to the BJP and its members?

The AAP [the governing party in Delhi] did nothing to mobilize its activists to protect the besieged areas when it could have done so. It has refused to highlight the disproportionate plight of Muslims for fear of alienating Hindu voters, thereby reinforcing rather than contesting the BJP’s ideological-political project.

The AAP has confined itself to offering relief to all victims who can show proof of their suffering — a difficult enough task requiring legal support not forthcoming from the Delhi government. In setting up makeshift, poorly equipped camps one might conclude that the perception of providing relief seems more important than providing sufficient resources.

Other opposition parties have also done little or nothing. Sonia Gandhi as leader of the [main national opposition party] Congress, did not assure the AAP Delhi government she would give her party’s full support to any collectively organized effort to bring the violence to a halt. She preferred to score political points by criticizing the AAP failures. Meanwhile she did not dare to mobilize Congress activists and supporters to march in mass to the affected areas as protectors.

Left parties could have made a similar joint call, but when the city was burning, they opted to carry out inconsequential marches and symbolic sit-ins.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah, as expected, indulged in generalities, claiming to deplore the violence and calling for “peace and harmony.”

The overall political consequences are stark. First, the Sangh/BJP will most likely benefit from this polarization. Communal violence invariably sharpens religious identity and deepens the attachment to it. For some time to come, identity is filtered through this prism in order to make sense of what is happening in society. Allegiance to one’s religious community generally becomes stronger.

Second, the terrorizing and ghettozing of Muslims is accelerated. Richer Muslims in Hindu-majority higher-class areas move to Muslim-dominated neighborhoods where they believe they will be safer. The reverse happens to richer Hindus who move out of Muslim-majority neighborhoods.

But this is no parallel or equivalent process of “Hindu ghettoization.” Rather, the drawing of sharper boundaries diminishes the everyday actually lived co-existence of the two communities. Yet it is this lived experience that can counter to a certain extent the hatreds espoused by religio-political extremist propaganda and practices.

The one bright spot exhibited by the anti-CAA agitations and solidarity activities is the commitment of young people of college and university age cutting across religious faiths. In the immediate term, members of Radical Socialist in Delhi have participated along with others in these activities.

In the longer term it is vital that RS connects to this youth which everywhere, inside and outside Delhi, has been appalled by what has happened and recognize the distinctive threat posed by the forces of Hindutva. Likewise, they will notice the feebleness of the challenge other political parties offer.

It is from this constituency that activists committed to the progressive social transformation of India will be recruited and developed. They will discover how the socio-economic iniquities of neoliberal capitalism have fused today with the political-cultural ugliness of Hindutva.

They then will be a key input into the wider and longer-term effort to successfully confront and defeat the hegemonic ambitions of the most evil fascistic force that today exists in our country.

May-June 2020, ATC 206

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