Looking behind & beyond Delhi riots

The sentimental task is to bemoan the mammoth human suffering inflicted. The ethical task is to map its subterranean roots.

Published: 08th March 2020 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th March 2020 12:54 AM   |  A+A-

The sentimental task is to bemoan the mammoth human suffering inflicted. The ethical task is to map its subterranean roots. No atrocity is accidental; no riot, spontaneous. All outbreaks of public violence are strategised, and orchestrated with massive investments of money. Violence is an industry; like industry is an idiom of violence. The collateral victims of our post-Independence progress — euphemistically termed project-affected people — outnumber those who perished in wars and terrorists’ violence during this period. Union Carbide killed more in one city, Bhopal, one dreadful night, than all cross-border terrorist attackers across the border and in the Kashmir Valley. 

The Delhi riots, that surprisingly surprise some by its scale and brutality, are a natural and inevitable part of a way of doing politics, which has come to be the new normal. The irony is that we have accepted this new normal, but not come to terms with its implications. Its politics is cast in the mold of waging war, in which winning is all, and end justifies means. Political goals are conceived and pursued in the genre of conquest and defeat. So, in elections it is not enough that the adversary is defeated; he must be eradicated; as if India can progress only if it is Opposition-mukt.  

We did not shed a drop of tear when the ‘surgical strike’ of demonetisation destroyed tens and thousands of small and medium scale enterprises and reduced millions to penury. Demonetisation was mounted as a pre-emptive strike; its short-term pain to be compensated with long-term gain. True to history, the presumed long-term gain is too far in time to benefit present victims. This logic of having to accept collateral damages does not apply, however, to corporate captains. Their distress, if any, is allayed with promptitude with State munificence at expense of taxpayers. Sops fall into their oceanic laps, and they grow richer even as the common man’s sustenance dwindles to a trickle.

All the same, we endorse unbridled competition as the dynamism necessary to keep the economy buoyant. Of course, its seeds are sown early via education, where the early stimulants for greed are induced. Brute competition, unmindful of what social and human costs are exacted now and hereon, is the ‘Open Sesame‘ to prosperity. Should the human cost bother us, so long as we reach, somehow, the fairy-tale destination of a five trillion dollar economy? Can such mega-goals be attained without sacrificing thousands of our neighbours and fellow citizens? Confrontation and tension are, after all, basic to historical dynamism as Hegel has taught us.

In war, many must be vanquished and killed so that one party may win. Can there be a Napoleon without the sacrifice of a million human lives? Readiness for war guarantees peace. That war, in the sphere of economy, is competition. The gain of a few billionaires masks the pain of a billion commoners. It’s naïve to weep over the victims of progress, the present-day secular counterparts of old-world human sacrifices. This too betokens the new normal, which are growing into. It will take a while more for us to get used to this paradigm-shift in politics; for brutal combativeness is a late comer in Indian politics. Of course, parties have been contesting among themselves over seven decades. We have seen many electoral ‘campaigns’; but they were not sword thrusts in theatres of conquests. 

What the BJP leadership has ushered in is not just a macho style of doing politics, but a new paradigm of doing politics, to which democracy is merely incidental. It is a paradigm that will not be hamstrung by republican ideals and precedents. What is afoot is a shift to a martial paradigm of politics, and not merely a ‘presidential’ tinkering with democracy.  You can know a regime by what it exposes you to, physically and visually. Never before in our history have the armed forces loomed so large in our horizon. The army was there; as a reassuring presence in the penumbra of national consciousness; never as a louring presence over the public sphere. Never before has Delhi — the city of yesterdays and tomorrows — had the police force become the focus, so often of concern. Never before have we experienced the present creeping unease about the judiciary; an anxiety that goes all the way up.

As is now common knowledge, the seeds of the Delhi mayhem began in the run-up to the Assembly elections. The BJP mounted a war on its principal electoral antagonist, with the EC standing a mute, indulgent witness. Incitements to pump bullets into ‘traitors’ — with innuendos as to the identity of the traitors to be targeted — were issued in full public view. Around the time, the metropolis witnessed events of excessive display of police zeal, or spells of police inaction facilitating perpetrations of violence in JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia. It is as though violence has become the language of political currency in the “new normal” we are getting inured to. 

In this scenario, the fate of Shaheen Bagh resistance — which too is a phenomenon without parallel — assumes pivotal significance. It has emerged as the sui generis opposition to the new normal. Physical strength to shed blood and to vandalise is not the strength native to women. Theirs is the strength of patient endurance, the long haul. And it is in full display, nearly like the Hegelian antithesis to the BJP thesis. Kejriwal promised to be the political antithesis to Modi. But he is showing early indications of wanting to vacate that political space in favour of less torrid zones. So, only the peaceful resistance by women of Shaheen Bagh remains as the Gandhian counterpoint to the conquest-paradigm of doing politics. This explains why Shaheen Bagh is more than a niggling bee in the bonnet of BJP. That given, it is likely that strategies for sanitising Shaheen Bagh are unveiled in the near future. The woes of Delhi seem far from over.

Valson Thampu
former principal of St Stephen’s  College, New Delhi


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