What is there to say? What can one say that has not already been said umpteen times before – during earlier rounds of communal violence elsewhere – and in Delhi this time?
The political class, true to its character, has revealed as it has so many times in the past, that when it comes to matters like communal violence, it is simply paralyzed – perhaps with the exception of the Left in states where it was strong enough to impact things. For all its failures in other respects, this was one where the Bengal Left, for instance, too had in the past shown great promptness in nipping such possibilities in the bud. Most often this was done, not by relying only on the administrative power of the state, but with the entire party machinery moving into action. Kerala too has had a similar record. But those instances apart, especially in states of the Northern or Western India, there hasn’t been much to write home about. What entering the political domain does to you is illustrated so starkly by the fate of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its utter capitulation to what it imagines to be the ‘Hindu sentiment’.
Let me elaborate this a bit. I understand and appreciate every bit the need to not play the game the BJP way and thus hand it over to them. However, I think there is every reason to believe that this was BJP’s trump card- the turup ka patta: Having guaged one thing very accurately, it set out to kill three birds with one stone. And that one thing is that the basis of the loose coalition that had got together to ensure its defeat in the elections was an extremely fragile one that had to be broken, at any cost, before it could be consolidated. That was the first bird to be killed. If AAP refused to take the bait through the rounds of violence in Jamia Millia Islamia, JNU, Daryaganj and the various shooting incidents in Shaheen Bagh and Jamia, this was one where things were calculated to force a precipitation. Kejriwal and AAP had to be forced now, in the face of this massive violence, to either go and stand with the anti-CAA protesters (code word for ‘Mulsims’, of course) or reveal their feet of clay and be forever damned in the eyes of the constituency that was responsible in a fairly big way for his victory.
The second bird that was to be killed: removal of the protests – that had been growing by the day and in newer areas – from the field of vision. Shaheen Bagh, Khureji, Seelampur, Inderlok were eyesores to the BJP-RSS because they were living demonstrations of the fact that the community so demonized as violent had shown itself to be the epitome of peace and harmony; the community whose women had been portrayed as unfree and enslaved was now represented by its women in these highly creative and imaginative protests – not in one or two sites but across the length and breadth of India. The protest sites were a living refutation of the Hindutva propaganda of at least a century. The protests represented truly a ‘heroism of the ordinary’ – something that always scares the political class. They particularly scared the BJP because they showed up BJP for what it was.
The third bird to be killed with the same stone – and this point I owe to my friend Nakul Sawhney who has been working in Uttar Pradesh for quite some time now – was to thwart all possibilities of a platform of the Delhi type, with the potential forcing BJP to fight on another turf, becoming a possible challenge in other states. Nakul saw in UP how the results of the Delhi elections were received there and how people were already beginning to talk about education, health, water and electricity as issues that concerned them. This was obviously tied also to the fact that AAP had immediately decalred its national ambitions and had held a very successful rally in Lucknow. This too had to be nipped in the bud.
Arvind Kejriwal and AAP seem to have understood nothing of all this – even their understanding of the ‘Hindu sentiment’ got seriously contained within the symbolism of ‘Bajrang Bali’ and pussyfooting with regard to the political administrative responsibilty placed on its shoulders. This shows a particularly low understanding of the Hindus themselves – so many of whom, at the local level, came out in flying colours, sheltering Muslim families. Most Hindus of Delhi, I am sure, would not have had any problem if the AAP had called a big demonstration at the Police headquarters (thousands of us too would have joined in, though we may not matter electorally) – demanding that the police stop abetting and encouraging those indulging in violence and that Kapil Mishra be arrested. The fact that they instead chose the farcical option of sitting on dharna at Rajghat revealed that they were completely at sea as to what they should do. And Rajghat? The grand old man who shunned power and stayed away from all electoral-political calculations, who paid for Hindu-Muslim unity with his life, who did not care if he incurred the wrath of the majority community – that man was your refuge? You may argue that you were doing all this for a higher cause but let me tell you, that is where the decline of the communists too began. The idea that ‘ends justify the means’ was so much part of the communist way of thinking that they never ever realized when the ends had to be stacked away and the means became the end. Gandhi abhorred this argument: you cannot arrive at a just cause by unjust means he would insist – and looking the other way when injustice was being prepetrated is unjust means.
I still want to reiterate that this does not mean that you should start doing politics the way other parties do it; it does mean however, that you need to think hard about the way in which the distinction between hardcore Hindutva can be isolated; it does mean you have a sober appreciation of the forces that stand with you and the ones you need to win over. It also means that you stop infantilizing Hindus and pandering to the worst amongst them.
In relation to what the political class was doing, it is really heartening to hear that even in the most seriously affected areas of Mustafabad, Chandbagh, Shiv Vihar and Maujpur, so many stories of heroism by ordinary folk have emerged. If Hindu families saved Muslim families, there were Muslims who caught hold of a rioter and handed him over to his mother. In Chand Bagh, Muslims formed a human chain to protect a temple; in Shiv Vihar Hindu families saved Muslims. Gurudwaras flung open their doors for victims in different parts of the city. I also heard that the head of the Guru Ravidas Janmotsav Committee Delhi, Brahmadas Bulaki, has announced that the Ravidas mandir precincts and Ambedkar Bhavans will be open for victims of violence anywhere in Delhi. Religion and religious sentiments, per se, clearly stand in no one’s way. It is only when they are taken over by politics and made to serve the ends of power do they become the violent volatile mix that we are seeing in India and Delhi today.