India is on a civilisational slippery slope. We proudly count its ancestry in terms of millennia. Not less than 5,000 years, scholars say. For the longest period during its civilisational existence, indeed until as late as 1947 when India became a modern nation-state after freeing itself from the British colonial rule, there was no concept of citizenship. All who lived here belonged to this land, including those who came from far and were assimilated into the large and diverse Indian family.
Suddenly, the concept of legal citizenship has begun to break the soul and society of India. The Hindu-Muslim division has started to inflame hatred, and hatred is fueling violence. So much so that even the visit of American president Donald Trump to India did not prevent communal passions from taking a violent turn in the national capital. Parts of Delhi were literally burning and rioters prowling the streets when he was being welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a well-orchestrated "Namaste Trump" ceremony at a cricket stadium in Ahmedabad, when he visited the ashram of a Mahatma who sacrificed his life for Hindu-Muslim unity, when he and his wife Melania experienced the splendor of a monument in Agra that is an architectural ode to love, and when he was having his various official engagements in Lutyen's Delhi. In short, just when the leaders of two great democracies in the world - India and USA are great for yet another reason, they are both home to matchless religious diversity - were praising each other, the rest of the world was witnessing something macabre in India's capital.
American-Indians and others tracking the Trump visit from afar must have been aghast at watching, either on TV or online, acts of arson and mob rioting in Delhi. But they must have been shocked even more by the dereliction of duty by the police. If the most fundamental feature of a democracy, indeed of any civilised society, is the non-partisan character of the security forces and their duty to protect the life and property of every person, irrespective of their religious identity, then Indian democracy was failing this basic test abysmally. Never in independent India's history has our country welcomed a foreign dignitary only to show that its capital city itself has become a tinderbox of communal violence which, by the time Trump departed from India, had claimed the lives of 13 persons.
That all this did not happen by accident was well stated by the headline of the lead story in The Indian Express on 26th February - "Mob, courtesy Delhi police". The newspaper's reporters Dipankar Ghose and Sourav Roy Barman, and its intrepid editor Raj Kamal Jha, must be congratulated for telling the story without any fear or obfuscation. "Right under Delhi Police nose, men with rods, sticks assault, set homes ablaze, check ID cards, smash CCTVs," it said, adding, "In embattled neighbourhood after neighbourhood in northeast Delhi, which has been in the grip of violence for three days, one story played through Tuesday from morning to midnight - groups of young men armed with sticks and rods looking for a fight, setting shops and homes owned by Muslims on fire. All right under the nose of the police who either stood as silent spectators, looked the other way or were plain missing when they were most needed."
Yes, Muslims were the targets and victims of the fury of the police-assisted and JSR-crying mobs, even though there were certainly,some retaliatory attacks by Muslim mobs. And this is where we are witnessing India's latest civilisational descent. JSR - shorthand for "Jai Shri Ram" - has become a war-cry for Hindu supremacists. Ram, one of the proud symbols of Indian civilisation; an ideal king who stood for justice for all and is revered as "Maryada Purushottam" or the best among human beings and an upholder of Dharma, whose capital Ayodhya literally means a place where there is no war or violence, that Ram has been turned into a source of motivation to beat and kill fellow human beings and fellow citizens. It was none other than Mahatma Gandhi who said, "By Rama Rajya I do not mean Hindu Raj. I mean by Rama Rajya Divine Raj, the Kingdom of God. For me, Rama and Rahim are one and the same deity. I acknowledge no other God but the one God of truth and righteousness."
We really do not know what noble thoughts and emotions entered Trump's mind when he visited Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad or when he paid homage to him at Raj Ghat in New Delhi. But what we Indians must be primarily concerned with the question: Is our Prime Minister following the footsteps of two of the best representatives of India's ancient and contemporary civilization? Modi's party popularized the slogan 'Jai Shri Ram' and used it during its campaign first for the demolition of the Babri Masjid and then for the construction of a temple for Ram at his mythical birth place. Modi himself never misses an opportunity to praise Gandhi. Be it Xi Jinping or Trump, he likes to take foreign dignitaries to Sabarmati Ashram for a mandatory photo-op with the Mahatma's charkha. But not once has Modi spoken about or endorsed Gandhi's advocacy of Hindu-Muslim harmony, which was one of the most important principles of his life and legacy. Indeed, beyond making Gandhi an icon of the 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan', there is very little of Gandhian philosophy or practice that Modi has espoused with any degree of credibility. Amit Shah, his deputy and likely successor, and who as Home Minister directly controls the Delhi police, has paid even less lip sympathy to Gandhian ideals.
Therefore, neither Modi nor Shah can shirk their responsibility for the mob takeover of parts of Delhi with the connivance of the cops right when India was hosting the president of a country they like to call "India's natural ally". They may not have liked it to happen during Trump's visit, but the rioting in Delhi did not happen accidentally or all of a sudden. The proximate factor that incited it was the communal poison that the BJP had injected into its campaign for the Delhi assembly elections with the party's top leadership allowing incendiary slogans targeting Muslims. When the BJP lost the elections badly, the frustration of a section of its cadres needed to be expressed violently. The second factor that facilitated this was their confidence that the police under Shah's watch would do nothing to stop them. After all, the police have not arrested a single person so far in the mob attack on students of JNU, which took place nearly two months ago.
There is a third factor that directly implicates Modi and Shah. The arrogant and coercive manner in which they have pushed through their agenda of amending the citizenship law in a discriminatory and unconstitutional manner, and their blatant lies on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and "for-Muslims-only" detention camps, has created an atmosphere of extreme mistrust among a large section of Indian Muslims, besides causing a sense of alarm among secular Hindus and other non-Muslims. This is evident from the unprecedented spread of anti-CAA (mostly non-violent) protests all over the country. Modi and Shah have responded to these protests with extreme insensitivity, indifference, and refusal to engage the protesters in a meaningful dialogue. They do not care to acknowledge that dialogue with dissenters is a fundamental necessity in a democracy. It is also an essential requirement for gaining "Sabka Vishwas" to cite a new motto of Modi that has begun to sound as meaningless as his other two mottos - "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas".
Whatever Modi might have wanted to achieve from hosting Trump in a grand manner - "event management" is after all his forte - there is no denying that India's democracy and India's civilization have been shamed by the kind of dangerously polarizing politics that he and Shah have been playing.
(The writer was an aide to India's former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.)
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