You are wrong Mr Prime Minister – It was not a fight, but plain murder : Sanjay Kumar

Guest Post by Sanjay Kumar 

In an election rally in Bihar on 8 October, country’s Prime Minister exhorted his audience with a homily pretty standard in India’s secular discourse. He asked Hindus and Muslims to decide whether they want to fight each other, or fight poverty together. His call against communal strife had come ten days after a Muslim man was lynched by a mob in Bisada, a village near the mofussil town of Dadri, 50 km from the national capital. There was no reference to events in Bisada in Mr Modi’s speech, yet ‘PM has spoken on Dadri lynching’ became the prime news on TV, and headline news in every newspaper the next day. If nations are imagined communities, then the media in the neo-liberal era imagines itself to be the prime mover and shaker of national imagination. And, when the ‘national leadership’ had remained silent on an important national news for more than a week, a subtle disquiet had indeed settled; as if, the story maker was not getting suitable yarn to complete the web and tie open leads. This may explain media’s eagerness to combine Mr Modi’s election rally remarks with Dadri lynching, about which he actually said nothing. Perhaps the media is expecting too much, and has a rather pompous self image. The women of Bisada had assaulted reporters and TV crews on 3 October, accusing them of presenting only one side of the story, bringing a bad name to their village and disrupting normal life. We have a Prime Minister who is pained even when a pup is killed under a motor car. Is not it unjust to expect him to express his anguish publicly every time some one is murdered in this  huge country of ours? The PM has declared many times that his one motivation and project is to build a strong and vibrant India. Should not his country men and women be content with the nation’s highest elected official using his exemplary social media skills for projecting a happy and confident mood. Would not shouting from the roof top on issues about which he is genuinely worried tarnish the very image he has been so painstakingly trying to build?

Now, after the media read his election rally remarks as his statement on the Dadri lynching, sections of it have begun criticising him for not saying enough. It would be much fairer to the man to assume that he actually did not  say anything about the Dadri incident. But then, are his remarks true about the general state of affairs in the country? Are Hindus and Muslims actually fighting; are at each other’s throat pushing their respective sectarian agendas? Country’s Prime Minister is utterly wrong on this point. Even more worryingly, he has managed to wrap his very dangerous Hindutva agenda under a standard argument of Indian secularism.

A fight involves two groups of people to fight over something. Hatred, animosity, rumours or ignorance are necessary to build frenzy, but they by themselves do not make up a fight, unless there actually is a clash between two groups of people. Mr Mohammad Aflaq Saifi’s lynching in Bisada village was no fight. The man was simply pulled out of his bedroom and murdered. Actually, events that pass off as communal clashes in India’s national imagining and secular discourse, were hardly so. Nellie (1983), Delhi (1984), Bhagalpur (1989), Babri Mosque demolition and accompanying killings (1992), Mumbai (1992-3), Gujarat (2002), and Muzaffarnagar (2014), were not communal clashes. All these were planned violence with well defined political goals against citizens belonging to beleaguered minorities. Even during 1947, while there was a fight between Congress and Muslim League over the future of undivided India, very few communal killings actually took place during fights between two groups of armed men. Cornered and hapless children, women and men were simply butchered. The so called communal clashes in India should better be identified according to their true character as pogroms. Now, what is the point  of all this? Humans also fight over principles, ideals, for someone else’s safety and security, and such fighting often involves virtues like courage, conviction and fortitude. Calling an event a fight, while it actually is not, leaves open the possibility for a killer to parade as a warrior. It covers up the inhuman barbarity of real perpetrators. A day before Mr Modi’s advise to Hindus and Muslims, the President of the Republic had reminded his countrymen and women that tolerance and co-existence are the basic tenets of Indian civilisation. How does one tolerate communal barbarity? How does one co-exist with communal killers? The conventional tropes of Indian secularism are misleading and comforting illusions, which do not allow one to face the real, but difficult questions that arise in the face of an organised and successful communal politics.

According to the standard genealogy of secularism in the West, the idea of separating state from religion emerged in the wake of the more than a century long wars of religion that ravaged Europe in sixteenth and seventeenth century. A way had to be found so that religious differences do not  lead to horrors of war. A framework of public ethics was needed which would allow for co-existence and toleration of religious differences. A similar history and imperative can be read into ideas of Indian secularism. A way had to be found out of the religious divide promoted by colonial rulers. Hindus and Muslims had more important challenges to strive for, freedom from the colonial rule before 1947, and building a prosperous and just nation after that, than to fight over sectarian differences. All building blocks of Indian secularism, communal amity, respect of religious diversity, toleration of differences, etc. follow from this reading. Special constitutional provisions for minorities, which have rattled Hindu fundamentalists the most, could be justified as necessary steps meant to reassure minorities after the communal holocaust of 1947; that the overwhelming majority is committed to not push its weight behind its own sectarian demands, and is willing to let minorities be as they wish. For the religious minded this secularism could be interpreted as ‘Sarv Dharam Sambhav’, which Indian politicians interpret as ‘equal respect for all religions’. Hence Indian state not only provides administrative and financial resources for religious pilgrimages, but also bans books, films and certain food in deference to religious sentiments.

The dominant understanding of secularism in India ties it up with Indian state’s relationship with religious communities. The latter are accepted as the chief determinants of citizens’ identities and interests, and enjoy normative preference over nonreligious interests of citizens and their associations. Fortunately for Indians, the Constitution in its basic orientation is not guided by this understanding.  It actually establishes a secular framework for the Indian state on thoroughly nonreligious principles of equality and freedom, which are self validating and require no further grounding. The promise of equal freedom to all citizens logically demands that the state keep itself away, or equidistant, from all religions; else it would end up favouring followers of one religion over all others, including non believers. Constitution, and the law following from it, authorise secular state authority to adjudicate on matters deemed religious. Hence, specific religious practices like untouchability that are found to be against basic assumptions of Constitution are outlawed. Similarly, personal and family codes found to be discriminatory against women can be altered. Even matters of personal faith, like Santara among Jains, or Sati among Hindus, do not enjoy a priori sanction.

Mr Mohammad Akhlaq was killed because his attackers saw him only as a Muslim who, according to them had violated their religious beliefs. It is high time the secular discourse in India refuses to identify Mohammad Akhlaqs of the country the way their attackers see them; and also refuses to treat such crimes as clashes along matters considered religious. Communal discord does not lie at the base of the dominant communal politics in the country today. Its votaries have perfected the art of coloring their political goals in religion. In the process they have been quite successful in redefining the popular religion itself and given it a political edge. Waving the flag of conventional Indian secularism against them is ineffective because a significant number of Hindus have begun to see Hindutva politics as representing their community interests. Harping on secularism as a balancing act between competing community interests plays directly into the hands of votaries of Hindutva, because they are the loudest claimants of representing the ‘Hindu’ community. The politics of Hindutva is a downright criminal assault on the secular citizenship of all Indians. Unless Indians realise that many truisms, assumptions,  and homilies of conventional Indian secularism are not only not true, but are also useless in building a normative environment against Mr Modi’s type of politics, whatever democracy exists for ordinary citizens of the country is under threat.

(Author teaches Physics at St Stephen’s College, University of Delhi)

6 thoughts on “You are wrong Mr Prime Minister – It was not a fight, but plain murder : Sanjay Kumar”

  1. Modi has finally spoken…that was a great ‘BREAKING’ news to the Indian media… All the other matters were brushed under the carpet. Nothing was analysed. He broke silence…
    Meanwhile the fringe hindu elements are having a field day – they have spread their tantacles up north – Himachal and Kashmir. This itself indicates that the Centre is tacitly supporting these elements. This is deliberate tactic to ward off criticism. To quell dissent…
    How long will it continue? Can Modi trespass his RSS background and come out?
    “Mushkil hai… Bahut mushkil…Chaahat ko bhulaadenaa…”
    (Free translation — Very difficult, it is very difficult … to forget the desire is very difficult…)


    1. Should we not focus on the crime, criminal, and the punishment? Should we not question the state governments where crimes happen? Should we be less concerned if the victim is not from the minority community? Should we not be concerned if someone other than Modi is PM? The author is trying to tell us that the leftist movements cannot succeed by just pointing finger towards hooligans, and not towards those who are responsible to curb their activities, on whatever pretext, and secularism is one of them. Instead of depending on Mr Modi’s speech and asking him to control the fringe elements of his party, why not demand from the state machineries to effectively suppress such elements? It will expose Mr Modi if he does not support the state government. Such demands will certainly strengthen the state governments to take action. Marxism is a scientific approach towards social and economic problems of a society. It loses its effectiveness if we deviate from the facts and search solutions on that basis.


  2. It is a thought provoking article. I wish the Kafila bloggers also read it and refrain from adding fuel to the fire. Let me summarize, in just two sentences, the undisputed message that the author seems to be conveying. That is, ‘the violence that we see today, physical or verbal, has only a minor communal component. It mostly has a political purpose.’ The Hindu society is less fragmented now, on social level, than it once was. It has led to two noticeably political consequences. (A) One of course is to emphasize the Hindu caste or regional interests and sensitivities, then use the slogan of secularism to scare the minority to join hands, and thus grab power through the electoral process. This mechanism which existed to some extent at all times, mostly localized, was first formalized on the national level by Shri VP Singh. Since the caste structure and its dominance is different in different states, there was a problem of keeping them together under one umbrella on the national level. The only glue was the self interest and the political ambition of the individuals that led to coming together of numerous small political parties with one weakened national party to rule in center. However, it was easier to apply the mechanism on the state level, and got perfected by the caste-ist and regionalist leaders in several states. The glaring examples are UP and Bihar. The intellectual wordsmiths coined the term ‘social engineering’. for this mechanism. If looked at carefully, the largest and mostly backward minority, the Muslims, were hardly benefitted except for a few individuals. (B) The other consequence was to look for a political alternative to the ‘secular’ mechanism. To unite the fragmented Hindu society has been a monumental task in the past. Hindu Maha Sabha failed miserably in post-1947 India. But once the first mechanism got in place, the second mechanism also started gaining strength. It was simply the law of action-reaction. Since ‘secularism’ is the slogan used to exploit the Muslim minority for electoral gains in the first mechanism, it is obvious to be resented by the Hindu castes excluded from the political dominance. Therefore, a slogan ‘All together. Development of all’ was an attractive option for them. It is just a chance that that slogan was given by Shri Modi. Any leader who presented that slogan to people as an alternative to ‘secularism’ would have been successful on the electoral front. That slogan is not in apparent conflict with the ‘secularism’ in Mechanism 1, and it seems to define ‘secularism’ better. But in essence it becomes anti-Muslim, as they are lured by the Mechanism 1, and in the case of electoral defeat by the mechanism 2, get almost completely excluded from the political power. It does not mean they gained much in the Mechanism 1, but it appeared more pro- and anti-Muslim. A great harm to Muslim minority was done by a brand of intellectuals who harped on ‘secularism’ to contain the lure of Mechanism 2, forgetting the law of action-reaction. The Mechanism 2 grew as a reaction to Mechanism 1, and therefore they are indirectly responsible for the current situation. Again I wish to thank the author for emphasizing that ‘secularism’ is a weapon that has boomeranged, as it has been used carelessly and indiscriminately.


  3. the author truly highlights an important point- that attention from the real issues is diverted by headlines such as “the PM finally spoken” and “why did the writers not return awards earlier”. An interesting point that secularists need to heed- arguments to expose this new brand of religious fundamentalism as political progrom needs a political and not a secular argumentation. Article is thought provoking. Thanks


  4. What is the question here? Isn’t it how the Muslims can be blamed for whatever they are and how to put them on the altar of sacred Hindu ‘yagnya kund’?
    How can a right wing political outfit which is not known for having anything more than rallies threatening Muslims; blaming the other populist party for appeasing them; having pogroms saying the bureaucratic state machinery to look away and allow Hindus to vent their anger, say anything about the so called secular citizenship of India?
    If their development mantra and Manuvad go hand in hand without any problem at all, we are all doomed.


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