By C Uday Bhaskar*
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally dwelt on the infamous Dadri killing and described it as “really sad”, while the BJP President Amit Shah noted that the lynching was “wrong” and that the perpetrators ought to be punished. However, both leaders sought to distance the union government and the BJP party from the brutal killing. But there is a national resonance about Dadri and the BJP as the ruling party cannot absolve itself from the venomous intolerance that is spreading throughout India.
The hyper-charged Bihar state assembly election that commenced this Monday provided the context against which the deplorable killing of Mohammad Akhlaq took place. This lynching by an irate Hindu mob took place in Dadri near the national capital New Delhi a fortnight ago (September 28) and has been the subject of considerable public discussion and collective anguish.
Falsely accused of eating beef – which in itself is not a crime – the Akhlaq family was subjected to the most reprehensible mob violence that resulted in the death of a 50-year-old citizen of India and the state abdicated in its fundamental duty –the responsibility to protect the life of every Indian irrespective of religion or caste.
India’s political class vacillated and instead of condemning the killing in unequivocal terms, the response of the polity was mealy-mouthed and couched in electoral timidity that did not want to ostensibly hurt majority Hindu sentiment just before the critical Bihar election. This is the most cynical form of political opportunism – to invoke and pander to religious identity in a sly manner – but a trait that is deeply embedded in India’s deteriorating political culture.
Dadri occurred in the run up to Gandhi Jayanti (October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi) and India stands diminished. The pious claim to be the world’s largest democracy will remain hollow and hypocritical for a long time. However, apart from the moral and ethical transgression where the state failed in its constitutional obligations, there is a deeper national security dimension to the Dadri killing that merits objective review.
India’s internal security has been differently threatened for the last seven decades – since the country attained freedom in August 1947. The external force that has sought to exploit internal socio-political dissonance and discord in India and thereby weaken internal cohesion and national unity has come in many shapes and identities. Chief among them have been the role played by China in the early decades after independence when it supported insurgent groups and, more recently – since May 1990 – the devious sponsorship of religious extremism and related terrorism by the Pakistani deep-state against India.
The virulence of the Pakistani strategy has been compounded by domestic, regional and global developments over the last 25 years and these include the mujahedin-jihadi culture nurtured by the US and its allies against the former USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s; the divisive communal politics in India in the 1990s that resulted in the destruction of the Babri Masjid; and later the events of 9/11 in September 2001 and the turbulence and destruction unleashed by the US led global war on terror.
Thus the proxy war that India is dealing with has a complex character, wherein the external and the internal strands are enmeshed and one feeds the other. Since 9/11 and the violence that has engulfed the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, it was often claimed – and legitimately so – that at a time when many impressionable young people across the world of the Islamic faith were drawn towards jihad, no Indian Muslim was part of this constituency that was empathetic to the Al Qaida or the Taliban.
One may infer that the nature of the Indian eco-system with its many inadequacies provided the socio-political context for the Indian Muslim demography to remain insulated from this disturbing radical fervor.
However the new ideological entity that is actively seeking to recruit and mislead the global youth spectrum is the Daesh – also referred to as the IS (Islamic State). Their track record of brutal killings and determination to create a global Caliphate is part of their appeal to this cross-section of frustrated and impressionable youth. The Daesh has also shown a remarkable competence to exploit cyber space and social media a part of its recruitment and propaganda drive. From Asia through Europe to North America, the recruits have been many.
Again, the evidence of the last year suggests that the Indian Muslim constituency has been largely unaffected by this virus – so far – and this is a very critical and commendable reflection of the resilience of the prevailing Indian socio-political ethos and the deeply ingrained socio-religious eco-system.
However incidents such as the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq by a hate-filled mob that exudes the most negative malevolence of the majority Hindu community, and its tacit endorsement by the polity to seek short-term electoral advantage, are a recipe for slow disaster. This trend, if left unchecked, will poison the relatively resilient Indian socio-political eco-system that has allowed for a consensual accommodation and tolerance of the myriad diversities that constitute Indian society.
Babri Masjid and Godhra of earlier decades had led to the alienation of the Indian Muslim and it would be counter-productive to interpret these transgressions otherwise. In the process India’s internal societal resilience has been weakened and the analogy with climate change offers a useful contrast. The delicate ozone layer that shields the earth from the harmful radiation of the sun is a critical part of the larger eco-system that ensures human survival. The world cannot be oblivious to the well-being of this climatic ozone layer and any rupture will be catastrophic and the consequences tend towards the horrendous.
India’s internal security and the relatively harmonious co-existence of over 1.2 billion citizens of diverse identity been ensured by the texture of its domestic socio-political ozone layer. This was gravely challenged in Dadri and it merits recall that the latest communication technology as represented by what’s app messaging was the tool that was used to stoke the communal passion resulting in the beef-lynching.
What if the Daesh (IS) and its ideological affiliates target the 170 million Indian Muslim population and actively seek new recruits in a community that is now being made to feel subaltern and the ‘other’ (with the reported interview in The Indian Express by Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar that “Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef”)? Modern technology can become a hate-multiplier with attendant consequences and the already challenged state security apparatus will not be able to cope with the violent consequences that can follow.
The Bihar election will be followed by many others – and each will be perceived to be critical to the fortunes of the political parties. The lesson from Dadri is that the pursuit of cynical and short-sighted electoral advantage will progressively weaken the fabric of national unity and security.
Ironically, it is Mohammad Akhlaq’s family that is still invoking the Indian identity and has retained its faith in the Constitution. Mere memorials to Dr. B R Ambedkar, the architect of India’s Constitution, will not suffice. The Indian state must walk the talk and demonstrate its fidelity to the spirit of the Constitution.
*C Uday Bhaskar is Director at Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at [email protected]