Competitive terrorism in getting to Hindu Rashtra?
Late evening Tuesday was rather tense. News broke of the killing in Udaipur of Kanhaiyalal Teli by two perpetrators, one who did the horrific deed and the other who filmed it. The clip was then uploaded by the two onto social media, following an earlier one by the killer in which he promised punishing those indulging in blasphemy. Their ire was prompted by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson going ballistic on prime time with invective against Prophet Mohammad at the sensitive time of the Gyanvapi mosque controversy late last month. Apparently, Kanhaiyalal had expressed his support of the spokesperson on social media, marking him out as a target for the two. In the event, the two were caught while escaping and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is seized of the case. Rightly, the Rajasthan government has deemed the incident as one of terror, since not only was the atrocity revolting in itself, but was also broadcast with intent to instill fear in the wider public and overawe the government.
Arguably - and Muslims would likely vouch for this - the feeling of terror that evening was incident not so much amongst Hindus – the wider target of the two terrorists – but amongst Muslims. Muslim fears that evening were on what backlash the deed could provoke against them by majoritarian extremists. This has as backdrop their eight years-long odyssey in Narendra Modi’s New India, in which they have been consistently pushed against the wall with some or other vile scheme pulled out of the hat (recall Sudhir Chaudhary’s litany of ‘jihads’) by majoritarian minders and implemented across India by their foot-soldiers. The latest in this incessant bludgeoning of Muslims have been calls for genocide in so-called dharm sansads, congregations of saffron-clad unholy worthies. These were revealed by a news portal, Alt News. It is no wonder then that Zubair – cofounder of Alt News – is now behind bars under trumped up charges of offending religious sentiments of the majority.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have remained silent all along on the micro-terror India’s Muslims have been subject to, there is fear in Muslims that majoritarian extremists enjoy impunity. Their apprehensions were heightened in wake of the crime in Udaipur. After all, only this week, the Supreme Court seemingly let off Modi for his dereliction of duty during the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. It instead ruled that the human rights defenders - who pursued the Zakia Jafri case exposing the crimes of omission and commission of the Gujarat government then run by Modi - were liable for perpetrating the impression that Modi had been permissive of - if not himself instigated - the crimes that resulted in over a 1000 Muslim deaths. Modi’s unforgettable evoking of Newton to paper over the pogrom as reaction to the deaths of Hindus in a train bogey allegedly set afire by Muslims while returning from a purportedly religious ceremony in Ayodhya, has kept Muslims on the edge.
The prevailing tension is over when it might be politically expedient for majoritarians to replay such pogroms. Minority pockets remain woefully vulnerable, as Hindu mobs unmistakably reminded in the last Ramnavmi when processions turned violent in Muslim localities. The one-sided violence in North East Delhi before the Covid outbreak another bid to intimidate Muslims then out on the streets anticipating their eventual disenfranchisement on the passage of the disarmingly innocuous Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The violence played out in the national capital in full sight of a departing State guest, then president of the world’s only hyper-power, the United States (US), Donald Trump. India, in its turn to a rentier state, by way of which it trades its geographical location at the periphery of China, to its geopolitical advantage, has neutered liberal opinion abroad that could have held it accountable for safeguarding the rights of its citizens. Perfunctory noises are fobbed off by the as-articulate-as- immaculate, Dr. S Jaishankar, a newly discovered ideologue of the BJP. Even as Modi was signing up as an invitee to the G7 meeting on their joint statement on resilience of democracy, his regime back home went about arresting Teesta Setalvad, redoubtable police officer, RB Sreekumar (police officer Sanjiv Bhatt already behind bars), and Mohammed Zubair. At the summit itself, US President Biden singled out Modi for attention, a visual much exchanged on social media. On his way back, Modi stopped over at the United Arab Emirates, underlining a fact well-known to India’s Muslims that opprobrium of the BJP spokesperson’s comments abroad restricted itself to her egregious assault on the Prophet, rather than extend to India’s treatment of its minority, the latter taken as an internal matter and in itself inconsequential to authoritarian governments.
Reinforced in the belief of impunity from international accountability for its assault on the world’s largest minority anywhere, the Modi government can only be expected to get bolder in the loose rope it offers majoritarian minions. The times are bleak economically. The unemployment situation was brought home rudely when skeptical youth took to train burning with the rollout of Modi’s ‘transformational’ recruiting initiative into the Indian military, Agnipath. While Muslim-bashing is no longer a political necessity for consolidating the Hindu vote – Muslims being electorally marginalized – they are needed for scapegoating as the Other. Even in its last breath, the Maharashtra government that went down this week to a rebel revolt brought on by competitive Hindutva, took to renaming two significant Muslim strongholds without consultation with inhabitants.
In any case, there is some distance to tread to get to the professed destination of Hindutva, the guiding ideology of the regime: Hindu Rashtra. Covid - and the complicating Chinese intrusion in Ladakh - displaced the timeline somewhat, but have not upturned the aim. Hindu Rashtra necessarily implies that in the run up, Muslims are sufficiently cowed as to not pose an impediment. This explains the assiduous implementation of the anti-minority agenda of the regime, that its flagship slogan, ‘sabka saath-sabka vikas-sabka vishwas’, cannot obscure. Though faced with relentless provocation all through the Modi tenure so far, Muslims have demonstrated forbearance, taking recourse at best to peacefully upholding the Constitution during their anti-CAA protests. Even their counterparts in Kashmir have held their peace, though their state was summarily dismantled and their privacy invaded by a trooper at every step and corner in anticipatory – and continuing - deployment against an explosion of their wrath. Patience has not yielded up any dividend as such for Muslims, since the State hurtles to a Hindu Rashtra.
Modi has overseen the dismantling of India’s democratic pillars, evidenced most recently by the judiciary with judges taking to withholding their signatures from controversial judgments such on Ayodhya and the Zakia Jafri case. Absent internal accountability, institutions have been disemboweled, beginning with the party, the BJP, itself that won majority in parliament twice-over, not on the basis of good-old conservatism, but riding on the coattails of Modi, himself spin-doctored into power. The ongoing six-month long search for a pliable Chief of Defence Staff to wreck the last institution standing, India’s military, is indicative. The opposition’s showing in its candidate selection for the next president of the Republic shows that it does not quite exist at the national level. The taking down this day of a coalition in India’s most economically vibrant state, Maharashtra, through blatantly underhand means – now virtually patented by the BJP through its use of money power – is example. Since the route towards Hindu Rashtra is now open, it’s no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Narendra Modi having hinted at going for another term, the timeline to get past the post is by his next tenure. A prospective date that offers itself is the centenary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the mother-ship of the extremist right wing in power. Modi could use the 2024 election result as a referendum on his showing and intent to turn India into Hindu Rashtra. The inauguration - in the run up to elections - of the freshly-minted Ayodhya temple - where the journey to Hindu Rashtra symbolically began in the taking down of the Babri mosque - shall help clinch the elections. A minority that is already reduced to cipher, subject to a an ongoing cultural genocide and plausibly threatened with genocide, is apprehensive not only of the path yet to be traversed but what might befall it when Modi gets India – by then renamed Bharat - there.
Does the Udaipur terror incident herald a shift in the Muslim approach to India’s majoritarian trajectory? Cultural nationalism-inspired security analysts – who no longer need to inhabit a closet - will have it that copycat terrorism is on its way. Muslim would-be jihadis may take to terror, if only for its nuisance value, knowing well that the right wing grip over national security will only lead to terror proving counter-productive. The NIA investigation will doubtless prove an external link to the Udaipur terror incident, enabling another stick to beat the minority as a fifth column and keep its external sponsor, Pakistan, on the defensive since it recently wiggled out of the clutches of the anti-terror Financial Action Task Force – clutches that India had expended much foreign policy capital on. The period 2005-14 was averred to by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in his recent interview to stanch the Agnipath agitation as a period of minority-perpetrated terror. Analysts will point to a return to such a period in case a clamp-down on Muslims is not imposed through further surveillance of and restrictions in their ghettos. Such recommendations will serve the purposes of the regime: invisibilisation of Muslims easing rollout of Hindu Rashtra.
The very usefulness of the terror act for Hindutva purposes raises questions on its provenance. Hindutva’s ascent has been propelled in part by the stigmatizing of the minority as terror perpetrators, as Doval reminds of in the mentioned interview. Though the Sanatan Sanstha perpetrated terror has been investigated somewhat, that undertaken by Abhinav Bharat remains under wraps. It is inexplicable that the so-called Muslim perpetrated terror vanished with Modi’s coming to power in 2014. It cannot be that his appointing of intelligence czar, Doval, amounted to a sweep of the wand, and - ‘hey presto’ – there is no subsequent terror (other than at Pulwama). This calls into question provenance of terror through 2005-14. Were these black operations, designed to bring Hindutva-icon Narendra Modi to power by sabotaging the then government for being soft on terror? The digression here is to show how taking terror at face value is fraught by the obscuring of the possibility of it instead being black operations as was majorly in the case in that period. India’s deep state is no longer a state secret, a book having been written to out it. It has surely not lost its touch. This implies that the Udaipur terror act cannot be taken at face value, but the possibility of it being yet another black operation is well nigh plausible.
As Doval points out, there has been no case of terror in mainland India lately. Indian Muslims have had learnt to lump, if not live with, Hindutva. A right winger going ballistic is not out of place at prime time or in social media anymore. So much so, there was no instant backlash by Indian Muslims, barring a protest in Kanpur. Only when Muslim states weighed in on the controversy did Muslims take to the street peaceably. Even this was not taken kindly to as evident from its characteristic, Israel-like use of dozers to bring down houses of agitators in Prayagraj and killings in Ranchi. Even in the Udaipur case, the police was able to patch up differences between Kanhaiyalal and his neighbours over his misplaced support of the BJP spokesperson. This shows that a terror act of the Udaipur magnitude was out of place with the trends.
The act itself appears to be rather well planned, including as it did the magnification of the act through social media – fitting classically into the definition of terror. The brandishing of the terror weapons – associated with the prominent Muslim trade butchery – is almost stereotypical, intended to draw parallels with the Islamic State. The reference to Modi as a prospective target is another give away, since the supposedly terror incidents in Gujarat in the period he was chief minister allegedly had him as target. Even the Bhima Koregaon case was built on the falsely-inserted emails in laptops of the incarcerated, then used against them as evidence in the far-fetched allegation that they were out to get Modi. The luxury with which the two terrorists uploaded their boastful clip and the ease of their apprehension cannot be overlooked as pointer of a staged act. The act itself was entirely against Muslim interests and stands universally condemned by them. There is nary a precedence of such action in India, but for a lone case in Kerala. Indian Muslims are firmly against Talibanisation and it is widely appreciated that international jihad has had no sway in Indian Muslims, the second largest Muslim population in any country in the world. Consequently, it would be unwise to go along uncritically with the default view that terror acts resuming, Indian Muslims be put in the dock.
Conspiracy theories are taken as infra dig. The Supreme Court had it that the Gujarat pogrom was an act of omission rather than one of commission. On the contrary the conspiracy theory it rejected has it that Modi had intervened to allow communal Hindus to vent their angst on the Godhra incident. The Court’s going overboard in suggesting that subscribing to the view that Modi orchestrated the pogrom is a conspiracy in itself, shows that conspiracy theories aren't quite passé. Conspiracy theories attend significant terror acts as the one on Parliament in December 2001. Even the inexplicable killing of the policeman trio gunning for Abhinav Bharat - so very conveniently for the right wing - in Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks - show that the deep state must not be allowed to get away too easily with black operations passing as terrorism. The regime is now poised to using the Udaipur terror incident to its purposes. That the NIA is on the job should ring bells, given what Rohini Salian had to say of its workings.
That said - till otherwise proven - going with the mainstream view on the terror act necessitates countering - in anticipation - recommendations likely to emerge from the strategic community on greater strictures. To the extent that the threat of terror exists, it bears adding to the discussion a point that is bound to be missed in the mainstream strategic discourse – such terror is reactive. Ending right wing provocations, such as by ending micro-terror in the form of lynching and its social media propagation, is a necessary pre-requisite. Not to expect Muslim extremists to get on the high horse to protect their community – when democratic institutions have failed them – is to misunderstand human nature. To expect root causes to be addressed when political culture is Hindutva-driven is to be wishful. Since the journey to Hindu Rashtra is inexorable in light of the weakness of counter weights, there is no reason for Muslims to be the fall guys derailing the enterprise. Adapting to the new political circumstance is best with the hope that the Ramrajya promised is predicated on equality of opportunity, justice and rule of law. The problem is that the means to getting there being as they are, it is unlikely that Ramrajya will be as the concept has it. Even so, competitive terror can be ruled out, though one-sided micro-terror will remain incident. Critical national security analysis – attempted here - must continue to attend developments on the road to Hindu Rashtra.