"...the mark of a true democracy is not in the rule of its majority but in the protection of its minority — otherwise mob justice would be considered democratic”—said Chimamanda Ngozi Adichien, the acclaimed Nigerian novelist. This is the most difficult concept to grasp about democracy — that democracy is not just the rule of the majority. Democracy is not supposed to be a numbers game. It should not degenerate into, as the saying goes, two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.
It has hardly been a week since the NDA, and more specifically, the BJP has swept back to power and reportedly, a number of incidents across the country are pointing to an encouraged and emboldened Hindutva rabble running amok, acting with impunity, without fear of legal reprisals, and drunk with power. Even as congratulatory messages have been pouring in from leaders the world over, many sections of foreign media have been by and large apprehensive about the BJP’s win. BJP stoked fear among Hindus of a potential Muslim threat with campaigning raising divisive issues such as the construction of a temple in place of a demolished mosque, and a change in citizenship law to bar Muslims. The UK’s Guardian in an editorial said that the landslide win for Modi will see "India's soul lost to a dark politics, one that views almost all 195 million Indian Muslims as second-class citizens". The New York Times opined that the BJP had won on a “tide of violence, fake news and resentment.” Dr Amartya Sen wrote an article in The New York Times titled "Modi won power, not the battle of ideas — The Hindu nationalists were victorious. What does that say about India?"
It was also not surprising that Modi would address these issues in some way to reassure his rank and file. In his Varanasi speech, he did so in his signature style — by spinning genuine national and international concerns over communal amity as intellectual alarmism and ignorance of India’s ancient culture and traditions. He reportedly said he was “proud of the Indian tradition” and “not embarrassed about it like others” Also, reportedly, “Politics is about perception, but pundits need to understand that transparency and hard work trump it all. The perception around us (BJP) has been vicious, sometimes even telling everyone that we are dangerous and we should be stayed away from, but India has shown that (the opposite) to political pundits." It is quite inventive to describe genuine fears about gaurakshak lynching, harassment of Muslims and Dalits, further undermining of the liberal ethos, insult of progressive forces (yes, the vandalism of Vidyasagar’s bust being the latest outrage), making Godse into a hero, giving election tickets to persons like Sadhvi Pragya and calling it a “satyagraha”, an embarrassment of “Indian traditions.” In his speech, PM Modi also reportedly claimed that the Indian Muslim lives in “imaginary fear.” Only 24 hours after the election results were announced, a group of five cow vigilantes beat up three Muslims on the suspicion of carrying beef in Madhya Pradesh in the town of Seoni. In a video of the incident that went viral, two men and a woman are seen being tied to a tree and beaten with a stick one by one. They were also forced to chant “Jai Shree Ram". One of these men was forced to beat his wife.
On 25 May, a young man, returning home from a mosque, was assaulted and his skullcap forcibly removed by a group of unidentified persons in Gurugram’s Sadar Bazar area. He alleged that the men also forced him to chant slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”. This prompted Gautam Gambhir, newly elected BJP MP from East Delhi, to tweet in protest, saying, "we are a secular nation", citing Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar penning "O palan haare, nirgun aur nyare" (a religious song from the film Lagaan) with some interesting developments. BJP supporters on FB and Twitter pounced on him and condemned him for his tweet, some of them abusively.
Perhaps the following incidents too should not be seen through the “prism of politics” according to BJP leaders — but they are, to my mind, unmistakably a continuity in the long chain of events since Mohammad Akhlaq’s murder by cow vigilantes (and the subsequent garlanding of such alleged murderers by Union minister of state for civil aviation, Jayant Sinha). One would have to have to be in particularly ostrich-like denial mode to brush them aside. From a Muslim man being shot in Begusarai to an adivasi teacher being arrested for a post on FB to revitalised bigotry in the form of a Bollywood celebrity glorifying sati and attacking Raja Ram Mohan Roy, 19th century Bengali reformer and Renaissance figure, the portents are all there. Meanwhile, former Mayor of Aligarh and BJP leader Shakuntala Bharti has been caught on camera reportedly saying, "Don't break their heads, break their bones". To claim that these are not related incidents, that one umbrella does not cover and nurture this fanaticism, is not naivete — we have gone far beyond that — it is motivated and mischievous. Not all the noble words spoken, nor the lip service to Nehru at convenience after weeks of abuse, nor the display of respect to the Constitution can obliterate the nod and the wink implied in such missives. The rabble has been trained well to understand and follow dog whistles in these last five years. At the moment, it is futile to enter into any kind of discussion about these things with anyone remotely supportive of the BJP/Sangh because one is immediately labeled as “Khan Market Gang”. This is the latest mutation that began with LK Advani’s coinage of the word “pseudo-secular", evolving through “Lootyens”, “Tukde Tukde gang” and then, “Urban Naxal”. Nearly half of the newly-elected Lok Sabha members have criminal records, a 26% increase as compared to 2014, according to the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR). Of the 539 winning candidates analysed by the ADR, as many as 233 MPs — or 43% - face criminal charges. Those who would justify (and normalise) the criminal elements of the present day, by citing the criminal elements of yesterday, are justifying both, and encouraging the ones of tomorrow as well. As we have seen, crime in politics gets worse with each mutation, so it is not the "same" — even though it "was always there." This is the climate that we have created by our partisanship — that will inevitably claim us all.