Ranjona Banerji: Staring into the abyss of the far right
We can no longer afford to ignore the right-wing ideology that killed Narendra Dabholkar and continues to threaten peace in this country
A Bharatiya Janata Party MP released (and later retracted) a list of 346 Hindus who were forced to leave the UP town of Kairana because they were being harassed and threatened by the town’s Muslims. You could look at this cynically — Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls next year and news reports have suggested that Hindutva will be part of the BJP’s agenda to win the state. The communal agenda has been at work already in UP, what with the Dadri episode and the riots in Muzaffarnagar.
In Maharashtra, Virendra Tawde (above) was arrested in the murder case of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar. As suspected, Tawde is associated with the Sanatan Sanstha, a Hindu right-wing organisation.
That this is a cynical and divisive political ploy being played out across the country cannot be ignored based on the joy of the latest GDP figures. Further investigation into the Kairana list has proved that people have moved out of the town mainly for employment opportunities and not because of harassment by Muslims or anyone else. A few people on that list died years ago. Like the false reports of ‘love jihad’, the Hindutva agenda of the Sangh Parivar continues, hidden in plain sight.
You can hear the cries of ‘law and order is a state subject’ and ‘who runs the government in UP’. But while it is true that the Samajwadi Party under the chief ministership of Akhilesh Yadav has had a dismal run on almost all counts, it is not clear how the Samajwadi Party’s many shortcomings can be used as any excuse for the dangerous policies of some BJP politicians.
In Maharashtra, finally an arrest has been made in the murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, who was shot dead in 2013 while on a morning walk in Pune. As many had suspected from the start, Virendra Tawde is associated with the Sanatan Sanstha, a Hindu right-wing organisation. The Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti have been vocal and active in the limelight for over a decade now in Maharashtra. Both do not appear to be directly connected to the larger umbrella of what we call the ‘Sangh Parivar’ but they have members and ideologies in common.
Yes, law and order is a state subject. Yes, in 2013 Maharashtra was ruled by a Congress-NCP coalition and yes, according to recent reports, the state police did little until the CBI stepped in.
But is it wise to ignore the ideology that led to the killing of Dabholkar by focusing only on police or administrative inefficiencies? You can acknowledge that parties like the Congress and the NCP have practised ‘soft Hindutva’ when it has suited them for all their secular protestations. However, the first finger has to point at the perpetrators. And in this case, it appears to be the Hindu right wing.
We have a few arguments in this country which we trot out when we are trying to cover something up. The first is about our glorious past. The second is about the great tolerance of the Hindu. The third is about the horrors of Islam, Christianity and other non-Hindu religions. The fourth is that Hindu Indians are actually perfect, peaceful and non-violent compared to evil Muslims or anyone else. The fifth is that all attacks made by Hindus on others are justified. The sixth is that Hindutva is nothing but patriotism by another name. The seventh is that liberals are evil. The eighth is that Communists, Marxists and Maoists are all anti-national. And so on. You get the drift. A series of justifications which carefully avoid naming the problem for what it is: a visceral hatred of The Other by the majority which will play upon any insecurity of its audience to spread fear and prejudice.
Is Islamic terrorism a massive problem for India and the world? Emphatically and unequivocally, yes. But that does not take away from the fact that here in India, we have to deal with another sort of majoritarian hatred which can manifest itself as violence or as social ghettoisation or as vilification of anyone who is not of the majority or as a sustained smear campaign to denigrate anyone who does not believe as pettily as you do.
Given our judicial record, there is no guarantee that the family of Narendra Dabholkar will feel that they have got justice. But unless we chip away at the madness which killed him, the abyss on the other side will only get deeper and more dangerous.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona