Friday, March 25, 2016

Mitali Saran: Here's where the BJP can get off

Remember the enormous brouhaha over Dadri last year, after a mob killed a man over rumours of beef in his fridge? This week, when two Muslim cattle herders were murdered and hung from a tree, it passed rather quietly. People idly wondered whether it was because they were Muslim, or because they may have been cattle smugglers, but nobody seemed shocked that two people were killed.

That’s the distance that Modi’s India has travelled in six short months. There are so many new normals that it makes your head spin. 

In the new normal, people whose sentiments are hurt understandably take the law into their own hands. In the new normal, you are not innocent until proven guilty — random people can demand that you prove stuff on the spot, including things you aren’t required to prove, like patriotism, and if they don’t like your answer, well, nobody can tell what might happen (their sentiments might be hurt). In the new normal, we treat our universities like nests of young vipers that need to be exterminated. JNU became a national flashpoint; now Hyderabad Central University’s food, water, electricity and Internet have been shut down, kids’ ATM cards blocked, and students thrashed. In the new normal, the Chinese authorities might have been on to something at Tiananmen Square.

In other words, the state and some of the people of India are more and more of the view that certain provocations justify spontaneous vigilante violence or murder, and that in the case of these increasingly hot potatoes, the law is just an impediment to expedient justice.

The hottest of these potatoes, suddenly, is being ‘anti-national’. Nobody knows what this means, but if you find yourself on the receiving end of that term, you can expect things to end in tears. The BJP has just formally adopted ‘nationalism’ as one of its dearest loves, having seen what a blind hot McCarthyite fury it can whip up in no time, and what a fine distraction that is from the failures of ‘development’. Say what you like about me, pal, but insult the motherland and my exploding eye-veins will bloody your clothes before I even get my hands around your treacherous throat. 

The party wants people to prove their patriotism by saying ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. Not saying this phrase is not anti-national, according to RSS Joint General Secretary Dattatreya Hosabale, but saying that you aren’t going to say it is anti-national. Okaaaay.

Some of the blindest, stupidest violence is coming from cow-guarding, cow-worshipping, cow-obsessed organisations that get away with murdering people on suspicion of, well, somehow being around cows. Cows being a great love of majoritarian religious nationalists, a number of people set themselves on fire to demand that the cow be named Rashtra Mata. I was very sorry to hear that despite their best efforts, these people were unable to eliminate themselves from the gene pool.

India is currently suffering from boiling frog syndrome — the BJP is turning the heat up steadily, while everyone in the pot sticks their fingers in their ears, closes their eyes, and prays to the GDP, choosing not to notice they’re being boiled alive. The RSS and the BJP have somehow confused themselves and large numbers of people into thinking that when they say something, it somehow magically becomes relevant and true. It doesn’t. The nationalism narrative is the fakest, lowest, most ideas-free ploy in the world, and none of us should play.

Is the Opposition calling this out? Well, the Congress in Maharashtra earned itself another world of contempt by doing the opposite — it joined in to the call to expel an Assembly member from the AIMIM who refused to say ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. Great going, Congress! We’ll be sure to turn to you as the rational alternative, you venal, spineless collection of craven opportunists. If you were half as interested in finding a vision for India as you are in clinging to your granular vote bank interests, you might have more votes.

No, there’s only one way to turn down the temperature before we’re all cooked, dear citizens, and that is: if you are still in possession of your rational faculties, do yourself and your country a favour, and stand by them. The BJP is not the law. It does not get to redefine your values unless you choose to let it. It’s just a bullying, dirty power player that will do a great deal of damage before some election cycle tosses it out on its ear.

Until then, and until a reasonable political opposition emerges, it’s really going to be up to each citizen to hold the line — to say, go ahead and make big round scary eyes and growly noises, you’re still not the boss of me, you don’t intimidate me, and I refuse to play boiling frogs-boiling frogs.