THE Anti-Muslim violence that took place during the last week of February (February 23–25) this year in Delhi which was largely concentrated in the north-eastern part of the city which according to the available last count resulted in about 60 people killed, hundreds injured and scores made homeless, were mostly Muslims.
The February 2020 Delhi violence was one of India’s worst religious violence in recent times where mobs targeting a single religious group ran amok, unchecked by the police. As a matter of fact, in many instances, the police were seen joining the rioters.
The violence was started by young Hindutva-inspired Hindu thugs armed with sticks, iron bars, and machetes and some with firearms. These thugs were trucked in from the nearby rural areas of Uttar Pradesh now under the BJP government led by Hindutva icon Yogi Adityanath.
With blood curdling anti-Muslim rhetoric led by leaders of prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP such as Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Sharma (all upper caste Hindus) including Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Delhi’s neighbouring state Uttar Pradesh who is well known for his anti-Muslim hate-mongering rhetoric mobilised the Hindu supremacist mobs on February 23 in large numbers. They marched towards Muslim-dominated suburbs of Delhi, carrying saffron flags and chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ — the battle cry of the Hindutva ideology, a dangerously exclusionary religious ideology, the ruling BJP government’s magna carta — and what followed was horrific — Muslim homes, shops and businesses and mosques were set ablaze. Those who resisted had acid thrown at their face; in order to establish Muslim identity, people were stripped by the Hindutva thugs to see whether the person was circumcised, a Muslim ritual. And in order to save themselves from the marauding Hindus, many Muslim women pretended to be Hindus.
It is evident that the Delhi violence was well orchestrated and was nothing but a campaign of targeted violence, not a sporadic or a disarranged incident. The violence was wholly directed against Muslims. It was not clash between ‘pro-CAA’ (India’s new citizenship law that discriminates against the Muslims) and ‘anti-CAA’ groups, something that India’s mainstream media tried to portray the violence as. What is of great concern is that the Delhi anti-Muslim violence was happening with complete complicity of the Delhi police (under direct control of the home minister Amit Shah, a well-known anti-Muslim bigot).
The police in many instances joined the mob and assisted them to carry out the violence. The police also deliberately obstructed doctors in their efforts to tend to the wounded.
IN SOME way, the Delhi massacre revives the memory of Kristallnacht of Nazi Germany. Between November 9 and 10, 1938, at least 91 Jews were killed by the Nazi supporters who were instigated and encouraged by rabidly anti-Semitic Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister for public enlightenment and propaganda. This became known in history as Kristallnacht or the night of broken glass.
Kristallnacht was the beginning of the murderous onslaught on the Jews and the earliest sign of Jewish pogrom in Nazi Germany that led to deaths of six million Jews in Hitler’s Germany. While history does not always repeat the same way, there are many disturbing similarities between Kristallnacht and Delhi violence which are matters of great concern.
Similar but smaller in scale, anti-Muslim violence occurs all the times across all over in India and in each case, the police seem to simply stand by or much worse, join the anti-Muslim rioters. For example, instigated by the BJP-run state government for protesting against the CAA, 20 Muslims were massacred in Uttar Pradesh in December 2019. This was yet another example of state-sponsored, organised persecution of the Muslims in India.
Indeed, records suggest that since gaining independence in 1947, anti-Muslim violence in India has become a routine, if not a norm, and BJP’s anti-Muslim ethno-religious nationalism is embedded in its Hindutva ideology — a Hindu supremacist racist ideology.
Narendra Modi is not squeamish about dead Muslims. The Delhi anti-Muslim violence echoes similar modus operandi that was employed to slaughter 2000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, one of India’s most violent anti-Muslim riots. Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat, presided over the Muslim massacre in Gujarat which is evident from the fact that Modi neither attempted to stop the carnage nor he ever expressed his regrets. Gujarat riot was the earlies signal of things to come in the future.
Indeed, Delhi anti-Muslims violence in late February this year is part of a process that reveals all the hallmarks of the Nazi Germany genocide of the Jews under Hitler and his Nazi party. However, while Nazi violence against the Jews was carried out more visibly by the state, which nonetheless could not have happened without the consent of the people, the BJP government’s persecution of the Muslims is more covert though not without the consent of a large section of the Indian public and this is ominous.
The BJP government’s anti-Muslim Hindutva nationalist ideology seems to have touched a chord at the mass level, including its media and a large section of its intelligentsia.
British journalist and author Patrick Cockburn has argued recently that in one respect, Modi is in a stronger position than Hitler and this is because Hitler’s pogrom of the Jews was roundly condemned by all around the world especially by the United States. Immediately after the Kristallnacht, the then US president Roosevelt responded with a statement denouncing anti-Semitism and as a show of his total rejection of violence against the Jews in Germany, he promptly withdrew the US ambassador. Whereas in the case of India, when the anti-Muslim violence was raging in Delhi in February, US president Donald Trump who was on a two-day visit to India was sitting at a state reception only a few miles away from the scene of the Muslim massacre and when someone drew his attention to the anti-Muslim violence, he responded by saying that he was satisfied that Modi was working ‘really hard’ to establish religious freedom in India. Cockburn further noted that while the burnings and killings in Delhi became well known, international media regarded the incidence with a certain degree of ambivalence, something that Modi took as a signal of a sort to pursue his Hindutva policy to establish the Hindu Rashtra (state) unchecked.
History of BJP and its ultra-rightist Hindu supremacist origin
MODI’S party BJP is the political wing of the RSS, the Hindu supremacist organisation which dates to 1924. Its founder KB Hedgewar visited Italy and met Mussolini. Hedgewar was immensely impressed by ‘military regeneration of Italy’ under Mussolini. He openly espoused Mussolini’s fascist template to militarise the Hindu community for its regeneration.
Another RSS leader MS Golwalkar immensely praised Nazi Germany in his writings and supported the genocide of the Jews on the ground for Germany to keep up the purity of the nation (German) and its culture. He accordingly prescribed similar solution to India’s ‘Muslim problem’. By 1939, another of its founding leaders, VD Savarkar fine-tuned the Nazi ideology in developing Hindu supremacist ideology for India. Indeed, the Hindu supremacist ideology, Hindutva, is a culmination of these thoughts and ideas that have very deep historical roots in fascism.
When in February, a Hindu mob set fire to a mosque in Delhi and put up Hindu supremacist Hindutva flag at the top of minaret, they chanted in Hindi the slogan: ‘Nation belongs to Hindus.’
An in-depth analysis reveals that since the BJP first came to power in 2014, it has been on a mission to give shape to its Hindutva ideology to establish a Hindu Rashtra, or more precisely to give shape to ‘nation belongs to Hindus’ policy through a number of initiatives to resolve its ‘Muslim problem’ that included, among other things, banning beef eating which witnessed the lynching and murder of numerous Muslims, especially in northern India, the heartland of Hindutva followers.
Recent, the scrapping of Article 370 of the Indian constitution that until then gave Muslim-majority Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in India, some semblance of autonomy is another measure in the BJP’s project of the marginalisation of the Muslims in India. With the abrogation of Article 370, an article that among other things barred people from outside Kashmir to own land in the state, was annulled. Since the abrogation of the article, Kashmir has been locked down and kept under military occupation.
The ultimate objective is to change the religious demographic profile of Kashmir from Muslim- to Hindu-majority state and with the abrogation of Article 370, the process has begun.
India’s Modi sponsored a new citizenship law — the Citizenship Amendment Act that is abjectly discriminatory and targets the Muslims — which is similar to the laws used by fascists throughout in contemporary history. For example, Hitler’s Nuremberg laws helped giving shape to a totalitarian state.
With the rise of Modi and his Hindutva ideology, a big section of the judiciary, the police, the military and the media in India have already fallen in line.
Modi is now a cult figure drawing on adulation and loyalty from a very large section of the population which is the hallmark of a fascist leader.
However, it would be wrong to blame Modi entirely for the ‘othering’ of Indian Muslims. The ‘othering’ has been the mainstay of Indian politics since the middle of the 19th century and become more pronounced since India got its independence in 1947 such that demonisation, marginalisation and violence against Indian Muslims have become a routine matter in India.
Indeed, since 1947, Indian Muslims in India have been stigmatised as ‘traitors’, ‘invaders’ and more recently and because of the west-orchestrated Islamophobia, they now bear the added label ‘terrorist.’
It was thus not a coincidence that the biggest cheer from the 1,00,000 plus crowd at the Namaste Trump rally at Motera stadium in Ahmedabad held on February 24 to felicitate Donald Trump came when Trump said that the United States and India were united to ‘defend ourselves from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.’
Now the whole of the Muslim population in India numbering about 200 million are being singled out as ‘terrorists’ and at this terrible time of COVID-19 which has put everyone in danger. The Muslims are also being scapegoated as disseminators of the virus in India. With the help of popular media as well as using social media, Hindu supremacists are dubbing the virus as ‘corona jihad’, ‘Muslim virus’, etc such that Muslims are barred from Hindu neighbourhoods for conducting day-to-day vocation. In Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat state run by the BJP and Modi’s hometown, a public hospital has directed the state government to segregate COVID-19 patients by their religion. Referring to the abject sectarian treatment of the Muslims in the middle of a raging virus by the Hindu supremacists, Arundhati Roy, India’s most famous social activists, has termed the action as ‘genocidal’.
GIVEN that Modi has so far been quite successful in pursuing his Hindutva policy and that this has happened without much backlash from the international community, including from guardians of human rights and democracy, and also given the fact unlike 1 per cent of the German population were Jewish in 1933, India’s Muslim population, 200 million which accounts for 15 per cent of its population, the question that one may raise: what chances are there for the ‘final solution’ to succeed in India to advance to the establishment of Hindutva’s Hindu India?
This simply cannot be done to a size of population which Patrick Cockburn reminds that if the Muslim minority in India have had a separate country, it would be the eighth largest state in the world by the size of population.
Modi knows this. Therefore, faced with the uncomfortable demography, Modi and his Hindu supremacist party BJP’s strategy is to relentlessly demonise, terrorise and marginalise its Muslims to reduce them as sub-humans and redefine Hindus as the ‘real’ Indians and push the Indian Muslims economically, socially and politically down so that they are relegated to a position where they live as lower class Indian citizens.
Notwithstanding Delhi Kristallnacht and numerous other anti-Muslim persecution activities that have occurred since and given India’s extreme poverty and squalor, the issue Modi and his sectarian ilks need to grapple with is how marginalisation and demonisation of its 15 percent population which imply sidelining 200 million people from productive activities of India would impact its economy and how this impact would India’s dream to become an economic power house of the world one day should also figure prominently among the Indian policy-makers urgently.
After all, market and conflict have the habit of not cohabiting well in most of the times.
Muhammad Mahmood is an independent economic and political analyst.
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