IN direct proportion to the helplessness they are experiencing, activists from India’s left and secular corners are looking agitated – collectively and individually. The apparent absence of a workable strategy to halt the surging menace of Hindu fascism hasn’t helped. Some are blaming the left for the quandary; others are holding the Congress responsible for not countering Hindu communalism nor Hindutva’s ideological ally, the right-wing Muslim clergy.
There is also the obvious corporate angle, whereby big business benefits from the winning ticket of a communally divisive politics. TV channels are deployed 24x7 in the service of a narrow and unscientific mindset, no doubt with the help of deep pockets. TV godmen (and most anchors) present an effective mechanism to keep the average mind from pondering the socially iniquitous agenda the state has bought into. Away from the channels citizens are left to grapple with the physical manifestation of ascendant communalism. Riots, lynching, rape and arson constitute its naked face, often with the approval of the state.
Desperate fulminations within the shrinking spaces of secular discourse fall short of the first hurdle – the barest of funds needed to put up an effective ideological fight. The state is stymieing human rights activists, mainly those that had managed to garner some finances required to fight the fight. Teesta Setalvad’s solid work for the victims of Gujarat pogroms has been stalked by sleuths of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). She is accused of misappropriating funds. I can’t imagine a more gross campaign against someone risking her life for the victims of fascism. A close parallel could be the rape charge against Julian Assange, which has forced the whistleblower to retreat significantly if not completely.
The state is stymieing human rights activists, mainly those that had managed to garner some finances.
To underscore the brazen abuse of the CBI the Modi government has taken it off the back of Amit Shah, the ruling BJP’s national president. He was accused of murder through fake encounter. Greenpeace has been laid low after its funds were frozen. Countless other NGOs working in fields like environment, education, gender rights, minorities, Dalits and tribals are facing the state’s heat.
In recent days a new constituency of liberals has been added to the helpless lot with the hanging of Yakub Memon. A host of senior jurists, including former Supreme Court judges, with their faith still intact in the promise of the Indian constitution, have spoken up. They too want to address institutionalised discrimination against India’s minorities but seem to have nowhere to go for redress.
For some inexplicable reason the secular-liberal-leftist lot seem averse to looking at Delhi’s Aaam Aadmi Party (AAP) government as a model to fight the fight. AAP more than any other group fits the bill of the ‘non-BJP, non-Congress’ ally the Left Front claims to have been looking for but hasn’t so far seriously tapped. Although a large number of people sympathised with AAP because of senior human rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan’s charisma, his departure from the group over differences with the leadership hasn’t seriously affected the direction he had set it on.
On the communal front, AAP has shown keen willingness to fight Hindutva with alacrity. It set up the special probe team into the anti-Sikh massacres of 1984. It moved quickly to quell a surge in anti-Christian onslaught when churches in Delhi were attacked. And it dispatched a high-level probe team into neighbouring Haryana when Muslims were attacked by mobs inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). On the corruption front, AAP remains the only political group to have filed an FIR against the country’s ranking business captain. The fact that TV channels and newspapers are run by big business, primarily, has found AAP facing calumny from the media.
When it used public advertising to clarify its position to the people the courts were moved to freeze the funds. With the peculiar constitutional position of Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet runs the police. They have picked up a clutch of senior AAP deputies on various charges. An AAP woman deputy was brutally attacked by a crowd. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal accuses the BJP. He says his 67 deputies are prepared to run the government from prison if necessary. Assaults on AAP have come from a combination of Hindutva and corporate interests. Neither the Congress nor the Left Front has bothered to come to its rescue. The indifference could be suicidal. The attack on AAP is clear evidence that it poses the biggest challenge to the Modi government. After all, it was AAP that stalled Modi’s chariot in its tracks in Delhi twice.
What is the Congress doing to join the fight? Rahul Gandhi says the Congress alone can take on the RSS, the fountainhead of Hindutva. In a way he is right. There is no other nation-wide alternative to the BJP on the horizon.
But what is the Congress doing to fight the RSS? Intriguingly, it has picked a quarrel with three individuals who happened to be the original challengers to Mr Modi’s authority. Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had led a personal triumph of the BJP in the general elections. Mr Modi refused to have a single MP from Rajasthan in his cabinet. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan are close to Modi’s bête noir L.K. Advani. The Congress has been raising Cain on the corruption charges against these three. Mr. Modi must be laughing in his sleeve.
Sadly, the Left Front is too caught up with its challenges in Kerala and West Bengal to make itself more available at the national level. As frustrations grow for secular activists, some are reading the tealeaves to divine where the next fascist assault will come from. One view is that the target could be the Bihar polls due in November. No one seems to have a clear strategy to win that crucial battle, leave alone a plan to bell the communal cat.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2015