City City Bang Bang, Columns

The righteousness of hate?

The recent incident involving an Uber driver deciding to take his passengers to the police station because they were coming from anti-CAA protest and were discussing the same in the vehicle has evoked widespread comment. It is an understandably scary prospect when individual citizens decide to don the role of vigilantes and sit in judgment on what constitutes an anti-national act.

Viewed from the Uber driver’s perspective however, it is clear that he thought that he was doing a good thing, something truly noble. In his scheme of things, the people in the car were traitors, anti-nationals bent on dismantling the country. It is possible, at the risk of being presumptuous, that this was one of the most significant achievements of his life, this willingness to step up for the cause at some risk to his means of livelihood. There might have been some doubt in his mind about what action to take, and by his own admission, he contemplated a far worse fate than merely taking them to a police station, but he hadn’t the slightest doubt that he was in the right. That the party in government and responsible for the maintenance of a rule of law chose to felicitate him would only crystallise this belief.

This is true of many of those who are willing to commit acts of violence in the name of the nation or in the defence of their religion. For most of them, it is not a self-serving pursuit involving any significant material gain. There would be those that are cynically and knowingly manipulating the truth for political ends, as also those that have a commercial interest in toeing this line, but there is large mass of supporters that are true believers. The strength of this belief can even make them willingly accept an obvious lie as the truth; since they know the larger truth, the smaller lie is deemed inconsequential.

All around the country, a virulent form of nationalism is being weaponised, and more importantly being internalised as a duty. Media is playing a huge role in normalising this. In his statement framing the results of the Delhi exit polls, a leading TV anchor described the citizens of Delhi who seemed set on voting for the AAP as having no

interest in issue like the abrogation of Article 370, nor in the CAA and were thus not interested in safeguarding the interests of the nation. To his mind, the entire population of Delhi was treacherous because in a state election, they apparently chose to vote for the party that offered a better everyday life in concrete and measurable terms. Some might have thought of it as the BJP’s failure, but to this gentleman it was clear than an entire city had turned rogue.

Till a little while back, we had dog whistles of many kinds- sly and artful references that cast Muslims and liberals as anti-national, now we have blaring foghorns. It becomes possible to characterise a gathering of women and children in the heart of the capital, a gathering that has stayed resolutely peaceful in the wake of many provocations, as being the nerve centre of a terrorist plot. Just uttering the name Shaheen Bagh is enough, for it evokes images that need not adhere to or derive from any form of reality.

While it is true that the role of media in normalising this discourse cannot be overstated, it would be delusional to believe that nationalism does not work at a much deeper level. The appeal of nationalism, particularly among the young, needs to be better understood. Given the economic situation of the country and the looming crisis of employment, there is a growing anxiety and a simmering sense of anger that is looking for an address, a destination that it can direct itself at. One would have thought that the most likely target of this anger should have been the government, which is the primary agent responsible of ensuring that it is creating enough jobs. But the BJP’s success has been in making nationalism a much more pressing and immediate issue than issues that would otherwise have been considered pressing and immediate- the small matter of findings jobs, earning good livelihoods and meeting the many aspirations that have been activated in post-reform India. All of us look for our basic needs to be met but we also look for a sense of purpose, and as an assurance that we are significant and that our actions count for something and this is what the ruling party is so effectively speaking to.

To find meaningful employment is difficult, but to be an activist for a right-wing nationalistic cause is so easy. All that one needs to do is settle back into an identity that one was born with. It needs no additional effort, no striving of any kind, and little risk. One is part of the dominant majority, one has numbers and the backing of the state on one’s side, which will protect you if do commit any acts of violence. One can simply by deciding to become part of the movement, exercise real power over one’s immediate surroundings. One also experiences a heady sense of belonging, an elevating feeling of being part of some martial mission to cleanse the country of its ills. Those that oppose this, are by definition the enemy. And as everyone who is right-minded knows, it is the majority that is under threat, and that its actions are pro-actively defensive. As a prominent ruling party leader has asserted, if we don’t beat back the minority today, Mughal Raj is not far from coming.

The change is real and is likely to be irreversible. For a lot of Indians, the case has been closed. The lines have been drawn. Hate is not a choice, but a duty. And it gives hope, succour and a true sense of purpose to people who think of themselves as good and righteous human beings.

 

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