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Articles

Why Rahul Gandhi says India will ‘burn’ if BJP returns to power

Apoorvanand

To be squeamish when the former President of the Congress party is candidly pointing to hate being fanned systematically, is wrong. Let’s look deeper.

Is Rahul Gandhi being an alarmist when he warns that the third term of the BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will see fires raging in the country? That it will be a real catastrophe for India? Is his framing of the threat that another term for the BJP will be ‘apocalyptic’ for the nation and is he indulging in ‘unwise’ ‘unwarranted’ ‘spectre-peddling’ when he expresses his fear that if the BJP wins the election it will change the constitution which will tear the country apart?

I am talking about the response of a section of big media to Rahul Gandhi’s speech at the India bloc’s Ramlila Maidan rally after Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest. It was some solace that a section of the media decided to cover the rally and report it to its readership and audience. It must have taken great effort and courage to talk about what the opposition is doing or saying, breaking the habit of blacking the opposition out and keeping the focus on Modi.

Burning questions
Let us, however, return to the disquiet that the ‘apocalyptic’ warning of Rahul Gandhi has given birth to in the media, and the commentariat, which loves to take a ‘measured‘ and ‘balanced‘ view of everything. Which loves to calm the people in a house ravaged by fire by assuring them that heavens are not falling, that the roof and walls are still intact and there is no need to panic. They do not like being desperate. That is why when Rahul Gandhi presses the panic button, they deprecate him: after all, it does not behove a senior leader like him to indulge in such scaremongering.

Is Rahul Gandhi exaggerating, is he indulging in hyperbole? He may have used strong words, unpalatable to our bellies which have gotten used to the diet of balanced words. But is he wrong?

“Poore desh mein aag lagne jaa rahi hai (fires will rage in the country)”, is what he warned his people if they allow this government to return to power. I felt like telling him that it is not a question of something happening in the future. He should have said that fires are already raging in the country. What is sad is that a large section of India does not sense the heat. This is something we do not want to admit, that many of us feel safe from this fire – the fire of hatred and violence that is directed towards the Muslims of this country.

It is my firm belief that if you really managed to get close to and look inside the hearts of Muslims, you will find what this fire is doing to their spirit. Many of us do not see it, perhaps because Muslims do not trust that their pain would be appreciated, let alone shared by most of their compatriots.

Iftar: with a difference
A week ago, I happened to attend an unusual Iftar. It was especially for the family members of those who have been in jail for the last four years in the Delhi violence conspiracy case. Javed Mohammad saheb also joined us. News editors who are upset with Rahul Gandhi must have forgotten Javed. He is from Allahabad and was arrested by the UP police after protests against obscene remarks on the Prophet by Nupur Sharma, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson. Javed saheb, who actively worked with the police and administration for peace was declared as a mastermind and incarcerated instead. His agony did not end there. The administration demolished the house he lived in. It was not his house. It was gifted to his wife by her parents.

Javed saheb was jailed and his family was rendered homeless. It was definitely not a catastrophe even for his mohalla, or Allahabad. Did we, sitting here in Delhi, inhale the dust which arose after the house was felled by JCB machines and bulldozers? No. It was definitely not an apocalypse.

Javed spoke at the Iftar. I was shocked to hear his soft, measured voice. He did not sound angry, nor bitter. This is what we want. No bitterness from those who are violated, only understanding. He did not sound like he was complaining. Why, he even said that spending some time in jail would do us all some good. We would then see that there are people in situations more miserable than us, more desperate.
He thanked all of those present there for their solidarity. Then we heard from a young woman whose father is spending his fourth year in jail after being arrested by the Delhi police in the 2020 Delhi violence conspiracy case. She was also not bitter.

And then there was Syed Qasim Rasool Iliyas, father of Umar Khalid, a brilliant mind wronged by his country, about to complete his fourth year in jail, for being, in the words of Delhi police, one of the ‘masterminds‘ of the 2020 Delhi violence. He was also not bitter. He did speak about his son but asked all of us to fight a democratic battle. No, he also was not angry.

Beyond ‘our’ world
There could have been scores of Iftars like this one across the country with those whose houses have been bulldozed, whose family members have been arrested or even killed. The most recent case is that of Haldwani in Uttarakhand. And you can then travel to Assam where it is a daily experience, especially for the Bengali-speaking Muslims, to be evicted from where they have been living for decades, to be constantly on tenterhooks.

Imagine yourself in the situation of the Muslims of Assam who have to listen to their chief minister insulting, humiliating and threatening them everyday.

I got a call from the lawyers who are trying to revive the case of the murder of Junaid. His face must have faded in the memory of our analysts and editors. A 15-year-old boy murdered by a crowd of Hindus on a moving train. The murderer is roaming around freely, boasting about his great feat of disposing of a Muslim.

Imagine yourself as a Muslim switching on the TV and watching anchors spewing hatred against Muslims, weaving dangerous conspiracy theories. Or in the situation of Muslims who are kicked by the policemen while they pray.

Did the editors feel like canceling their tickets after a policeman, paid to protect passengers, killed three Muslim passengers on a moving train, because they were Muslim? But many Muslims did. Were they being unnecessarily panicky? After all, was not this triple murder an exception?

Why should the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) alarm Muslims? And why does the talk of National Register of Citizens worry them? Why should they feel slighted by the triple talaq law? And should they feel threatened by the Uniform Civil Code at all?

Beyond forwarding hate texts
Yesterday, an ex-navy man visited me. He spoke about the two WhatsApp groups consisting of his service people that he is part of. He said that he was amazed to see the hatred against Muslims flowing in those groups. He had experienced it while in service but brushed that aside as an exception. But after reading those messages he realised that the sentiment, though latent, may have always been there. This regime has now enabled it to get enflamed. It has emboldened those who espouse it to be able to peddle hatred openly. They know that there are more people ready to join them.

No, Rahul Gandhi was not being an alarmist when he warned his people about the tragedy that the third term for this government would bring to this country. Instead, we should ask why Rahul Gandhi could not say what this article has stated clearly. Why does he seldom use the word Muslim? Why is a leader of his stature too, not confident that many of his Hindu constituents would be able to empathise with their plight?

How did it happen that large sections of Hindu society have lost this capacity to share the pain of their Muslim neighbours? Why do many sections feel offended and angry when Junaid’s mother asks for justice for her slain son? How did sections of India start relishing violence against Muslims? Did it happen automatically or do these 10 years of BJP rule have something to do with it?
The central question is, are ‘we‘ ready to have more of this state of affairs? It is time to be able to question who the ‘we’ in this is. Surely, ‘We, the People’ must push us to mean more than the ‘we’ so narrowly defined these days

–The author teaches at Delhi University.

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