The communal provocations by the ruling Sangh Parivar forces and retaliatory Muslim violence faced different responses from ruling parties in states in tune with the political preferences of the regimes. In BJP-ruled Karnataka, on 11 August night Bengaluru police was asked to open fire on a violent Muslim mob which was demanding immediate arrest of a politically well-connected Hindutva enthusiast following his inflammatory post against the prophet of Islam on Facebook.
As I have mentioned in my earlier piece, the violence was a godsend for BJP before the coming municipal polls in Bengaluru. Post-violence decisions by its government made it clear that the Sangh parivar would further its claims to be the no-nonsense protectors of peace-loving Hindus from Muslim menace. An edgy communal polarization in big cities would also help the regime in the coming rural polls in the state. Approx. 13 per cent of Karnataka population is Muslim, spread across the state but more in northern region, formerly ruled by princely Hyderabad.
However, Hindutva fanatics and vigilantes had never met harsh law enforcers in the city and state despite vandalizing properties and roughing up people for celebrating Valentine Day and other ‘anti-Hindu and anti-national’ activities. These included celebration of the reign of mythological Demon king Mahisasura by the Dalit Hindus, commemoration of birth anniversary of British-era Muslim monarch Tipu Sultan in the Mysore region or installation of a giant statue of Christ. The recent protests against pre-Covid protests against religiously biased Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) also came under the same category.
Meanwhile, the real culprits and the conspiracy behind the killings of veteran educationist MS Kalburgi and journalist Gouri Lankesh are yet to be unearthed. More than five years have passed since they were gunned down at their homes by the motorcycle-borne killers. The latter’s modus operandi clearly linked these two killings to the series of targeted assassinations of prominent anti-RSS public intellectuals including Govind Pansare and Narendra Davolkar in neighboring Maharashtra. Deccan region of south-central India which comprises large parts of both states and adjoining areas was once the theatre of prolonged battles between Mughals and Maratha Empires. Nagpur-centered Sangh Parivar has usurped the legacy of the Maratha king Shivaji by turning him into a Hindu superhero against Muslim tyranny. Mixed populated Deccan has become the Sangh’s launching pad farther south to complete its trans-region communal polarization and Hindu consolidation.
Anyone who questions the RSS grand narrative of medieval Deccan wars and larger Indian history in terms of Hindu-Muslim binary by referring to clashes among Muslim powers; north Indian Mughals Vs Deccan’s Vijapur- Golconda or Shivaji’s alliance with regional Muslim forces and his tolerant statecraft would risk the fate of old communist Pansare. Similarly, any opposition to the appropriation of Basavanna, the 12th century anti-Brahmanism statesman-turned saint would meet his end like Kalburgi and Lankesh. Many secular Hindu intellectuals like late UR Ananthamurthi and K S Bhagawan have received death threats or expulsion to Pakistan for their critical takes on Brahmanical orthodoxy. Same was the experience of those who refused to join the Sangh’s demonization of Tipu Sultan as a bigoted monster and preferred a critical appreciation of the controversial ruler and his era. Bengaluru’s leading minds like thespian and playwright Girish Karnad and historian-columnist Ramchandra Guha faced the saffron ire time and again for opposing the RSS vision of India, past and future.
During Bengaluru-like situation in Bengal’s Baduria in 2017, state police under Trinamool Congress (TMC) dispensation was explicitly told not to use maximum force as the ruling party counted heavily on Muslim votes. Similar attacks on police stations had happened in north and south Bengal by Muslim mobs following digital and other forms of provocations by Hindutva forces in 2015-16 prior to Bengal assembly polls. Huge shows of religious sensitivities of the Muslim masses were organized by rival conservative Muslim bodies. The local ruffians and smugglers used the opportunity to settle scores with police-administration and attacked police stations from Kaliachak in Malda, Ilambazar in Birbhum and Baduria-Basirhat in north 24 parganas.
In no way, I stand for police firing as it had mostly killed the innocents across the country over the decades. It would have worsened the communal situation in the areas bordering Bangladesh. But the police laxity, never shown to the opposition protesters under TMC or its predecessor Lefts, became handy for the BJP and its echo-chambers to bolster its charges of Muslim appeasements by Mamata Banerjee government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah, then the BJP president had tried their best to fan the communal tension in Basirhat and other bordering areas of Bengal during their election campaigns in 2014 and 2019. They threatened to expel Bangladeshi Muslim ‘infiltrators’ and accused them of stealing land and livelihood for locals while welcoming Hindu illegal immigrants as ‘refugees’. Mamata virtually substantiated some charges as she had courted Muslim conservatives and shown favors to minority religiosity (rather than focusing on the community’s earthly problems like livelihood and education) to bag Muslim vote en bloc. The community has a share of approx. 30 percent of Bengal population.
However, after prolonged mayhem in Badudia-Basirhat, an exasperated chief minister obliquely chided the Muslim zealots who had stoked the mob passions during the violence. Many of them had either been aligned to her or were trying to bargain with her party in order to gain leverage in local and state politics by playing radical saviors of the community. While BJP supporters heckled Hindu TMC leaders, some Muslim cleric and politicians close to the TMC were also at the receiving end of the Muslim mob ire. Religious but sane voices with the community had tried to douse the flame and took positive steps. But personal and group rivalries even among the scions of Sufi-Pir traditions in rural Bengal were evident during the violence as they vied for popular support to buttress their social-political power and personal wealth.
But she also blamed forces from outside Bengal for troubles who are trying to be radical saviors for Muslims. As Bengal is heading to assembly polls by May 2021, Mamata is now explicitly worried about the growing influence of Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in pockets of Bengal. She had spats with its chief Asaduddin Owaisi, now the most vociferous Muslim voice in the BJP-dominated Parliament, over initial violence in Bengal of the regime’s religiously biased CAA-NRC project. Ambitious clerics cum politicians in Bengal used to court Congress and Left parties till the nineties and later Mamata’s TMC.
Now they are cozying up to radical saviors like AIMIM as well as primarily Kerala-based Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) whose leaders are the prime accused in Bangalore violence. Both have the ambition to be a pan-Indian Muslim political party as BJP-RSS regime has triggered a nationwide panic and anger among Indian Muslims. Both are now spreading their wings in Maharashtra, Karnataka and other southern states, even in distant Bengal. In the meantime, orthodox Wahabi-Salafi clerics who are opposed to liberal- pluralist Muslim voices and Hindu-Muslim syncretic traditions like the sects of Baul-Fakirs have been fast gaining ground in rural Bengal since last few years. Gullible Muslim masses, particularly, the rural youth are falling prey to them as their participation in communal violence from 2014 onwards have underlined.
Muslim retaliatory street violence: A trap to be avoided
In the backdrop of ongoing Hindutva offensives, it’s natural that extremists and separatists, from Jihadists to Pan-Islamists, religious and political exclusivists and other self-professed saviors of the Muslim community would flourish in India. The failure of democratic and secular opposition parties including the Lefts to put up a concerted and spirited resistance to the reign of religious fascism so far has added to their desperation. The saving grace of the resistance in these dark hours is civil society protests led by women and students mainly in big cities.
Nevertheless, there are judicious voices among Muslims in India who are alarmed over the street violence by a section of community youth in reaction to digital insults to Islam. They feel that mayhems a la Baduria and Bengaluru would only help the Sangh Parivar to show the community as inherently violent and intolerant to criticisms with primitive herd mentality.
Others have felt that the trap for reactive violence must be avoided if the majority among Muslims believes in the founding ethos of free India and other modern multi-cultural societies which the Hindutva and other majoritarian fascist forces want to destroy across the world. But protests in democratic forms must be continued. Holding high the national flag and the ideals of our freedom fighters, the cross-faith citizens’ sit-ins from Delhi’s Shaheen Bag to Kolkata’s Park Circus and countless rallies from Bengaluru to Mumbai against the Modi regime’s religion-based Citizenship matrix had set the examples. We must renew the spirit of the protests that had ignited the imagination of idealist youths as well as grey-heads prior to Covid clampdown.
Also patience is needed to turn the table. Lakhs of migrant laborer families, both Hindus and Muslims who were left to fend for themselves and forced to walk hundreds of miles to reach their distant homes during the lockdown have already known it dearly that this inhuman regime stands for crony capitalists only. With millions lost their livelihood, the mass disillusionment about the regime’s false claims to legendary Ram Rajya is bound to come. Muslim separatism of Jinnah era or Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism are no answer to the current plights of Indian Muslims. They must strive for cross-faith united resistance. Poor and lower caste Hindus and Muslims had fought and prayed together against oppressors and exploiters of all hues for centuries. Unless, Muslim bodies too strive for its revival, hotheaded responses will further augment the Brahminical Sangh Parivar’s social engineering project that now uses Dalits as its foot soldiers in riots and subsequent Hindu consolidation as Gujarat 2002 to Bengaluru 2020 violence have underlined.
Ram and Rahim can and must unite
The hope also lies in the sanity of those who still cherish both the tolerant heterodoxy and syncretic traditions of our forefathers. The Muslim youths who saved the offender Naveen’s mother and formed human chains in front of a Hanuman temple in Bengaluru to save it from the irate mob are epitome of such hopes. Three years back, some Hindu and Muslim youths in Baduria- Basirhat had also joined hands to guard the Mazars, mosques and Mandirs. The family of an elderly Hindu trader who was killed by the Muslim rioters on his way back home, refused to join the saffron brigade despite BJP tried its best. Instead, they made room for an injured Muslim in the same ambulance in which they carried the old man to a Kolkata hospital.
Such people represent the silent majority of the land beyond the online hate factories, frothy studios of Godi TV media and blood-thirsty mobs. Let us keep up the light of those countless small Diyas amid the prevailing darkness.
The hydra-headed digital demons must be fought
A sizeable section of the Bengali Muslim youth who had joined the intermittent communal violence are migrant laborers who have lost jobs, first after demonetization in 2016 and then during Covid-19 lockdown this year. Apart from the economic miseries, these Bengali boys are bitter and restive over the persecution and harassment they have faced as ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ from Gujarat to Karnataka as well as in Hindi heartland.
As I spoke to some of them as well as their village elders at riot-hit areas, they harped on their exposures to cross-country witch-hunting as well as global Islamophobia by dint of online social media. The elders included some local clerics who used to prevail upon the hotheads and mitigated the communal tensions by banking on village-level inter-community daily dependence and local traditions to maintain social peace. Now they feel bewildered after the invasion of the globalized menace; the smart-phone with constant social media access by dint of As we have already observed the phenomenal growth in the numbers of smart-phone users and low-cost internet connectivity. It has wiped out the boundaries between known and unknown, reshaped the identities while redrawing the battle line between ‘us and them’.
The proliferation of hateful messages and images through social media has made the digital demon a powerful multiplier of the evil forces. Prolonged COVID lockdown has only widened its reach and impact. Unfortunately, today’s tech-savvy but culturally ignorant youths have been most vulnerable to these master manipulators of bigoted passions in the name of Lord Rama- Krishna and Allah and His messenger.
Furthermore, this infernal technological force at the command of Hindutva and other hate-factories has become virtually invincible with the active connivance or deliberate condoning of the hate and disinformation campaigns by the US social media behemoths, particularly, the Facebook and Whatsapp controlled by it. The Wall Street Journal has recently reported on Facebook’s Indian operatives being willfully lenient to the BJP bandwagon despite its hateful and violent messages and images against Muslims and secular opposition, apparently on business concerns. The report is another pointer to the hypocrisy of the FB founder Mark Zuckerberg who had promised to amend its practices several times before the American lawmakers.
In addition to ‘Godi’ or pro-Modi TV media, this vast echo-chamber is wreaking havoc on the social fabric of India and many other strife-torn countries. The fabulous tie-up between the Facebook and Jio cellular network of Reliance group led by Mukesh Ambani, the leading figure of crony billionaires of Modi regime has only made the medium itself a deadly opiate for the vulnerable youth across the faith line and a veritable death agent for Indian pluralist traditions and modern democracy. We must raise our voice against such nexus, both online and offline, sans the rudderless violence as we have witnessed from Baduria to Bengaluru.