THINGS happen with such rapidity these days that it is hard to comprehend what is happening to the Indian republic. On the one side are the relentless attacks, attacks of such orgiastic violence that it leaves most people shaken. Its targets are picked from a broad range: secularists, atheists campaigning against religious chicanery, those seeking answers from an unresponsive government, Muslims, cattle traders of any denomination, Dalits who are considered the dregs of the vicious Hindu caste system, and Adivasis (tribesfolk).
The favourite targets, however, remain the Muslims and Dalits in the name of cow protection. The preoccupation with punitive and vicious bloodletting is the leitmotif of the times as the BJP supremo Narendra Modi crosses the three-year milestone in office, seemingly more secure with his Hindu nationalist agenda despite failing to deliver on the development promises that he made in 2014, promises that in large measure secured a sweeping majority for his party.
Now as in 1930s Germany, there is in India ultra-nationalism and a cult-like worship of the supreme leader.
These three years have given the party and its ideological controller, the Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and its brotherhood of saffron an untrammelled run on India’s institutions and liberal ethos. Campus terror, for instance, has brought rebellious universities under the saffron heel. In Delhi University, academic freedom has been firmly shackled after a series of disgraceful assaults on students and faculty who were labelled anti-national. New rules prescribe that any conference and its speakers must first get clearance from the police, which according to some academics, sends it for vetting to the RSS student wing, the ABVP, which now calls the shots in top campuses.
If the anti-national whip appears to have been laid aside, a more lethal weapon is now in use to rally the majority community: cow protection. Clashes over the cow started more than a century ago but the RSS has perfected the use of gau raksha as an effective means of communalisation and deepening fault lines in society. In Modi’s Digital India the sacred cow is fuelling the bloodlust of the majority community. Lynchings are no longer carried out by Bajrang Dal, the RSS storm troopers, or even the equally aggressive Hindu Yuva Vahini founded by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath. In recent attacks on cow traders, it was ordinary folk that went on the rampage, the poison having seeped deep inside.
And it is not just about the cow. India is now the republic of hate, a hate that is so visceral that we seem to be beyond the pale. Journalists, suspected childlifters and others have been assaulted, humiliated and lynched, sometimes by an entire village or an urban locality in a frenzy of rage that dwarfs imagination.
Yet, Modi’s sycophantic followers and most of the fawning media appear unconcerned about the riptide of politics and communal hatred that is sweeping large swathes of the country. On the other hand, the recent protest by outraged citizens against the lynching of Muslims and Dalits was denounced by them as another attempt to discredit a popular Hindu leader, or as a conspiracy by Pakistan which, according to the wild imagination of one TV anchor, is said to have funded the protests organised in a dozen cities across the country.
The uncritical adulation of the supreme leader is hard to fathom, especially when it comes from once respected journalists, academics and professionals who have cheered every act of the government however disruptive and violent its fallout. Some of these media champions have been made MPs or given enviable sinecures in academia apart from other perks such as directorships in banks and companies. It is unlikely that such plums alone would have turned them into fierce loyalists of the regime or craven apologists. True, some have been felled by their ambition such as a former colleague who justified sedition charges against protesting university students when he was an MP and soon thereafter was made a minister in the government.
Why has there been a capitulation to the politics of hate that has become the zeitgeist of this regime? Is the situation reminiscent of the Germany of the 1930s when adulation of Hitler deadened Germans to all sense of humanity? This is an analogy which has been evoked earlier because of the striking similarities in the elements that have contributed to the installation of the different regimes. Now, as nearly a century ago in war-battered Germany but with much less justification, there is in today’s India rampant ultra-nationalism, glorification of the army and a cult-like worship of the supreme leader.
A major reason for the continuing popularity of Modi as a cult-like strongman is, of course, a hopeless political opposition that has neither the wit nor the will to tackle a formidable opponent. True, the numbers are against the bumbling Congress and the atrophied CPM but their complete paralysis is as unfathomable as the willingness of vast sections of the people to go along with Modi in spite of the grievous hardships they have suffered from his ill-considered measures such as demonetisation. Distress is palpably widespread but the Modi regime looks unassailable, backed by its agents in the bureaucracy, judiciary, media and the security forces.
The mechanics of how this works can be found in William Sheridan Allen’s The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945 which offers a graphic and disturbing account of how the Nazi party subverted democracy and rose to power. The book which has become a classic since it was first published in 1965 describes how Northeim was radicalised.
It shows how a highly stratified and divided social structure as well as rampant militarism, religion and nationalism were crucial in the rise of the Nazis. Allen says that the townspeople really did not know what they were getting themselves into, and it wasn’t till after the Nazis consolidated power that they realised what they had brought upon themselves.
“There was no real comprehension of what [they] would experience, no real understanding of what [the movement] was... Each group saw one or the other side of [the movement], but none saw it in its full hideousness.”
Northeim offers grim lessons that Indians must learn — before it is too late.
The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi.
Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2017