I was wondering about this myself when I found this tweet from Lalu Prasad on my timeline: ‘Why incidents of factional violence only in states due for assembly elections in near future?’
We had Pune, then Haryana, then Maharashtra again over the past fortnight — two Congress-ruled states where elections are due in October. I do not know much about Gurgaon in Haryana but it is not by far enough for Congressman-turned BJP minister Rao Inderjit Singh to shrug it off as an accident and avow that the current government is for all castes, communities and religions. As far as I know the last one was too but there has to be something in what Sharad Pawar says: That in barely two weeks after the first fully saffron government took over at the Centre, certain groups have been emboldened to target minorities and all other groups they may not be in consonance with.
I have always considered Maharashtra to be essentially a left-of-centre state, sociologically as well as politically, despite the presence of the saffron headquarters in Nagpur. The first riot that ever took place in the area comprising the erstwhile Bombay state was between Parsis and Muslims in 1851, preceding the First War of Independence in 1857. Parsis were by then integrated into the Indian population but the ‘Muslims’ who rioted were not; largely Arabs and Siddis (migrants from Africa), and it was more a war over wealth and economics than religion.
It was not until the British got into the act after 1857 did their divide and rule policy come into play and Hindu-Muslim clashes over religion became the norm — first in Bombay in 1869 and during Moharram in Calcutta in 1926 being the more bloody and notorious ones. Through my career as a journalist, I recall a Muslim-Muslim one (between Shias and Sunnis) at Mohammad Ali Road in the mid-Eighties that was quelled within a few hours. But the worst had to be the 1992-93 riots in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri masjid that was deliberately fuelled and fired by the Shiv Sena, helped in great measure by LK Advani’s rath yatra in his desperate bid to become prime minister in the early 1990s.
It cannot be without reason that people like Lalu and Pawar now suspect that after the successful Gujarat 2002 experiment, repeated at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh with such spectacular results for the BJP, the attempt now is to similarly use technology to incite violence. Few would have forgotten how pictures of violence from Burma, originating in Pakistan, were first circulated in India to incite the August 2012 violence at Azad Maidan in Bombay. Now technology is being used again to morph pictures of leading icons like Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, BR Ambedkar and Bal Thackeray and the weak Congress-NCP state leadership can do little apart from calling for a ban on social media, instead of cracking down on those fringe groups who would destroy peace and harmony.
What I find more chilling about the current situation is the widely circulated message among these groups after the killing of a Muslim engineer in Pune — first wicket down. How many then will they bring down in absolute numbers? And what kind of conflagration will that cause?
I was deeply saddened over the weekend to see my Muslim friends on my timeline asking if there was an appropriate way for Muslims to dress in India — the boy killed in Pune was identified by the skull cap he was wearing while his friend, a fellow Muslim who was not wearing one, was spared. But such anti-socials do not stop at skull caps — I recall in 1992-93, Shiv Sainiks not only identified Muslims by voter lists but also asked the men to drop their trousers when they were in doubt. So they will stop at nothing to destroy the peace.
Like Lalu and Pawar, I was never — and still am not — among those 30% Indians who see a new hope rising in the country. This is what I was always afraid of. But, as yet, I do not want to say, “I told you so!”