Persistent anti-Muslim violence in India (1992-2015): Gainers and losers

The massive violence leading up to the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6 1992, an iconic event in Indian history and politics, was preceded by the biggest mass mobilisation in independent India centred on the theme of building a Hindu temple for Lord Ram at the very site at which stood the Muslim temple Babri Masjid, in the populous state of Uttar Pradesh.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a turning point in India's

The demolition of  Babri Masjid was a turning point in the history of modern India

The demolition of the Babri Masjid (named after the first Moghul emperor of India Babar), which deeply hurt the religious sentiments of pious Muslims, was the handiwork of a huge riotous mob of self-proclaimed Hindus led by the top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), now virtually India’s sole ruling party.

Large-scale communal violence against Muslims followed in several states after the demolition. Gujarat, which was to be the site of the massive anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002, witnessed between 1987 and 1991, 106 major incidents of communal violence.

The elements of preparation, planning and execution, conspicuous in the 2002 pogrom were clearly visible in most of these previous riots. The BJP made enormous political and electoral gains from the massive religious mobilisation and violence of the 1990s and 2000s.

The gruesome lynching of a Muslim by an excited Hindu mob on September 28, 2015 has been the latest in the series of incidents of anti-Muslim violence in India. It occurred in a charged atmosphere at village Bisara near Dadri, western Uttar Pradesh.

Like the demolition of the Babri Masjid, this incident too is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the Indian polity. It also sent a wrong message to Pakistan, which has had worsening relations with India following the emergence of the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.

On the night of September 28, the priest of a local temple was apparently persuaded to make an announcement by the loud speaker that Mohammad Aklaq of Bisara had slaughtered a cow to have a meal.

Hearing the patently false message, an incensed mob broke into the home of Aklaq and lynched him besides fatally injuring his son who too died later. The cow is considered holy by many Hindus on alleged scriptural grounds and so cannot be slaughtered and eaten.

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM), a government body set up to protect the constitutional and legal rights of the minority communities of India, visited Dadri on October 10 and stated that the lynching of Mohammad Aklaq was premeditated and unprovoked.

It noted that a sacred place like a temple had been used to exhort one community to commit violence against another and hence calling the event an ‘accident’, as a government minister had done, would be an ‘understatement’. The mob had assembled within minutes of the priestly call, which indicated premeditation and planning.

It must be noted that even the most carefully planned and well organised acts of communal violence are designed to appear spontaneous by the perpetrators.

The aim is to legitimise illegitimate violence, conceal the extent of preplanning and organisation, and maintain intact the persons, groups and organisations implicated in the violence by preventing punishment of the principal perpetrators.

The NCM expressed concern at the growing vigilantism and moral policing in western Uttar Pradesh. It also noted the failure of police intelligence gathering in the region, implying complicity in the violence on the part of the police.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi remained conspicuously silent for some days. When the President of India spoke out on spirit of tolerance, Modi became articulate but only to the extent of expressing ‘sadness’ and mentioning that the event did not concern the central government headed by him.

He advised Hindus and Muslims to fight poverty not each other. There was no word of condemnation or punishment of the guilty. This reaction gave away Modi’s communal bias.

In a similar manner, after the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, Modi merely expressed mild concern for the victims of the violence and had no word to mention on criminal prosecution of the guilty or remorse for his own inaction as chief minister of the state. This was callous indifference to a colossal human tragedy.

After Aklaq, another lynching of a Muslim youth on similar charges occurred in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir, indicating a growing trend of targeted and unaccountable violence against India’s biggest minority community.

The Narendra Modi government, since its inception in May 2014, has failed to act whenever such incidents of violence against minority community individuals or institutions have taken place.

This pattern of behaviour seems to indicate a settled policy of indifference and impunity on the part of the government he leads with regard to routinized communal violence.

More recently, Modi remained conspicuously inactive when the chauvinistic Shiv Sena, his ally in Mumbai, attacked the prominent journalist Sudhindra Kulkarni and blackened his face to prevent him from holding a book launch function for the visiting former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.

Kasuri responded that he had witnessed more tolerance in Pakistan.

Communal violence has been a recurring feature of independent India’s politics and society. Since the 1980s, incidents of such violence have become pogroms and organised massacres of Muslims.

The ‘institutionalised riot systems’ that seem to exist in communally sensitive spots carry out organised and targeted killings of Muslims.

The Gujarat pogrom of 2002 saw the culmination of such anti-minority violence. Over 2,000 persons were killed, 150,000 people displaced and property worth over Rs 110,000 million ($1,691 millon) destroyed. Political, police and administrative collusion, facilitation and participation in the pogrom were prominent features.

The much discussed and lauded secularity of the Indian state appears bogus when judged by the scale, intensity and widespread nature of the violence against India’s largest minority community since independence.

The Sachar Committee Report 2005 on the socio-economic status of the Muslim community in India noted that Muslims in India suffer from a double burden: on the one hand they are perceived as anti-national and on the other the government is accused of pampering the Muslims!

The Ramjanmabhoomi campaign leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 was directed against Muslims and culminated in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. No significant punishment has been meted out to the culprits who planned and carried out the pogrom.

The entire political order in north India and its leading national and local actors appear to be implicated in the persistence of anti-Muslim violence, which has had concrete benefits for particular political organisations and have had larger political uses as well.

Though detailed research is needed and despite the many factors that must be considered, it may be broadly stated that in electoral terms, the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) has been the biggest gainer in the unprecedented communal mobilisation and mass violence against the Muslims that have been unleashed in Indian politics through the 1980s, the 1990s and after.

In successive parliamentary elections, the party has steadily bettered its performance.

In the Upper House of Parliament or the Lok Sabha (the Lower House or Rajya Sabha [250 seats] is much smaller and indirectly elected) with 547 seats, in successive parliamentary elections the seats won by the BJP, in brackets are: 1984, 8th Lok Sabha (2); 1989, 9th Lok Sabha (86); 1991, 10th Lok Sabha (120); 1996, 11th Lok Sabha (161); 1998, 12th Lok Sabha (182); 1999, 13th Lok Sabha (182); 2004, 14th Lok Sabha (138); 2009, 15th Lok Sabha (116); 2014, 16th Lok Sabha (282).

The communal mobilisation of the last few decades in India has benefited Narendra Modi hugely in electoral terms. Besides winning three successive state assembly elections in Gujarat (never mind the carnage of 2002), Modi won the big parliamentary election in 2014 even if he won only 31% of the popular vote.

The biggest losers in this process have, of course, been the Indian electorate!

Given the data above, it is not at all surprising that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is hesitant to condemn clearly the Hindu communal mobilisation and violence that confronts him as Prime minister, no matter if it gives his party and government a bad name and his country a black mark.

The writer is former Director General of Police in Northeast India. He has authored ‘State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India’, Routledge, 2015

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