Media reports of a tricolour draping the body of Ravi, an accused in the Dadri lynching case, should worry us. The crudeness of the gesture is tantamount to an act of disrespect towards the family of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was killed when a mob attacked his house last November. The acquiescent silence on part of district administrators, allowing the tricolour to be placed on the coffin, further reinforces our cause for concern.
Apparently, the act of honouring Ravi as someone who died serving the nation – usually, coffins of armed forces personnel come draped in tricolour – is no doubt designed to send an aggressive message to the Muslim community. “Seeing the body draped in a tricolour, policemen and administration officials, however, preferred to remain mum as objections might have sparked violence in the area,” said a report in The Indian Express earlier this week.
That the police whose job it is to ensure law and order, allowed such a bizarre action to go uncontested puts a question mark over their will to take action against members of the majority community. Clearly, the sentiments of Akhalq’s family did not matter.
Let’s not forget the larger backdrop in question here. That the dispute over whether the meat found in Akhlaq’s fridge was beef or not has been kept alive by some group or political party till date shows an acute lack of empathy for Akhlaq’s family. It also demonstrates the deep-seated communal political culture that is rampant in the state. The latest controversy enhances the prevailing suspicion among many that the sentiments of the Muslim community have been shot shifted, once again, to pacify the majority.
In itself, such majoritarian pandering is not a startling revelation. Neither are such incidents a recent phenomenon which has started playing out only after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. Yet, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, moments like this have tended to occur with greater frequency. Moreover, such situations seem to be deliberately created to deepen a sense of anxiety among minority communities.
In such a context, mouthing praises to India’s multicultural fabric and the need to respect all faiths pales into significance. As minorities are feeling more and more alienated from the system, self–styled ‘nationalists’ are emboldened – directly and indirectly – to plan more such actions. Clearly, Prime Minister Modi’s call to respect all faiths and cultures (rare as they have been) has cut no ice with majoritarian fanatics who continue to strike at all levels, and at will.
It must be stressed, that only when accompanied by vigilant action, do political statements of concern carry any substantive meaning. This requires those in power to display political and administrative will and to ensure that their rhetorical words actually deliver justice on the ground. Unfortunately, if such statements themselves have been in short supply, the lack of will to rein in the violators has been near absent. Meanwhile, more and more incidents of this kind are routinely taking place, creating fear among already marginalised minority communities. Rather than ease their anxieties, each incident of bullying deepens alienation among Muslims.
For example, the recent incident when the Shiv Sena refused to allow Nawazuddin Siddiqui to perform in a scene from the Ram Leela show, in the actor’s hometown Budhana, in Uttar Pradesh. “He was getting ready in the green room when local activists, allegedly of the Shiv Sena, stormed in and started shouting. The actor left quietly. ‘There were some technical issues. I was told I should not do it as it was important to maintain peace in the village,’ he was quoted as telling a news channel before leaving for Mumbai,” says an NDTV report.
We are treading on dangerous ground. On the one hand, we see a continued display of jingoistic nationalism; on the other, minorities are being systematically alienated by daily acts of majoritarian intimidation
We see this in the manner in which the Prime Minister’s call to his ministers to refrain from ‘chest–thumping’ following India’s surgical strikes across the LoC, is blatantly violated day after day.
Just days after Modi issued his appeal, his party raised toasts to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar at meetings in Agra and Lucknow. According to a report in The Indian Express, Parrikar said the decorum of his office prevented him from revealing much: about his party men issuing threats, warnings to Pakistan, including the one that India could hit back with an ‘atom bomb’ if threatened with a nuclear attack. Parrikar agreed with Uttar Pradesh's state BJP president Keshav Prasad Maurya’s description of him as a ‘seedha’ (simple) man but said that he could become ‘tedha’ (crooked) if it helped secure the country.
Given this evident disconnect between the call for restraint and peace at the top and the raucous ratcheting up of sentiments in the lower echelons of power, one has to wonder how seriously the PM wants his cadre and ministers to take him.