The country is experiencing a spate of violence with cases of lynching in different parts of India. The citizen is hapless and government is unresponsive betraying its authoritarian tendencies rooted in its ideology.
Over a couple of decades , BJP has grown on vigilante politics rooted in ideology of RSS and Hindutva , a distorted interpretation of Hinduism which is based on Vedic philosophy priding in its diversity than dogma and exclusion that the former advocates.
The major vigilante act by the Hindutva affiliates was the demolition of Babri mosque in 1992, carried out by outfits sympathetic to BJP; some of those are currently being prosecuted for that crime. The BJP formed a coalition government in 1998.
Yogi Adityanath, a BJP member of parliament, founded, a vigilante group Hindu Yuva Vahini in Uttar Pradesh in 2002 to confront Muslims onlove jihad, beef and conversion. The organization terrorized and persecuted Muslims and polarized Hindus helping BJP get 71 parliamentary seats in 2014 elections paving way for Narender Modi to become the Prime Minister. Modi faced allegations of collusion in 2002 Gujarat riots while being the chief minister of the state.
Yogi Adityanath became the chief minister of the UP in March 2017 when BJP secured three fourth of majority in the state assembly elections. He continues to be the chief patron of the Hindu Yuva Vahini that has criminal charges against it related to Gorakhpur, 2007 and Mau, 2005 riots; in later nine people were killed.
The minority vigilante groups may have several motivations, but the vigilante of majority is undoubtedly for the subjugation of minorities; it is clear in Yogi Adityanath becoming the chief minister of UP legitimizing violence in public life as a means to political end.
Vigilant Politics and Authoritarianism
The political leaders emerging out of majoritarian vigilante politics tend to be authoritarian because they are the product of emotions of fear and anger hence need to appear tough and decisive. They realize that they are in power despite the law and therefore need not care for it more than it suits them.
Beginning with Uttar Pradesh people across the country are unable to enjoy their personal freedoms with which they have grown up, such as where to go, whom to befriend and marry, or what to eat and say. In short, people are being prevented to be normal adults.
In a press briefing, Uttar Pradesh police claimed that under the anit-Romeo campaign they questioned nearly 700,500 people and issued warning to nearly half the number. 11 students of Lucknow University spent 20 days in jail for protesting against a programme in which Yogi was participating.
The new chief minister closed slaughter houses causing a domino effect across the Hindi heartland leading to issuing of new rules by the central government (since stayed by the Supreme Court) effectively wiping out the meat industry, and rendering millions of people without means of livelihood and cheap source of food.
One major difference between the authoritarian and totalitarian regime is that in the former some institutions are out of control of the government. Economic institution, judiciary and media have largely been out of control of the government in the country but now they have also come under pressure.
In November 2016, without consulting the Reserve Bank of India, the prime minister declared 86 percent of country’s currency frozen, causing hardship, chaos and deaths of over 150 people across the country whatAmartya Sen called a “despotic action”. The government rejected 43 names out of 77 names that the Supreme Court Collegium had recommended for appointment to various high courts as it locked in a battle over control of appointment of judges after the Supreme Court struck down National Judicial Appointment Commission Act asserting its independence under the constitution. The government raided the owners of a prominent news channel, in the backdrop of ruling party’s spokesperson accusing the media house of bias and agenda on a live programme. The raids were described by the noted constitutional expert,Fali Nariman as an attempt to de-legitimize media.
In a society where violence is legitimized to achieve political ends, authortarian tendencies emerge at the expense of rule of law, order and civility. However, given India’s long tradition of plurality, Gandhian legacy and a cosmopolitan middle class these aberrations are likely to be fiercely challenged drawing additional battle lines in the country.
Pushkar Raj is a Melbourne based researcher and author.