Diabolical Games(Assam): ...something sinister about it
The violence in Assam and exodus of Northeast people across India points to a sinister agenda with a typically deceptive game plan. In the face of a weak, discredited UPA II, and an insensitive, xenophobic BJP, this can become dangerous
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi
As the crow flies, Guwahati, the capital of Assam, is about 1,000 kilometers from Sittwe, the capital of the restive Rakhine province of Myanmar and about 3,000 kilometers from Bangalore. These seemingly disconnected places that are redefining ethnic violence and its consequences in an interconnected world may not only influence the way India votes in 2014, but seriously test the tenuous bonds of different regions and ethnicities that comprise the world’s most chaotic democracy — India.
The neurotic outcome to the communal or ethnic violence at display in Rakhine state and in Assam, whatever may be the historical reasons for this strife, is not really spontaneous. On the contrary, it is pre-planned, carefully conceived and diabolically executed to subvert once again a country that had been enjoying communal amity in recent times, especially after the vitiated and polarising BJP reign ended in 2004.
Every possible tool of a globalised and wired world like text messages, facebook, twitter and Instagram have been used to disseminate images and messages that would inflame passions, undermine the authority of the established order and also the way communities perceived each other. The implications of what is being sought to be achieved by fanning the flames of hatred from the Northeast to the rest of the country are just too mindboggling to arrive at a coherent answer. Weakening a scam battered Congress and its discredited authority at the Centre may be one of reasons for the spike in communal feelings in certain parts of the country, but this is not the only reason.
It is this, that, and a lot more.
Common sense at times can be confusing. To untrained minds reality may have different shades which may result in obfuscation. Perpetrators of violence may look different from those who benefit from it. The expressed or suppressed narratives of official commissions of enquiry in different parts of the country are usually the same. The person, who funds stone-pelters, punches a hate message, pulls the trigger, hacks and burns an innocent, rapes a woman, and the politician who benefits, are usually the same. They are part of the same sinister web. However, the reasons and implications of the latest round of ethnic violence may be slightly more complex. Let’s take a look.
Long before the Assam violence rocked the country, tweets and posts were going around on about the massacre of the Rohingyas in the Rakhine province, west of Myanmar. Considered to be of Arab origin, the Rohingyas have faced violence and discrimination for many years. Considered to be one of the most persecuted ethnic communities in the world, they have been disenfranchised by the military junta in Burma, keen on forging a Burmese identity. Brutalities against the Rohingyas had forced them to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh and Thailand, but there, too, they have been finding that they are no longer welcome. Thai authorities are accused of towing ships full of Rohingyas and leaving them rudderless in high seas. Thousands have died.
More recently, there were reports that a Rakhine girl was raped leading to the killing of 10 Rohingyas. More killings followed with the police and armed forces contributing their bit in bringing grief to this already oppressed section of people. Pictures of Rohingyas being massacred began to scorch the social media. In Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan, there was great concern at what was happening in Myanmar. Turkey sent its first lady to Yangon, Saudi Arabia gave $50 million to Burma and Pakistanis did what they could do best — they tweeted and agitated.
So fierce was the agitation over the atrocities that many commentators began to wonder: so what was the big deal about Rohingyas being brutalised when the Ahmadis, Shias, Christians and Hindus were being subjected to similar treatment in Pakistan. Some Pakistani liberal ‘tweeples’ found evidence of Burmese pictures of massacres being diabolically morphed to dramatise the impact: old pictures of the dead from tsunami etc, were counterposed as current pictures from Burma. While the Muslim world was still grappling with what to do with the hapless Rohingyas, violence hit Assam on its face. The festering issue of Bangladeshi foreigners in Assam had resurfaced.
The tribal Bodos, cheered by entities engaged in majoritarian politics, including some Congress leaders trying to negate the exit of its Muslim support base, attacked Bengali-speaking Muslims in Kokrajhar. The Assam government (and the Union home ministry) was slow in smothering the riots fuelling suggestions that the Congress had a role to play in teaching the Muslims a lesson. The delay in calling the army made the riots brutal. It also reinforced eternal grievances that Muslims have towards the government that they never get justice.
As if on cue, the rumour mills in their different modern day avatar began to work overtime. Twitter and Facebook fed rumours and vice versa. Space and time collapsed. Pictures of Rohingyas were palmed off as happening in Assam along with its own pictures. The common feature in these dangerous pictures —morphed or otherwise — were people sporting Mongoloid features, hurting the Muslims.
In votes and violence, Steven Wilkinson establishes how riots in India are mostly preplanned to garner votes and it is an outcome of electoral competition at all levels. He blames political parties for much of the communal violence.
In Mumbai, a demonstration by the Raza Academy to generate awareness on the killings of Rohingyas and the Assam violence surprised the police. Around 10,000 people showed up when the organisers were expecting a few hundred. And an aggressive section of the crowd ran amok targeting the media and the police. TV reporters were chased by the crowd castigating them for not reporting communal riots in Assam while dwelling on happenings in US. They burnt OB vans and reportedly tore clothes of police personnel.
The ferocity of violence in the wake of happenings in Assam and Burma made the somnolent law enforcement agencies sit up about the changing character of political mobilisation, and the role external agencies can play in such a charged environment. Subsequently, there were copycat flash mob kind of demonstrations in Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad and other cities of UP.
In Pune and Bangalore, people from Northeast were subjected to rumours and threats about the impending vengeance coming from the Muslims for the violence inflicted on their co-religionists in Assam and Burma. This created a panic. In Bangalore, which has about 3 lakh people from Northeast, BJP is in power. A party that idolisesNarendraModi for neutralising Islamic terror and pugnacity, was very encouraging in making arrangements for the people of Assam and other states to go back to their homes. Special trains were organised.
RSS volunteers were all over the place, inside homes, public spaces, railway stations — conjuring the patriotic brotherhood of heightened nationalism vis-à-vis the predictable internal and external enemy number one. If there was a sinister agenda, it was deceptive.
JD(U) leader SharadYadav, a staunch BJP ally, was so angry with how the Northeasterns were allowed to return home that he wondered why the trains were organised by the BJP regime in Bangalore. Visions of Partition with overloaded trains began to haunt the political subconscious of the nation. These depressing events helped in reinforcing a dangerous rumour that Muslims constituted a threat to all the sane elements of the society. Quite adroitly, the two “others” of India’s alienated democracy — Northeast and Muslims — were pitted against each other to feed existing stereotypes about each other. Contours of a diabolical game began to unfold.
The communal forces, both Hindus and Muslims, leavened by a politically emaciated Congress party, saw in these happenings an opportunity to enlarge their constituencies.They were helped by the severe battering the Congress had got in Uttar Pradesh that revealed it as a spent political force, staring at possible inevitable defeats in the days to come. Besides, the central government’s involvement in a plethora of corruption scandals has irretrievably eroded its authority and ability to take cases pertaining to Hindutva terror to its logical conclusion. The UPA II regime, in this scenario, as in other times, has shown to be abjectly week-kneed and directionless when it comes to countering the subversive politics of putsch by the RSS and BJP, or opportunist players like Team Anna, often backed by a section of the corporate media.
The government banned twitter and quickly blamed elements in Pakistan for spreading rumours and scaring people around, but these moves were merely cosmetic. The challenge was more political and grassroot. Twitter and facebook cannot bring down governments as it has been proved after a close analysis of the Arab Spring. What worked in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya was not so much twitter or facebook, but covert operations by external agencies that liaised closely with religious groups, opposition forces and NGOs. Since India is a parliamentary democracy, it played out in the form of competitive politics and how different ethnicities were stoked to garner votes.
In his seminal book titled Votes and Violence, Steven Wilkinson clearly establishes how riots in India are mostly pre-planned to garner votes and it is an outcome of electoral competition at all levels. He disputes the assertion of former US President Richard Nixon that “riots were spontaneous” and in contradistinction from wars that required planning and thinking. He blames political parties for much of the communal violence that takes place in the country.
However, the lessening of violence, if his theory is anything to go by, is due to the rise of smaller parties and their attempts to work with others to come to power. The flip side is exposed when a national party tries to build a social coalition on the basis of a mass tragedy, religious xenophobia and violent polarisations, something that a shrill and insensitive BJP and the Hindutvaparivar is attempting yet again.
The person, who funds stone-pelters, punches a hate message, pulls the trigger, hacks and burns an innocent, rapes a woman, and the politician who benefits, are usually the same. They are part of the same web
The fierce projection of a polarisingModi as a macho, muscle-flexing leader of the future, despite his rotten record during the Gujarat Carnage in 2002, is a case in point. Backed by corporate India, which has repeatedly shown its amoral instincts so long it supports its bottom line, these forces are gaining legitimacy at the expense of secular politics.
The happenings in Assam and its dangerous fall-out in the rest of the country is a threat to the country’s unity that cannot be wished away. Once again, the alienation of Assam and the instability intrinsic in the Northeast has gained prominence. The issue of assimilation of the Northeastern people to rest of the country remains unfulfilled. All these factors have aggravated the crisis that has suddenly made this government appear so shallow, inefficient and inadequate. The retreat of the Congress from many parts of the country is decreasing the influence the central government would have exercised. Indeed, the shift in the gaze of TV cameras does not mean that the violent atavism that has gripped the nation has vanished into the blue.