The age of rage and targeted killings
Anger sweeps the world, pitting conservatives against liberals, and globalists against regionalists. Riding this wave is the Angry Hindu whose resurgent nationalism is ushering in a New Indian Order.
Published: 17th July 2022 05:00 AM | Last Updated: 17th July 2022 09:57 AM | A+A A-
Mahua Moitra is Hindu. So is Nupur Sharma. Chalk and cheese both, but they are victims of present-day India's politico-cultural zeitgeist -- anger.
Nupur was responding to a provocation by Islamist politician Tasleem Rahmani, who scoffed on TV, that the Shivling found in the Gyanvapi mosque is really a fountain and not a holy object. Moitra was defending her idea of Goddess Durga as worshipped by Bengalis. Why have these two women enraged Indians?
What made Mohammad Riyaz Attari and Ghouse Mohammad decapitate the Udaipur tailor Kanhaiya Lal? The topography of vengeance is haunted by eerie coincidence; both are from Rajsamand, a small city in Rajasthan, where in 2017, Shambhulal Regar cut a certain Afrazul to pieces and burnt his mutilated corpse.
In Amravati, Maharashtra, an obscure chemist named Umesh Kolhe was knifed to death for posting Nupur’s tirade on Facebook; one of his attackers was a doctor. Blasphemy, never of much ado in India -- but a partisan weapon to persecute minorities in Pakistan -- is rewriting Indian Constitutional sensibilities with the quotidian quill of divine defence.
In Delhi, why are woke defenders of the Constitution hyperventilating about the re-imagined leonine symbol of Indian power that straddles the new Parliament building? Why did a photographer in Assam gruesomely jump up and down on the corpse of a protestor killed in police firing? What makes men rape, stab and then set fire to a young woman? Why do chief ministers bulldoze the homes of people who challenge their political and cultural vision? Why do Congressmen rant against a dynasty that is throttling their party’s future?
Why did a Chinese tyrant imprison citizens who exposed the shambolic tragedy of the pandemic? Why did a Minneapolis cop murder African-American George Floyd who was pleading for his life? Why did a US president exhort his violent followers to storm the seat of democracy he took an oath to protect? Why do young Americans massacre schoolkid?
Questions, questions, questions. All with one answer. ‘Rage.’
THE ANGER EPIDEMIC
We live in the Age of Rage, where a New World Order is emerging and the old one is unravelling. The new order is religiously and socially conservative, militarily muscular, rhetorically aggressive and uni-personality driven. The Old World Order, which grew in the shadows of World War II, decolonisation and the economic revolution, is led by its cultural elite, which is as uncompromising as its traditionalist antagonists.
In the Right versus Left descant, the old order allowed and even encouraged, challenges and introspection. In the new scenario, there is no room for dissent or doubt. The reason for this angry ethos is the toxic excuse of victimhood between the Right and the Left. Says Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi, “Weakening democracies and autocratic nations building a political narrative of being cheated of benefits as well as Us vs Them is furthering discontent.” Paradoxically, the old order is trying to save the lingua franca of its secular ethos by ceding to the new one’s raw verbosity.
In India, the pollen in the air is saffron. Ironically, the outspoken Moitra is an object of the fury of her own party, TMC, which is reluctant to piss off its Hindu constituents—the BJP polled 38.13 per cent in the last West Bengal elections. Way back in 2015, Mamata Banerjee had ignored a Calcutta High Court ruling and restricted the timing of Durga visarjan to allow Muharram processions. Says Pramod Tiwari, Congress party Rajya Sabha member, “This country is governed by the Constitution, which guarantees the right of Indians to practise the faith of their choice. Nobody is allowed to abuse the other’s religion. But nowadays, those indulging in practices like blasphemous statements are leading the country to unrest and general annoyance.”
The Angry Hindu is the contemporary trope that embodies a larger epidemic sweeping the world, a storm of hate, rage and violent indignation, which is rattling the foundations of established and even resilient institutions. Since 2014, Hindu fury has risen; a roar of Indic orthodoxy drowning the voices of its bête noire, secularism, with rallying bellows of Jai Sri Ram!—the implacable war cry that first resonated among the collapsing walls and arches of the Babri Masjid in another time, another place. It has now percolated down to the man on the street. The complainant in the FIR filed by the Madhya Pradesh police against Moitra is an ordinary tea-seller in Bhopal.
“Its (Hindu anger’s) roots have to do with the ‘fake’ secularism practised in India. Only in India is secularism defined, in law, as government control over places of worship of one religion. It has its legacy from the first war of Independence in 1857 when the colonial masters needed to control the majority population and divide society on the basis of religion,” says Baijayant Panda, National Vice President and spokesperson of the BJP. The seed of anger is humiliation. India’s Angry Age is being curated by the trauma of invasions that attempted to refashion the Hindu identity.
Historically, the first wave of anti-colonial Hindu wrath was manifested in 1857, when native soldiers like Mangal Pande were enraged by rumours of beef in cartridges, as much as Muslim soldiers were agitated about pork. Theirs was a united outrage against the transgressor of their race and faith. Sharad Sharma, VHP Regional Spokesman, Uttar Pradesh, balances the argument by saying that “the atmosphere of fear being created through different incidents in the country is leading to palpable unrest, especially, among Hindus who are now out to prove that their patience and forbearance should not be construed as weakness.
Muslims are angry as they are being taught by so-called secular forces that the present dispensation is working against their interests and that they are being exploited.” Rom Harré, the international philosopher and psychologist of renown, noted that people do not manifest emotions in a vacuum but in concrete situations that demand culturally appropriate normative behaviours. The transition from a secular social framework to an inclusive majoritarian outlook has changed the responses of Indians towards provocation, like Nupur’s dudgeon against the insult to Lord Shiva.
LIBERALISM UNDER SIEGE
The Age of Rage is bound to reorganise the world’s social, geopolitical and economic matrix and herald the geniture of a global conservative era. On September 9, 2001, three airplanes crashed into the World Trade Towers and changed history and faith. It led to wars that created deep sectarian schisms, birthed terrorism on a large scale, and destroyed entire nations in West Asia. The 9/11 attacks was a catharsis that circuited governments and politicians with righteousness, and fear, too. It sparked the clash of civilisation and medievalism.
Today the Hindu feels threatened. His anger germinated and grew after the Mumbai riots, 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the Delhi High Court blasts—he felt the state couldn’t be trusted to protect him. Islamaphobia had been simmering since the Partition, and escalated when terrorism gripped Kashmir and Pandits were raped, killed or driven out of their homes. Muslim anger that rose after the Babri Masjid demolition was no match for it. The Muslim world itself, is deeply cleaved by internecine fury. Different terror groups are murdering each other and bombing fellow Muslims in marketplaces and mosques. In Ayatollah-ruled Iran, public anger is personified by women agitating against the head scarf; they are arrested, tortured and jailed for demanding freedom of decision.
Caught in the middle are centrists and moderates who believe in balanced versions of faith, culture and society. In the chaos, people turned to authoritarian figures for stability’s sake. In the process, the difference became a taboo—a nation, society or culture had to be one and uniform, too. The Hindi belt’s anger against English and its rampant contradictory eagerness to learn the language defines the conflict between local identity and global ambition. Ironically, the Anti-Hindi agitation during British rule in the Madras Presidency from 1937-40 was not against Hindu parties. The target was the Congress government of C Rajagopalachari, which had made Hindi compulsory in schools. It was this agitation that marked the ascent of Dravidian pride led by EV Ramasamy Periyar and changed Tamil Nadu’s political contours.
Language is the face of culture; history repeats itself in the chambers of forgetfulness and ignorance. Says Sushmita Dev, Rajya Sabha MP, TMC, “Rage and divides in society play with the sentiments of the people. They threaten the unity in diversity, which has been stitched together over decades of many fine and delicate balancing of emotions and interests. Just like it’s tougher to build something than to break it, similarly peaceful co-existence is easier to disturb than to sustain.”
Fury’s faces are legion. In a fit of administrative rage, the state annihilates its ideological critics; current examples are journalists Zubair Mohammed and Siddique Kappen; activists Teesta Setalvad and Ishrat Jahan; dissenters Ketaki Chitale and Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit. The bulldozer has come to epitomise the choler of government towards dissenters who break its law. Says BJP leader and IT Cell Chief Amit Malviya, “Secularism in India has become a euphemism for minority appeasement. Till such time these so-called secular parties keep granting concessions to minorities in the name of secularism, and there will be resentment in the majority community. Parties, which do so, are complicit in promoting ill will in society. Forget countering, they make it worse by then actively exploiting the faultlines they have created, for their own political gains.” Administrative activism is the stepchild of political anger, which has become a war of eras. A war between the nationalist concept of India and its Islamic past, which had made Hinduism a subaltern faith in its own land. Anger is redemption. Anger deterges the memory of shame.
Grabbing the headlines the most is religious anger, as evidenced by the routine communal violence during Ram Navami when Hindus take processions through Muslim areas. In Karnataka, Bajrang Dal worker and cow protection campaigner Prashanth Poojary was murdered allegedly by PFI activists—justice is yet to be served. Last year, academicians of numerous international universities, including Harvard, Stanford and Princeton were trolled for organising a Dismantling Global Hindutva conference to debate rising Hindu nationalism. “These so-called secular parties and Congress, in particular, must not forget that they oversaw the Partition of India on religious lines and they would be betraying those who called this country their homeland by acceding to the demands for special privileges in the name of minorityism,” Malviya points out. Nupur Sharma continues to face rape and death threats.
An Instagram user (@kaniatkhan100) posted, “Gustak-e-Nabi ki ek hi saza sarr tann se juda (The punishment for blasphemy is death).” Police arrested an Islamic cleric in Ajmer for threatening to kill the hapless BJP spokesperson. In the words of Mohammad Salim, CPI(M) Politburo member, “If you follow the content of discussions in public transport, be it political, cultural or religious, aggressiveness and anger are clearly visible. Once a person used to counter another’s opinion with logic. Now anger and aggression have replaced logic. Social media platforms have become strong mediums to spread the voices of angry people. Now people are not ready to listen to a voice which doesn’t fit their opinion.
The moment a section finds different voices, they become angry.” Political anger in India has never been so vitriolic. At present, it is expressed through the prevailing confrontation between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, with new members of the anti-Modi club like Telangana’s K Chandrashekar Rao wading into the fray. The Modi vs Rahul bromide centres on entitlement versus achievement—the rise of a committed commoner against a privileged dynast who inherited his party while the outsider remade it in his own triumphant avatar. Historically, political anger against Congress begat regional parties—TDP, TRS, and AGP to name a few. Cultural anger, too, stalks India. “Vested interests are presently giving communal colour to this anger, which is primarily arising out of problems like unemployment and inflation. If not checked on time, it could turn into large-scale violence nationally,” according to senior Congress leader Bhupendra Gupta.
It takes years, sometimes generations, for a trend to develop. The oral tradition of rural India had kept alive resentments towards Islamic and British rule, stoking ethnic, class, religious and nationalist anger over centuries. Freedom movements are born in the forge of mass anger. Each malefaction—torture, destruction of temples, conversions, filicide and rape—was recorded, integrated and passed on in collective memory. Meanwhile, urban resentment towards British racism and native inequality in the power structure—in the Army, bureaucracy, and commerce—fanned the flames in cities. It takes little time for social anger to amplify into political action. Such anger over government policies and regional issues caused disruptions nationwide recently; the intensity of the farmer's agitation, which took about 600 lives, forced the Modi government to walk back the law. Trains and buses were set on fire, public and police vehicles were damaged and security men were injured during the Agneepath agitation.
Harcharan Bains, Senior Vice President of Shiromani Akali Dal, feels that “since the Angry Indian has tremendous nuisance value and is more loud and visible than peace-loving average Indian, he gets more media exposure and is of greater use to the politics of hate. Print, TV, digital, especially social media, promote him for cheap TRP gains.’’ Ideological anger is social anger's calamitous cousin, and an age-old Indian metonymy: the decades-long Maoist insurgency has claimed over 12,000 lives so far. RSS and Communist workers in Kannur, called the killing fields of Kerala, have been engaged in a bloody war of attrition since the first political murder in the state occurred in 1969—the police recorded 173 political killings from 2000 to 2017.
Of all the murders that happened between 2016 and 2019, the majority of perpetrators were Marxist cadres. Says Abdul Hafiz Gandhi, National Spokesman, Samajwadi Party, “We cannot put the whole onus for the existing atmosphere of hate and anger on the failure of secular parties. It’s a collective responsibility to strengthen and propagate the idea of India. All institutions––government, media, academia, judiciary etc––are to be blamed for this colossal failure.” Nupur’s outburst rippled beyond India’s shores; diplomatic anger disrupted India’s Middle East policy. The Arab world—an important part of Modi’s larger global outreach—was furious and it took Modi a trip to Dubai to soothe ruffled feathers somewhat. The MEA had even angrily responded to critical tweets of Western celebrities. “Responding is important. If 100 liberals criticise us, we’ll hit back with 200 of our own people,” says a senior BJP leader.
In the Age of Anger, young Indians are more aggressive. And this is not new. Back in 2014, a Nimhans study found eight out of 10 youngsters aged between 15 and 26 are angry. It was also the year India, frustrated by the corruption and drift in UPA-II, channelised their anger to vote for Modi. Another opinion poll conducted during the second Covid wave indicated that 61 per cent of Indians were angry, upset, depressed or worried. But that did not translate into votes against Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, which had witnessed serious healthcare shortages and mass funerals. India is an angry nation, angrier than before. The anger is directed against women (acid thrown on a young girl by a rebuffed man), Dalits (forced to eat excreta) and tribals (debt bondage slavery).
However, public rage is a global contagion. US President Joe Biden addressing the nation in January asked, “Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm?” Othering is a worldwide trend: anti-Semitism and racism are on the rise in Europe. Most of the Donald Trump years were punctuated by violent mass protests and race riots. The Christian Right, gripped by religious insecurity, feel threatened by liberals. The US Supreme Court overturned Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, exhilarating conservative states.
The Angry Hindu is more than a paradoxical leitmotif. Not merely the herald of India’s past, an oxymoron of stability through agitation, a boilerplate invoker of mythos and scourge of science, they are human avatars of India’s lost pride. They exult in this pride by sweeping away the dried leaves of India’s secularist summer from the convivial courtyards of the old political milieu, which has lost its direction. In the Age of Rage, anger cleanses the past, redeems the present and secures the future of India that is Bharat. Therein lies the rub.
Timeline of fury
Bombay Riots: December 1992 Communal tensions erupted in Mumbai in December 1992 after the Babri Masjid demolition. Security agencies have followed the blood trail to Dawood Ibrahim who is living in Pakistan.
September 11 attacks: 9/11, 2001 The Al Qaeda terrorists flew aircraft into the World Trade Center and tried to attack the Pentagon. It marked the beginning of global Islamophobia and sectarian strife in West Asia.
The Arab Spring: 18 December 2010 The Arab world, mainly youth, erupted in protest against governments, leading to civil uprisings and armed rebellions across the Middle East. It opened the
doors to terrorism since there were no stable
governments to replace the dictators.
#MeToo Movement: October 2018 (In India) Women in entertainment, industry, business and sports exposed their sexual tormentors and revealed the ugly side of a toxic and misogynistic work culture.
MASS shootings: From America to Norway, deranged gunmen opened fire on students, shoppers and innocent bystanders prompting a raging debate on gun ownership.
HONG KONG protests: 2019-2020 After Britain handed back Hong Kong to China, the Communist Party cracked down on all democratic freedoms... In the ensuing protests, China unleashed mass arrests and imprisonment, including that of prominent figures. There was police brutality and election fraud as well.