A Mumbai cabbie and Kejriwal’s free pass to hate ideology | Opinion
The AAP did not take on the BJP ideologically; Kejriwal did not substantively disagree on Shaheen Bagh protests or CAA-NRC.Updated: Feb 13, 2020 09:34 IST
In only a week, young Rohit Singh Gaur had gone from being one of the many driver-partners of Uber in Mumbai to a quasi-icon on rabid right wing social media groups, he was suspended only to be reinstated after a warning and re-sensitisation, and in between was felicitated by Mumbai MLA and BJP city chief Mangal Prabhat Lodha albeit with a badly stencilled cardboard award. Gaur’s “fame”, rather infamy, was on account of the action he took in “national interest”.
He drove Bappaditya Sarkar, an unsuspecting young poet with a dafli riding in his cab, to a police station upon hearing him discuss “Lal Salaam” on the phone and suspecting him to be a communist and “a danger to the country”. It’s tempting to see Gaur and his act only in Kafkaesque absurdity but it would be self-limiting. The man and his bizarre act have strong notes of danger in a society whose leaders believe that polarisation is good investment with rich rates of electoral returns.
We weren’t like this. In say 2012, Gaur might have wondered about the conversation his passenger was having, might have even ventured to ask, disagreed or argued if he needed to before dropping the poet to his destination. In 2020, he takes the wheel fed on a steady diet of hate and othering, dangerous labelling of dissent and dissenters as “anti-national”, of India’s minister working up a crowd that chants “Goli maaron…” with clear signals of who’s unpatriotic, of daily dog-whistles of how a minority will seize power from Hindus who are nearly 80% of the country’s population.
The toxic dung becomes part of the public discourse. It empowers every person who subscribes to the ideology. It creates vigilantes of all sorts: men with guns who threaten students in the presence of police, men with guns who shoot political or ideological opponents, men without guns who decide how an opponent – anyone who disagrees or is different – should be dealt with. It’s instructive that Gaur told a stunned Sarkar that he could have driven him elsewhere presumably to be beaten or lynched. “Tum desh barbad kar doge aur hum dekhte rahenge,” he asked the poet. If only such vigilantes would peep outside their WhatsApp groups, they would know who has ruined the country’s economy and much else.
This is where the Aam Aadmi Party and Arvind Kejriwal’s splendid victory in Delhi Assembly election begins to get nuanced. In the face of what he and his contestants were up against – full might and stark viciousness of the BJP, and anti-incumbency – bagging 62 of 70 seats is a landmark achievement. Voters squarely rebuked the BJP which made this election out to be a referendum on the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens. But to read this as a resounding slap on the BJP for professing and advocating hate for Muslims – and for the “other” – would be a mistake.
The AAP did not take on the BJP ideologically; Kejriwal did not substantively disagree on Shaheen Bagh protests or CAA-NRC. In fact, Kejriwal was quite pleased to display his Hindu identity chanting the Hanuman Chalisa and invoking “Bajrang Bali”, he kept a noticeable distance from Shaheen Bagh, Jamia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University where students faced the wrath of BJP-affiliates and police excesses, and he said that he would have cleared Shaheen Bagh of anti-CAA-NRC protesters if the Delhi Police was under his command. Earlier, he who advocated full statehood for Delhi had voted with the BJP to nullify Article 370 and break up the state of Jammu&Kashmir.Kejriwal’s handsome win, then, is not repudiation of the BJP’s core ideology, approach or tactics. He shrewdly chose to focus on development issues over puncturing the toxic discourse. He did not spew hate but he did not take on those who were spewing hate. In divorcing developmental issues from the larger public discourse, he legitimised the BJP and its ideology.
It’s the discourse of hate, othering and labelling that gives us a gunman like Kapil Gujjar or a cabbie like Rohit Singh Gaur – brainwashed and brazen vigilantes with their hate fed and normalised by the powerful. The best of Kejriwal’s Delhi schools cannot defang this hate. It can only be confronted politically – if Gujjars and Gaurs should not dot our landscape.