Opinion | Religious discord remains a major security concern
It will be a matter of great irony if creating instability for stability stays the leitmotif
At the end of last year, I had written a heads-up for internal security for India in 2018. In it I mentioned nationalist mojo and religious engineering as key internal security concerns. And, that it would continue to be so for 2019, as rhetoric and tension designed to win general elections to various Assemblies would easily leapfrog to the campaign for Lok Sabha elections in early 2019.
After all, it was—it is—a matter of lives and livelihoods, the very fabric of the Indian democracy.
A leading national daily for which I wrote it, redacted that portion from the heads-up that also included other concerns; and all concerns were addressed with a similar degree of clinical appraisal.
Redacting of course doesn’t mean something isn’t true, it isn’t happening, or that it won’t happen. Within weeks, an eight-year-old girl, a Muslim and of the nomadic Bakarwal community was gang-raped and killed in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir.
Follow-up has powerfully shielded her Hindu killers and become an engine of politico-religious divide. The speaker of the Lok Sabha, Sumitra Mahajan, would later describe the incident as “downfall of humanity”.
Indeed, events of 2018 continue to underscore the redacted assertion.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president’s threat last week to uproot the government of Kerala if it persisted with the arrest of protesters incensed by a Supreme Court ruling that permitted the entry of women of menstrual age to the shrine of Sabarimala, is one such.
Pronouncements of what is called the Sangh Parivar distressed by the Supreme Court’s call earlier this week to postpone a hearing over construction of a temple to Ram in Ayodhya, is another. Especially as it is underscored by remarks that they can’t keep waiting. The chief minister of BJP-led Uttar Pradesh government has expressed similar sentiments.
Those who remember December 1992, when the Babri mosque was demolished against all intervention by the judiciary, leading to massive rioting across northern India and part of the west and east; followed by retaliatory bomb strikes, a jihadist reaction that persists to this day, will recall what an assertive call to arms can achieve.
Like the incidents of 2002 in Gujarat, it remains an open chapter of leveraged politics that ends lives and shakes the orbit of a nation. Indeed, right-wing trolls have on social networks freely attacked the Supreme Court as being “anti-national” and “sickular”, words used to denigrate anyone run afoul of ultra-conservative Hindus and ultra-nationalists.
Recent trends became evident in the run-up to Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in early 2017. It capped a year of horrific crimes against those accused of eating beef, even trading in cattle. The narrative of Hindu supremacy at any cost continued unabated through the campaign for assembly elections in Gujarat in late 2017, like Uttar Pradesh a key must-win project for the BJP. The grisly killing of a Muslim worker in Rajasthan in early December that year and the viral video it generated were met with disturbing and studied silence for long by the country’s rulers, senior BJP leaders and by those of the Sangh Parivar.
This year continues to carry the thread of religious discord and its corollary of seemingly gratuitous violence that always begins so easily, and ends uneasily.
Assembly elections to Meghalaya and Nagaland in early 2018 were of low calorific value in terms of politico-religious ploys, at least from the BJP’s perspective. But Tripura was won as much by anti-incumbency against the long-ruling Communists as Hindu-nationalist flavour and sponsorship of an already on-edge tribal population in this majority Bengali state; that alliance is fraying.
Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, attending assembly elections over November and December, are high on the radar of must-keep states for the Sangh Parivar. This will segue into campaigning for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.
It is not for this column to suggest who should win or lose an election. But from an internal security standpoint, it will be a matter of great irony if creating instability and insecurity in the name of stability remains the abiding leitmotif.
This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights and runs on Thursdays.