Unmasking political machinations

August 20, 2023

The socio-political landscape of Nuh has been thrust into the limelight due to the controversial decision by a Hindu Maha Panchayat

Unmasking political machinations


he question is, is ‘unmasking’ the right word any longer for what’s happening in India for the past few years? The naked and brutal thirst for power and the normalisation of violence against particular target communities is open to all and still ignored at best and celebrated publicly at worst.

In recent weeks, the socio-political landscape of Nuh has been thrust into the limelight due to the controversial decision by a Hindu Maha Panchayat to organise a rally, carrying implications that stretch far beyond the district’s boundaries. This move, ostensibly centred on issues such as cow protection and religious identity, is inextricably linked to a series of unfortunate events that have cast a dark shadow on communal amity and have far-reaching political ramifications.

One has to remember that Nuh is part of Mewat region overlapping Rajasthan and Haryana with a sizeable presence of Mewati or Meo Muslims. Historically, it has seen little disturbances of this kind. At the time of partition, Gandhi is said to have personally persuaded them not to cross-over the border.

It’s also unique in the sense that while professing Islam, these communities have displayed an amazing amalgam of cultures across religions for centuries. It is in this context that one sees this region being made a target as another watershed moment. The following call of boycott of Muslims in parts of Haryana, also partly countered by other groups to keep the cultural harmony, is a test case.

The recent communal clashes in Nuh started with a public rally of Hindu fascists, culminating in the targeting of Muslim communities and the bulldozing of their homes. These have raised alarming concerns. The deliberate exploitation of religious sentiments and identity for political gains cannot be overlooked.

In the aftermath of these incidents, the fabric of coexistence has been severely strained, with tensions escalating to disturbing levels. This alarming trend is not isolated but must be analysed in the larger context of a disenchanted electorate and simmering discontent against the BJP government.

It’s interesting that the neighbouring so-called Manhattan of India, Gurugram (till recently known as Gurgaon in its rustic avatar), immediately saw fallout of public boycott of Muslim working class which mainly serves the high polloi living in the posh gated communities, burning of shops and businesses of the Muslims and public declarations of boycotting Muslims across the socio-economic spectrum. In other words, ethnic cleansing by other means. The state government has tut-tutted and issued vague threats of action against those who have been seen shouting obscene slogans in viral videos.

But the story is not limited to Nuh or for that matter its supposedly cosmopolitan neighbour, Gurugram alone. The recent spate of sexual harassment allegations involving women wrestlers in Haryana itself and the perceived lack of swift and resolute action by the authorities has eroded public faith in the governance system.

Concurrently, the farmer’s movement, predominantly led by Haryana and western UP, underscored the mounting frustration against agrarian policies and demonstrated the power of collective mobilisation which had forced Modi to back down in one of his rare moments. The upcoming elections have prompted concern within the BJP ranks.

Enter the Hindu Maha Panchayat rally and its ripple effect. This strategy of invoking issues related to cow protection and religious identity is, sadly, not a novel one. There have been instances in the past where tensions have been stoked to achieve political objectives, casting a shadow over national unity. Some assert that by orchestrating these riots the ruling party may be employing a playbook that aims to foster chaos and divert attention away from issues that pose a more immediate threat to their electoral fortunes.

At the heart of these events lies a deeply disturbing narrative of manipulation and exploitation of religious sentiments. The killing of innocent Muslims in a train, reportedly perpetrated by a motivated Hindu fundamentalist, underscores the dangerous consequences of such orchestrated campaigns. This heinous act serves as a stark reminder of the potential dangers that arise when political ambitions converge with religious fervour.

Such incidents fuel the argument that the underlying motivation behind these rallies is far from genuine concern. Rather, it appears to be a calculated effort to consolidate support under the banner of rabid anti-minority, anti-Muslim Hindu nationalism.

The backdrop of the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur adds another layer to this complex web of manipulation. The events unfolding in Manipur, along with those in Nuh, point to a worrisome trend of using divisive tactics to further political agendas. The exploitation of ethnic and religious fault lines to divert attention and set a template for future elections speaks to a concerning level of opportunism within the political landscape.

One only needs to remember how 2013 saw a large-scale riot engineered in the neighbouring Muzaffarnagar with ramifications across India and which brought the present government to power, obliterating the UPA in 2014, the chimera of anti-corruption and development notwithstanding.

The manipulation of religious sentiments and communal divides for political purposes has been around for a long time. But for a long time, they were seen as sporadic, engineered for local gains. It was only with Gujarat that an entire state became a laboratory for normalising anti-Muslim state power. Now finally, it is the entire country.

There’s a competition among the BJP-ruled states for who can outdo others in this ‘nation game’, to use an eloquent term from the historian Benjamin Zachariah. Against the backdrop of wide discontent, the alarming pattern of invoking divisive issues once again suggests a calculated attempt to manipulate public sentiment.

It’s the Marquez story, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and the prescient Hindi poem Ramdas ki Hatya (Murder of Ramdas) by Raghuveer Sahay being repeated ad nauseum. Everyone knows what the central characters are up to and yet, they all simply watch as it happens. The word vigilance comes to mind in this context. People should not just watch, but act to prevent crime. Only through collective vigilance can we hope to dismantle the sad repetition of the “riot and rule” formula that has plagued our history.

The writer has been in the development sector for more than a decade. He currently works with an international non-governmental organisation based in Delhi. He may be reached at: avinashcold@gmail.com

Unmasking political machinations