Parts of our National Capital Region (NCR) now resembles a war zone, albeit a civil war as many sane Indians have been apprehensive about the festering communal polarization over the divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the BJP government and threats of its corollary projects of National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR). Rioters opposing and supporting CAA-NRC-NPR rioters have been allowed to enjoy free run in north-eastern Delhi under the nose of union home ministry since Sunday when the countdown for the much-hyped visit of US president Donald Trump and his family had begun. As the POTUS-FLOTUS were enjoying the LOTUS hospitality by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Ahmadabad’s upcoming Motera stadium on Monday noon, murderous mobs had already taken control of a good part of Delhi streets. While the US first couple was enjoying the sanitized serenity of Taj Mahal under a setting sun at Agra, the part of Delhi’s skyline was already aflame.
The NCR police that come under Union Home Minister Amit Shah are known as baton and trigger-happy as its recent crackdowns on anti-CAA students showed. But it has been soft-pedaling the latest violence despite widespread use of illegal firearms, arson at business centers and attacks on places of worships, apparently to avoid attention of the American media which was part of the presidential entourage. By the time the global big brother and our Motabhai ended their bragging and hugging sessions while showering mutually aggrandizing platitudes on Tuesday night, the sectarian orgy has engulfed almost every suburbs bordering UP. At least 20 people, both Hindus and Muslims including a policeman have lost their lives so far official count says. More than 150 people have been hospitalized, many with gunshot injuries. Hundreds of shops and homes as well as private and public vehicles have been gutted.
Although, the violence is evidently scripted and threatened about publicly beforehand, the political calculation behind the timing to trigger it during Trump’s visit is yet to emerge. The ruling party and the larger RSS Parivar was hell-bent on ending the nationwide protest against the CAA-NRC-NPR, symbolized mainly by the Muslim women’s sit-in demonstration at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh for over two months. They failed to not only to dislodge the Dadis and Ammas of the Bag but also to effect a communal polarization among the predominantly Hindu Delhi electorate in recently held assembly polls despite a no holds barred hate and slander campaign led by Modi-Shah duo.
Seething with rage over their humiliating electoral defeat in the national capital after losing Jharkhand and Maharashtra successively, the ruling dispensation was waiting to unleash Hindutva forces for counter mobilizations on the streets. As many such dharnas were coming up at other localities including Zafarabad in the troubled zone, a BJP MLA, Kapil Mishra threatened to take law in their hand after the departure of Trumps if the police failed to clear the roads occupied by the ant-CAA protesters by that time. That threat apparently has triggered the current violence.
Many a Hindutva mob identified their article of faith by taking vows aloud to ‘teach Muslims a lasting lesson’ while ‘ensuring the implementation of the CAA-NRC-NPR to oust the menace forever’. They vandalized and gutted religious places but attacked journalists who were recording their misdeeds and forcibly erased the videos. It indicated a method in their madness. Scribes on duty were forced to show or prove their religious identity or communal affinity to get spared by the rampaging hordes. Police was either accused of helping the marauders or playing onlooker.
But it is yet to be ascertained whether the timing has suited Mishra’s masters or he and his likes acted over-zealously since Modi-Shah duo were presumably keen on showing total control over the home front while putting veils or raising walls to hide the ugly reality behind the spectacular shows as they did with the Ahmadabad slums. They were supposed to be anxious to impress upon the most coveted visitor and his home audience. It was an imperative in view of the bad press in liberal US media over the new religion-based citizenship matrix, systematic denial of political space for Muslims in India as well as continued detention of former chief ministers of erstwhile J&K after the unilateral abrogation of article 370 of Indian Constitution. Already, UN bodies and some US politicians as well as their European allies have expressed their concerns over these issues despite the increasing pressure from pro-Modi Hindutva groups in the Indian Diaspora.
On the other hand, the anti-CAA Muslim groups, particularly those who were keen to tore apart the regime’s façade of normalcy and attract the attention of Trump and US media may have found Mishra’s threats as an invitation for a matching violence or an opportunity for the outburst of their pent-up anger. Blatantly communal police repression on Muslim students and youth in UP and Delhi that led to multiple deaths and destruction have already made the ground for them. Radicalized fringe but powerful groups with vested interests or myopic visions have been waiting at the wings as earlier street fights and gun-battles in UP had indicated. The arrest of a Muslim youth who was seen on TV screens brandishing pistol to a policeman, is a pointer to it.
Indeed, the violence drew Trump’s attention. But he brushed aside the anti-CAA protest as ‘India’s internal issue’ while reiterating his faith in Modi’s assurance on religious freedom. More fundamental was his repeated focus on the fight against global ‘Islamic terrorism’ and POTUS-LOTUS synergy on that mission.
However, most of the Muslim men and women across the country have so far shown exemplary restraint and courage, more importantly, political acumen by making their protests firmly rooted in democratic and constitutional ethos while harnessing it to the pluralist and inclusive strands of Indian nationalism of the freedom struggle era. Holding on the Indian tricolor and the constitution as the symbols of their protests, they have disarmed the fascist and jingoist RSS brand of Indian nationalism to a good extent. Also, they have added a much-needed social constituency to a rekindled left-liberal imagination of India now being espoused by the multi-faith students across the campuses.
But a sense of disappointment has been creeping in many Muslim minds as secular opposition parties have failed so far to mobilize larger masses from the majority community in response to the war of attrition till 2024 since Modi-Shah duo have refused to budge on the CAA-NRC-NPR. The Congress, India’s grand old party, supposed to spearhead the battle to save the idea of pluralist India is still running like a headless chicken between an obsessive mother and his reluctant son. Their courtiers, old and young have become a galaxy of Twitterati, far removed from the sweats and bloods on the roads.
In the meantime, a profound majoritarian shift in the Indian realpolitik template as well as huge tilt in balance of power in between the executive and judiciary seemed to have become overwhelming despite the successive defeats of the BJP in states. The chief ministers of Congress-ruled states are paying lip-service to the anti-CAA protest while following soft Hindutva line at home. Even after a decisive hat-trick at the husting, the Delhi chief minister and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal too is evidently pursuing the same as it comes clear from his espousal of love for Hanumanji and seeking of prime minister’s ‘blessings’.
Most of the regional parties in the Hindi heartland which represent the SC-OBC communities including Bua-Bhatiza of UP and Chacha-Bhatiza of Bihar too are sitting tight on the fences, lest they lose their shares of Hindu votes more. Big southern parties except DMK are either with Modi or playing safe. Most of tribal groups too are also keeping distance. Bengal’s big sis Mamata Banerjee wants to hold her fort by balancing acts while aspiring to be the rallying point for non-Congress Opposition. But she refuses any space to other anti-BJP forces including civil society groups in her fiefdom.
Lefts, reduced to their all-time low presence in the parliament as well as in their earlier citadels of Bengal and Tripura are a pale shadow of their former selves, both in terms of ideological resolve and reach. Their failure to nudge the trade unions and peasant bodies under their influence in joining the social- political battle against fascist forces, notwithstanding periodic industrial strikes and peasant marches on economic issues, has limited the scope and strength of the anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protests to some big cities only.
The dangerous turn
Given the spate of BJP’s electoral defeats but disarray in the opposition, it is no wonder that the Sangh Parivar will now try to arrest its slide first by crushing the Muslim-led protest movements through counter mobilizations of Hindutva rioters and vigilante groups in Delhi, UP and other BJP-ruled states. Unspeakable state terror will follow. Uneducated and unemployed Hindu youths in the heartland led by the fanatics fed on dish full of Sangh delicacies on Dharm Yudh over the years, will be the foot soldiers of murderous campaigns. Angry and dejected, Muslim youths of same backgrounds would be too vulnerable to the baits. There is no dearth of Jihadis and other apocalyptic visionaries at their side too.
India is really now at crossroads. If the opposition, particularly, Congress and lefts are worth their salt it’s high time to hit the streets together with civil society forces to prevent a communal frenzy. Ensuring the democratic spirit and modes of protests against the CAA-NRC-NPR is important if we really keen to save the soul of India from the Sangh fascists.