Silent No More
It has been more than a month since the Citizenship Amendment Act or the CAA was passed by both the houses of the Indian parliament. The protests that started immediately following the passage have continued unabated for over a month despite more than thirty deaths due to heavy handed police tactics. Many more have been imprisoned on flimsy charges for excercising their right of free speech and assembly.
In state after state, in towns large and small and cities, on college campuses, at the court houses, at historic venues, the anti-CAA protesters are registering their protest against the body blow to India’s founding principles by singing the national anthem and reciting the preamble to the constitution.
After the passage of the bill in mid-December a feeling of helplessness enveloped me. I was afraid for India’s Muslims and other vulnerable groups. The rise of the BJP from a bit player on the political scene to its current status is built on the demonization of Muslims and anti-Muslim pogroms. Those fears were realized when reports of the brutal police actions in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led states, especially in Uttar Pradesh started trickling in.
The CAA takes aim at the heart of the Indian Constitution by singling out Muslims and treating them differently than adherents of other religions. This bill along with the BJP’s government’s plan to construct a National Register of Citizens would be a living nightmare not just for the 100 million plus Muslim population but also the poor and dispossessed. The NRC conducted in Assam gives us a window on how a similar exercise conducted on a national scale would turn out.
The BJP had tried to pass this law in an earlier session of the Parliament but it died because they didn’t have the numbers to pass it through the upper house, Rajya Sabha prior to the elections last May. But after gaining an imposing majority in the Lok Sabha in the last elections, this time around many smaller parties decide to go along with the BJP’s agenda in the Rajya Sabha and the bill passed both the Houses easily.
(Left to Right : The Sangh role model, Mr. Modi in the Sangh uniform and RSS cadres marching)
The agenda of the BJP is the agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the political off shoot of the black hats and brown shorts (recently the shorts have been replaced by pants) wearing all male volunteer organization. The RSS is modeled after similar organizations in Europe following World War I. Their plan for India has always been clear, to rid India of its religious minorities, especially its Muslims or relegate them to an inferior or a secondary status and assert a muscular Hindu identity. Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism are considered Hindu by the Sangh in this classification while Islam and Christianity are not.
When the BJP was able to form a government on their own strength I knew that their long awaited ideological project would gather full steam. Taking away Kashmir’s status as a state of the Indian Union was just the first step. Their agenda is not popular except among their die-hard supporters. So Prime Minister Modi maintains an avuncular facade talking about schemes of keeping India clean, building toilets and bringing LPG cylinders to villages. But make no mistake, he is a Sangh pracharak. He has dedicated his life to the Sangh and presided over a vicious anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002 as the Chief Minister (Executive Head and the Legislative leader) of Gujarat. So when Ian Bremmer says,
While the economy was responsive to Modi’s moves, the Prime Minister was not so drawn to Hindu nationalism. Now that this is no longer the case, he is falling back on identity politics to capture political momentum.
he exposes his ignorance about the India’s ruling party and its leader. Bremmer is not alone in this fallacy either. Many in the media take the Prime Minister at face value.
Prime Minister Modi has been involved with the activities of the Sangh since he was eight. He is not falling back on identity politics, as a Sangh pracharak working for Hindutva is his life’s mission. Pracharaks are typically not married because spreading the mission of Hindutva takes precedence over family life. Modi has been estranged from his wife for decades and calls himself a fakir.
PM Modi’s first term saw the BJP actively intimidating reporters, getting media houses to fire independent editors and journalists who would hold the BJP accountable.
Nikhil Wagle, Siddharth Vardarajan are two of the many who lost their TV/Newspaper perches for questioning he who must not be questioned. Check out any random tweet by either of these two men (@waglenikhil, @svaradarajan) and you will see the notorious BJP IT cell in action. The IT cell is the BJP’s massive online operation to intimidate and silence dissent on social media and spread pro-BJP memes and fear. The policy is to wear down any effective opposition. The BJP also spends the most money on TV and other media buys. As a result most of the media in India falls over itself to give the BJP positive coverage.
The BJP had also launched several spurious investigations of many non-BJP politicians. They have undermined the independence of institutions like the Reserve Bank of India which plays the same role that the Federal Reserve does here. And investigative arms like CBI (like our FBI) and ED (Enforcement directorate) among others jailing civil society activists including lawyers who fight for the dispossessed. A judge involved in a case implicating Mr. Amit Shah was murdered under mysterious circumstances. Amit Shah is the Home Minister and PM Modi’s trusted right hand man from his Gujarat days. For the last six years Modi has seemed invincible and the opposition feeble.
This is the first time in its six years in power that the BJP government has seen a push back at this scale. It is important to remember that the BJP got a little over 1/3 of the total vote share in the 2019 elections, about 37%, so numbers exist to defeat it at the polls. The recent elections in Jharkhand and the post poll alliance in Maharashtra to keep the BJP out of power shows how the BJP is far from invincible. The spell has broken; the silent majority is silent no more. In a culture where conformity and silent obedience to authority are prized, this is huge.
Here are some protest signs from the various protests all over India over the last month.
Translation: India’s soil has our blood too, its not your father’s property
Me Indian, Me Marathi, Me Muslim and Me Mumbaikar
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: National Volunteer Organization
Bharatiya Janata Party: Indian People’s Party
Lok Sabha: People’s House or People’s Meeting/Gathering, the Lower House of the Indian Parliament like the United States House of Representatives
Rajya Sabha: House of the States, the Upper House of the Indian Parliament like the United States Senate.
(In the next installment I will cover the protests in greater detail, provided there is sufficient interest)