IT has been claimed by eager analysts that last week’s gory killings of Hindus and Muslims, predominantly the latter, in the working-class districts of north-eastern Delhi was an embarrassment for the Indian government.
It’s an exaggeration that the timing of the violence in any way disturbed the high-octane reception lavished by Prime Minister Modi on President Trump’s two-day trip. Imagine Trump’s visit to his pal Netanyahu in Jerusalem, pointedly not Tel Aviv. During the revelry the host signals a few well-aimed bursts of the Heckler & Koch MP5 into Palestinian homes or schools across the racial fence with expected casualties.
There would follow varying degrees of censure from different capitals of Europe, expectedly, and perhaps a few adverse comments from a clutch of US congressmen as well. Yet, would that disturb Trump’s party, leave alone embarrass him? Was it embarrassing for him when a Saudi journalist was chopped into pieces in a Saudi mission in Turkey apparently on the orders of his close friend, the crown prince in Riyadh?
Trump was very clear about what he was interested in, which was a $100 billion arms sales to Saudi Arabia, just as he would be later riveted to the $3bn worth military hardware to India. So what if some people were getting killed here or there?
It is preposterous to believe that the mighty Indian state could not prevent or stop the carnage.
Were it to remotely bother the Indian prime minister or anyone high up in his government, the rabid leader from their party who set off three days of bloodcurdling mayhem with his menacing speeches would not be roaming scot-free today. As a matter of fact, Trump should be beholden to Kapil Mishra for keeping the hoi polloi busy with the firefighting in a distant corner of Delhi that otherwise would be holding loud protests against the state visit, possibly with black flags. Now that would have annoyed Trump if anything would. Forget about arresting the Hindutva leader who was so riled by his defeat in the recent Delhi elections. Even as the last embers of the fires he had lit were being quelled, Mishra was back with another hate-filled mob, this time at the busy Connaught Place shopping arcade where his men spewed anti-Muslim slogans and once again threatened to shoot the ‘traitors’ opposing a new citizenship law.
To continue the narrative of hate as it were, on Sunday, Home Minister Amit Shah staged a rally in Kolkata where similar slogans were shouted against Muslims.
Had the Modi government been even slightly sensitive about the violence, it would not have hastily transferred the Delhi High Court judge who spoke up for the victims and against alleged complicity of the police in the destructive three days. Justice S. Murlidhar said he would not allow 1984 to be repeated in Delhi, a reference to the mob lynching of over 3,000 Sikhs in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. That very night the judge was handed his transfer orders.
A sting operation comes to mind. It was conducted by an intrepid journalist on one of the leading mob heads in Gujarat. Babu Bajrangi was convicted for mass killing only to be released by Prime Minister Modi to “pursue a spiritual journey”.
After describing how he relished putting Muslim men and women to the sword during the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, Babu Bajrangi spoke in clear sentences of how Narendra Modi, then chief minister, would get him out after doing some setting with the judges. This ‘setting’ was possibly the oblique plaint when four of the most senior judges of the supreme court broke with convention and came out to warn of the threat to India’s democracy.
Bigotry — religious, racial, patriarchal, nationalist or ideological — tends to become something of a state asset. Without the state’s benevolence and indulgence the virus would struggle to breathe. Most countries have gone through the experience. Some have come out of it after great carnage. Some are wallowing in it. Some, like India, are plunging headlong into it.
Bigotry can be brazen or masked. Hitler felt betrayed by Churchill in whom he saw a kindred spirit and he wasn’t totally wrong. The victor and the vanquished of 1945 Europe were racist bigots in their own ways. The current president of Brazil, chief guest at Indian’s Republic Day parade, is widely seen as a racist bigot and an environmental liability.
The Americans liberated the Jews from Nazi tyranny but have not (purposely) weeded out the roots of anti-Semitism from their midst. In any case it was barely two decades after the victors flaunted their moral high ground at Nuremburg that the Civil Rights Movement was fighting American apartheid at home.
The recent attacks on synagogues are not the only relic of religious atavism in the world’s most powerful democracy. President Trump is its current patron. It’s ironical how right-wing Jews support him, and how intensely they hate Bernie Sanders, Trump’s Jewish challenger. Closer home, there’s not a country in South Asia or any to its west, east or the north that has not harboured bigotry as state policy.
The murderous assault on the poorest of Delhi’s Muslims and the tragic blowback against some hapless Hindus began with the arrival of President Trump and abated with his departure. It is preposterous to believe that the mighty Indian state could not prevent or stop the carnage with all the resources at its command. The delay led to what has been described as a pogrom of men, women and children.
Before the nightmare struck, the Muslims in the area were living in relative harmony with Hindus and Sikhs among others. Happily, in parts of the stricken areas the harmony turned into solidarity with moving stories on both sides of the religious divide. Hindus and Muslims both saved each other and the Sikhs brought them food and succour. Missing from the moment of blessing in an otherwise dark narrative was the delinquent state.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2020