19-25 April 2013 #652

What a riot

Why religious riots in India fanned by the BJP are remembered and those provoked by the Congress aren’t
Ajaz Ashraf
India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) simply can’t figure out why communal riots under its rule are never forgotten, while those under Congress governments are.

This has assumed special importance as the BJP is inclined to project as its prime ministerial candidate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, whose alleged fanning of the 2002 riots continues to haunt him and his party.

Indeed, it is actually the Congress that has palpably failed to control communal hotheads from running amok periodically. Yet the party still garners a substantial chunk of the minority as well as secular votes. Why then is it the BJP that has the ‘communal’ label?

For one, a riot is an extreme manifestation of the BJP’s politics which is predicated on addressing the grievances of Hindus, real or imagined. The origin of these grievances lie either in India’s medieval past or in public policies after independence which the party perceives as favouring minorities.

This worldview pits India’s Hindus against the minorities, particularly Muslims. In other words, the inter-community tensions signifying the abnormal in politics, have no possibility of closure in the immediate future.?

This is stoked at state, district and India-wide levels. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement sought to meld the Hindus into a monolith, through a demand asking Muslims to voluntarily relinquish the Babri Masjid. There are similar demands for the relocation of mosques abutting the Krishna and Shiv temples in Mathura and Varanasi.

These symbols of pan-India Hindu mobilisation are augmented through disputes over other places of worship of local significance. For variety, Christian priests are also attacked for allegedly converting Hindus to Christianity.

In this culture of inter-community tension, fanned and allowed to simmer, the riot is the logical culmination of an insidious process. The salience of tension-riot in the politics of BJP is why a localised inter-community conflict under its rule acquires a countrywide resonance. The 2002 riot of Gujarat was horrifying because it was viewed to have been ideologically driven and, therefore, bound to be replicated elsewhere.

By contrast, the riots under the Congress, even the ones its activists spearhead are instrumental rather than ideological. Barring the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, the riots under the Congress rarely spill beyond a parliamentary constituency or two. The motive behind such mayhem is usually a local Congressman wanting to win an election from a constituency, a riot or communal tension rarely becomes a tool for political mobilisation countrywide. The 1984 riots were the exception. Though 20 years too late, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a Sikh himself, apologised to the entire nation “because what took place in 1984 is the negation of the concept of nationhood in our Constitution”.

The Congress is forgiven because the riots under it are often (not always) the handiwork of organisations belonging to the Sangh Parivar. It’s a conclusion several commissions of inquiry appointed to probe riots have reached. The tension-riot remains the Sangh Parivar’s defining strategy of achieving its ideological goal of turning India Hindu. This is why the riots under the BJP are remembered and not those under the Congress, which too has been guilty for the spilling of blood and untold misery.


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