Jobs or mobs for India?

New Delhi: An attempt is underway to reorder social spaces. The rules of citizenry are being rewritten while the notion of citizen-state relations is changing according to majoritarian diktats. The weapon of choice: a mob. It qualifies as a clever tool. It serves the majoritarian purpose without any fear of repercussions since it not only anonymises the crime by distributing guilt among several people, it becomes a collective action involving attackers, bystanders and the police.

Thus far, this mobocracy has been the dominant trend. Frenzied crowds with no fear of punishment have used numerous means of violence to intimidate, harass and persecute minorities and marginalised communities – Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Pehlu Khan, four Dalit youths in Una, Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand, Budhi Kumar in Tripura. The pattern is clear – each one ambushed and bludgeoned in broad daylight, even as the police either stood as mute spectators, followed by grandstanding and chest thumping on social media.

What started off as the fringe has steadily grown to gain complete sanction by those in power often mirroring the acts and words of the mob, and this is indeed alarming.

It is evident that the mob’s intended outcome is not simply to force their victim to chant Jai Shri Ram and Jai Hanuman at “mob-point”. It is in fact intended to serve as a warning – what earlier occurred as isolated incidents can now be carried out on a larger scale, openly. Anyone deemed a smuggler, anti-national, thief, outsider; quite simply an “irritant” is now at the mercy of the mob, which dispenses justice with complete impunity, with fear of neither reprisal nor conviction. A typical pattern can be discerned in almost every such case, where guilt is attributed more readily to the victim than to the actual culprit.

Now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mandate is bigger than the one that he got last time, many of his supporters see it is as sanction to carry on with their violent and unlawful activities. There is a widespread belief, not unjustifiable, among those committing crimes large and small that they will not have to pay for their crimes. In fact, they now seem to enjoy a greater safety net in Parliament.

One can easily escape the law if you side with BJP’s cause, whatever the moral cost. The accused in the Dadri lynching case enjoyed a front row seat at the UP CM’s rally; BJP MLA Akash Vijayvargiya, who had beaten up a civic official was given a hero’s welcome upon his release from jail, a lame stricture only coming after more than a week. Some culprits have been garlanded (by ministers), some accorded martyr status, some rewarded with a ticket to elections. BJP has consistently chosen to side with perpetrators rather than their victims.

Undeniably, action is due from the Congress’s end as well, in response to the unforgivable behaviour displayed by MLA Nitesh Rane and company in Maharashtra, another manifestation of the prevailing trend. Central and state governments have consistently failed in their responsibility to uphold the rule of law and maintain public order. Last year, in UP’s Bulandshahr, police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh was killed alongside a 20-year-old man when a violent mob clashed with police. When rumours about cow slaughter arise, even an officer of the law is not safe.

Initially, these acts undermining the law were carried out under the garb of cow vigilantism, but the mask is starting to slip, giving way to blatant majoritarian aggression, hate speech and violence. There is, in fact, a concerted move to turn certain sections of our society into political and social outcasts in India, by coercion, segregation and mob justice. We have also witnessed inventive allegations of “love jihad” and “ghar wapsi” as smokescreens to target and alienate particular communities.

Adding fuel to this chauvinistic fire, ruling party MPs engaged in religious sloganeering during the oath-taking ceremony with a clear political motive. They not only want to send a signal to their respective constituencies but are also trying to browbeat their political rivals, while also triggering a response from fellow MPs that is equally condemnable. And the parallels are hard to miss – those heckling their colleagues inside Parliament are using the exact language and modus operandi, as their lieutenants on the streets.

The death knell of Indian democracy was sounded by many wise men in 1947; a country like ours teeming with differences was bound to fail. Yet, it was the imagination and sagacity of our founding fathers, who successfully fostered a pluralistic but cohesive idea of what it means to be Indian, which saved the day. It is this very idea, integral to our outlook and secular foundations of law that is constantly undermined, compromised and eroded as a consequence of the bigotry championed by BJP and its leaders.

The series of images of numerous bloodied victims, often tied up in submission, begging for mercy – have normalised this violence. We often forget these are individuals, leaving behind families.

In Parliament, the PM waxed eloquent about his vision for a New India, his commitment to a safe, united, developed and inclusive India. Unfortunately though, this New India is fast descending into a spiral of lawlessness and vigilante violence. Three years after Modi publicly directed state governments to prepare dossiers on “criminals masquerading as cow protectors”, why do the spate of killings under the garb of cow vigilantism continue unabated? The PM would want to leave behind a legacy that speaks about his endeavours and achievements. But as much as the government would like to claim that jobs are on the rise, most evidently it is the mobs that are winning the race.

By Mr. Jyotiraditya M Scindia

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.