The RSS coup d’etat in India, and a collage of solidarity actions for Kashmir

Protest in Philadephia on abrogation of Article 370

Since the 5th of August, the now abolished state of Kashmir has been under de facto military rule, as shown both by news reports of the numbers of troops stationed there currently, as well as by a fact-finding report released after a visit to Kashmir by Jean Dreze, Kavita  Krishnan, Maimoona Mollah and Vimal Bhai, which begins:

When we arrived in Srinagar on 9 August, we found the city silenced and desolated by curfew, and bristling with Indian military and paramilitary presence. The curfew was total, as it had been since 5th August.

The intention of this post was initially only to put together a quick collage of some news items and statements of solidarity and protests across India and the world, on the abolition of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, bringing the two newly formed Union Territories directly under the rule of the Hindutva formation currently in power at the centre.

However, this move can only be understood in the context of the fact that since May 23, 2019, India is barely any longer even the formal democracy it claimed to be.  Effectively, a coup d’etat was carried out on that date by the RSS (now under the complete control of Modi-Shah), through the extremely dubious “sweeping victory” of the BJP.  We begin therefore with a section on RSS and The Lie as Political Strategy.

The second section is the compilation and in the third, some reflections on democracy in India today.

I

Here is an oped article by RSS ideologue Ram Madhav, who made the following outright false statement on August 22, 2019:

The popular response to these two decisions in the Valley has largely been subdued. No major violence has taken place nor has there been any terror attack. Initially, there were severe restrictions on the free movement of people, including round-the-clock curfew. But, most of the restrictions have been relaxed, either partially or fully. Vehicular movement on the streets of Srinagar and elsewhere is slowly returning. Curfew has been removed in most parts. Schools and markets are open. Life is limping back to normalcy after a few days of preventive restrictions.

Did Madhav actually visit Srinagar and see these circumstances, or is he is lying openly in the columns of a national newspaper?

If the latter, no surprise there, for the art of lying not very subtly, is one which the RSS has perfected. Let us take only one instance for now, for it would take very long to list every lie the RSS and its shadowy hordes have perpetuated over the decades. So for now, let us take the repeated false claims to heroic roles in the anti-imperialist struggle against the British, which need to be equally repeatedly challenged. It is well known that “Veer” was an epithet Savarkar gave himself under a pseudonym, much after he was enabled to leave the British prison in the Andamans after several mercy petitions that he wrote and an abject apology letter in which he declared himself to be  “the staunchest advocate of loyalty to the English government”.

An aside: The RSS student organization ABVP in Delhi University dared to put up busts of Savarkar along with Bose and Bhagat Singh without permission from university authorities, but one assumes, under the full protection of its parent organization. (Meanwhile on the other side of the city in JNU under an RSS Vice Chancellor, political artwork on campus walls was being removed, and the SU President faces disciplinary action for students  pasting fresh posters in protest!). In DU ABVP did take down the busts after the university authorities denied giving permission, but apparently on an assurance that they would  be properly installed after students’ union elections. Since the NSUI, the ABVP’s main competitor in DU is opposed to the Savarkar bust enterprise, it looks like a micro coup d’etat can be expected in the DU student elections too.

As for SP Mookerjee, that other great Hindutva leader, here he is, writing to the British governor of Bengal:

The question is how to combat this movement (Quit India) in Bengal? The administration of the province should be carried on in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts of the Congress, this movement will fail to take root in the province. It should be possible for us, especially responsible Ministers, to be able to tell the public that the freedom for which the Congress has started the movement, already belongs to the representatives of the people…

What about the RSS-concocted quotation from Ambedkar supposedly showing his opposition to Article 370, cited by no less than the Vice President of India? When in fact

…the official volumes show Ambedkar’s views on Kashmir to be totally at variance with the BJP’s “nationalist” thinking. The father of Indian constitution, for example, advocated a “zonal plebiscite” in Jammu and Kashmir so that the ‘Muslim’ Valley could go to Pakistan if it so desired.  Ambedkar also pushed the erstwhile Nehru government to resolve the Kashmir dispute as quickly as possible, so that India’s hefty defence budget, necessitated by the instability in the Kashmir valley, could be cut down.

This false attribution to Ambedkar of opposition to Article 370 was repeated today by Mayawati, attacking Opposition leaders for attempting to go to Srinagar. The RSS knows it only has to put out the lie and keep repeating it, because that lie will be taken to be true by many, regardless of it being exposed as a falsehood again and again,

What about false claims of love jihad?

But seriously, The Collected Lies of the RSS would be a multi-volume compilation, for another time.

But on the other hand, if Madhav did visit Srinagar to ascertain the claims he made, and it is as he says, then why were Opposition leaders stopped more than once from entering Srinagar – CPI and CPM leaders Yechury and Raja on August 9,  and a larger delegation just yesterday?

After all, like Ajit Doval, they too could have hobnobbed with the locals , and returned with the new Congress mantra rendered even more potent – the mantra of let us not demonize Modi. But they were not permitted to leave Srinagar airport except to come back to Delhi.

Why is every political leader under arrest in Kashmir?

Why are some high profile organizers of protests against the abrogation of Article 370 placed under house arrest even outside Kashmir, as Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey was in Lucknow?

Why do we hear about the massive on-going repression of the Kashmiri people mainly from international media? Because of the communications blockade as a result of which genuine reporting is not possible, while media bought over, or close to the government, brazenly peddles Hindutva propaganda as news – take the media attacks on Shehla Rashid for tweeting information she could not “verify”. As she said in an interview:

…right now Kashmir has been pushed into the 18th century era where you have to convey messages physically. You have to send someone who is travelling and convey the message through this messenger. These are testimonies of people travelling between Srinagar and Delhi. I am continuously in touch with these people. They have no reason to lie.

How can you verify when the government has shut down newspapers and all other communications? It is impossible to verify and that is not my fault. As an activist, it is my job to make people aware of the situation. I believe it to be the truth. These are real stories of real people. And my purpose is to highlight them without any exaggeration…..

The Press Council of India, supposedly the watchdog of press freedom, impleaded itself in the Supreme Court in a petition filed by Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin against restrictions on communication facilities in Jammu and Kashmir. Its plea is to retain these restrictions citing “national interest and sovereignty of nation”. The impleading applications moved by the PCI seek to point out that it has regulations in place for self-restraint by journalists on issues of “paramount national interest”.

Now this turns out to have been a unilateral action by the Chairperson of the PCI, as members of PCI and other journalist bodies have lodged strong protests.

II

Here then is a quick and incomplete collage of a) news from some Indian and international media and b) recent statements and protests in solidarity with Kashmir.

Of course people in Kashmir cant read them or this post, for that matter, because internet is completely cut off.

Please feel free to come into the comments section with more such reports.

News

August 10. Article 370: Tear gas at Kashmir rally India denies happened

August 12. BBC stands by coverage, vows to do its job

August 21. Kashmir is shutting itself down with a ‘people’s curfew’ so Modi govt can’t say all’s well

A number of stories in New York Times but accessible only to subscribers. This page lists their recent coverage of Kashmir.

August 22. A first-person account of life in Srinagar after India imposed curfew and a communications lockdown.

August 23 Kashmir city on lockdown after calls for protest march

August 26  Communication blockade in Kashmir: Deaths go unattended in Valley sans phones

Solidarity actions across the world 

August 16. Today thousands came to London to demand justice for the people of Jammu & Kashmir after India’s suspension of its special constitutional status.

August 20.  “A Test For India and Its Future”: Philadelphia Stands With Kashmir.

A Wave of Solidarity With Kashmir Is Spreading Across the Globe

Protests in India

A large number of citizens’ protests were held in different cities in India; in Delhi and Bangalore for sure, but completely blacked out by the media. In Lucknow, protests were prevented by the police, as pointed out earlier However, news about these are available on social media, and it would be great if the comments brought us information about these.

Here are pictures of a protest at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, on August 5

III

RSS, democracy and us

What is puzzling about the unfolding of the RSS agenda across the board since 2014, and with greater speed after the second term of the BJP – from criminalizing triple talaq and the call to end reservations to the abrogation of Article 370 – is the insistent invocation of democracy.

RSS chief Bhagwat calls for a “harmonious debate” on reservations; abrogation of Article 370 is claimed to be for development in Kashmir and justified because the Kashmiri people welcome it (Modi, Ram Madhav); criminalizing triple talaq is supposedly for the welfare of Muslim women (Amit Shah) – on this last, see Farah Naqvi on the discourse of the “saved Muslim woman” that underlies Islamophobic state policy of the US and now India.

Why this claim to democracy by a fascist regime put in place by extremely questionable methods passing as a free and fair election; its every action scripted by the uncompromisingly hierarchical and non-democratic RSS, to which the majority party owes unquestioning allegiance, an organization now fully under the control of Modi and Shah and which runs the current government?  The close hold the RSS (which has never fought an election as an entity) has over the current regime is so evident that Bhagwat felt the need after his controversial call for debating reservations, to state hastily that “the RSS, the BJP and the party-led government are three different entities and one cannot be held responsible for actions of another.”

Could it be that now that the RSS has full control over state power, the organization feels less and less the need for the democratic facade, but the RSS members in the BJP and government (including Modi and Shah) are aware that democracy cannot be sidelined altogether, especially as far as Dalits are concerned? There has been a strong reaction from Dalit leaders to Bhagwat’s statement, which the RSS cannot ignore. Within the RSS parivar, there is a clear split between the handful of anti-caste Savarkarites who genuinely want to end caste discrimination to consolidate Hindu society against non-Hindus; and the majority of Sanghis whose hatred of Dalits is too visceral to set aside, even for that lofty goal.

Some of those justifiably critical of Indian democracy as it has functioned for 70 years, argue now that this moment is simply business as usual, that most Indians have lived under an undeclared Emergency this whole time – Dalits, Adivasis, the poor. This moment is just another step in that journey that began with a tryst with destiny.

But this would be a mistaken analysis. It’s like an old style Marxist analysis that sees no difference between the liberal democratic state and the fascist state because both are capitalist. There is a specificity to this moment. There are three features I think, that constitute the value added to the Indian political system by Hindu Rashtra.

First, the complete dispossession and disowning of the Muslim. Every oppressive policy followed earlier is unrolled, but unlikely to be resisted en masse, because now it targets exclusively Muslims, their lives, their livelihoods. Already Muslim men are imprisoned vastly disproportionately to their share in the population, and through the criminalization of triple talaq many more will enter jails. If desertion of wives by men in general were to be criminalized, over fifty percent of Indian men of all religions would probably be behind bars.  Not to mention NRIs.

Concentration camps all over the country to accommodate “illegal immigrants”, a code word for Muslims.

Population control declared as a goal by the PM on independence day at a time when India’s population growth has in fact stabilized, and all religious communities saw fertility rates drop, with the sharpest fall among Muslims. Why did Modi declare this as a goal on Independence Day? It is an old RSS view, that Hindu population is falling and Muslim population rising, here is our friend Bhagwat on the matter, quite explicitly.

Enforced nasbandi (vasectomy) was key to the mass upsurge against the Emergency – but what when the force of the policy falls exclusively on Muslims? Will inclusion in the NRC be offered as the compensation for “voluntary” sterilization?

This is not a wild fantasy, unfortunately. Modi’s prioritizing of this issue on August 15 2019 is an indicator of many horrors to come.

Second, Hindu Rashtra functions through controlled chaos. Unlike the manufacture of organized “communal riots” in the earlier phases, which had beginnings and endings, what has been unleashed since 2014 is a lynch mob culture, which produces a state of continuous turbulence, threat and terror (a  mood best captured by the dark film S Durga). Violence can now be sparked anywhere by even one or two activists of the Sangh parivar, drawing in a larger crowd which recognizes that with impunity it can participate actively, or enjoy and record. This new kind of violence targets not entire communities, but some Muslim individuals, some Dalit individuals, some individual women. Each time therefore, the authorities can say that this particular act was not a casteist or communal incident, not an instance of sexual violence, but simply an aberrant criminal act. Each one a law and order issue to be dealt with separately.

The impunity unleashed is such that it compensates young unemployed subaltern men for their utter lack of power in the system, and for the crashing economy. They don’t need work, jobs, income, when they can have the heady rush of stopping a random middle class man and forcing him to say Jai Shri Ram .  This particular man happened to be a Hindu doctor, but there have been innumerable incidents of Muslims being forced to chant Jai Shri Ram and being thrashed, tortured, lynched.

Acts of violence against Dalits too, have gone up in number and intensity since 2014.

This lynch mob culture taps into deep reserves of justification of violence against Dalits and women in Hindu society, and what the Sangh parivar has done is to unleash it from its secret places out into the open.

Third, the unprecedented, massive, continuing crackdown on expressions of dissent, even by private individuals on social media, and the throttling of freedom of expression in universities and their complete restructuring to bring them directly under the government. The way in which individuals are targeted, is through police complaints and court cases by other supposedly private individuals, but the fact that police and courts take such complaints seriously is an indication that this is part of Sangh parivar strategy too. Yes, suppression of dissent happened during the Emergency also, but that was a period of two declared years, and conducted by the state, not by any aggrieved individual. Now we are five years down – and counting –  into an undeclared war on dissenters (including assassinations), by the state, by anybody whose sentiments are hurt, by armed Hindutva terrorist organizations.

The censorship of opinion is completed by the debilitation of the media, largely intimidated or bought over, so that self censorship often obviates the need for Sangh activist or government action.

These three features, each inextricably tied to nationalism, are what mark out Hindu Rashtra from business as usual. Each feature has ways of marking out the nationalist from the anti-national. In short, where the current regime is very different from the Emergency then, is that while the latter clearly polarized the situation into state versus the people, Hindu Rashtra has produced a situation of molecular everyday violence against certain sections, which has begun to take the form of an on-going, entirely one-sided civil war.

But somehow we have to struggle to regain the radical, restorative impulse in democracy that still binds even Hindu Rashtra, at least nominally, such that it needs to be invoked for every policy unrolled. A democratic impulse that is not majoritarian.

How do we, as active, non-violent warriors for democracy, do this in a scenario in which all political parties have collapsed?

This is the challenge before us.

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