India is burning. In the months from March to May the news and social media were flooded with heart rending stories and images of the trauma of out-of state workers who lost their livelihood overnight when the coronavirus lock down was imposed without adequate notice. With all modes of transportation brought to a halt they walked in their millions to their homes hundreds of miles away in distant parts of India. They received negligible state assistance. Millions of jobs have been lost in formal and informal sectors. The GDP plummeted by 23.9% in the second quarter of 2020. Of major economies affected by Covid-19 India has fared the worst. The pandemic is not the only cause of India’s poor performance. Shocks dealt to the Indian economy since 2016 by Prime Minister Modi’s strongman economics, demonetization and ill planned implementation of GST (Goods and Services tax), have taken their toll. So has the stringent Covid-19 lock down declared in March with the PM’s customary fanfare and theater four hours prior to its taking effect. And with increasing infection rates of coronavirus, India has taken second place in the global ranking of countries whose population has tested positive for Covid-19. With India on fire one would think its government would be functioning on a war footing to restore a degree of normalcy. Nothing could be further from the truth. History tells us there was a tyrant in Rome who played the fiddle while Rome burned. In India a video uploaded to the social media accounts of PM Modi on August 26 2020 shows that the ruling tyrant feeds peacocks.
As the rapt listener revels in mellifluous strains of Indian classical music heard on the soundtrack of the video he or she is treated to views of the Prime Minister of India sporting with peacocks. Feeding them first on a verandah and then in his living room. The scene shifts. A peacock displays the glory of its outspread tail as the PM strolls through the impeccably maintained grounds of his residence. His serene mind occupied with weighty matters of state he walks in majesty. India’s all but anointed king. In August he even wore head gear befitting royalty prior to presiding over inaugural ceremonies of a grand Hindu temple in Ayodhya. The foundations of this monument to the triumph of Hindu supremacism were laid decades ago when a frenzied mob attired in the saffron colors of the Hindu right pulled down the sixteenth century mosque built by one of the generals of Babur, the first Mughal emperor. The screaming saffron hordes demolished the mosque and simultaneously the secular bedrock of the Indian Republic–its promise of freedom of worship and equality before the law regardless of which deity a person honored. At least two thousand Muslims died in riots that followed the destruction of the mosque. Back in December 1992 the man who became PM was merely the humble lieutenant of the politician who engineered the temple movement that destroyed the idea of India as a plural, multi religious state. And now almost thirty years later, with India on fire, the humble aide of yore and now Prime Minister of India posed for a video in which he bent with great solicitude, tenderness and absorption to feed a peacock.
The twenty four hour availability of social media might be heaven sent for PM Modi’s followers. Once the video had been released the PM’s impressive communion with the natural world could be viewed on loop by acolytes who so desired. The gods should be thanked for the gift of information technology. The Hindu gods of course. After all who dares to follow a faith other than Hinduism in Modi ruled India? Only those who seek to part with life or whatever makes life viable. The rise of the erstwhile Chief Minister of Gujarat to the office of PM in 2014 has engendered the reign of the hate filled lynch mobs of the Hindu right. Across many parts of India these lawless, maniacal mobs roam and commit murder at will. They seek out victims from the Muslim minority. Under the benign gaze of the PM they can carry out their fearful work with impunity. In the years since 2014 it has become apparent time and again that the writ of the lynch mob runs in Modi ruled India. Of 91 deaths and hundreds of injuries caused by religious hatred between 2009 and 2018, ninety percent took place after PM Modi came to power. This has been shown by the data analysis of Hate Crime Watch. The death toll keeps mounting. Members of the Muslim minority who still remain in the land of the living have been forced to part with property and livelihood. Or their limbs.
In December 2019 legislative steps were taken to strip Indian citizenship from significant numbers of the Muslim minority and other vulnerable groups. In conjunction with a proposed National Registry of Citizens (NRC), the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) threatened to disenfranchise Indians who did not belong to the Hindu majority and were unable to produce the stringent documentation required to establish Indian citizenship The beleaguered minority rose in protest. They shed the fearful demeanor to which they had become habituated ever since Hindutva or Hindu supremacism had become the ruling social and political ideology of the land. Hindutva’s hegemony was the consequence of brute majority attained in Parliament by the Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Dal (BJP) in two successive national elections—2019 as well as 2014. In response to the new laws Muslims took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands and laid claim to their Indian citizenship. They reclaimed the national flag and national anthem from the Hindu nationalists. Their gatherings reverberated with talk of freedom, responsible citizenship and love vs hatred, with readings of the Constitution of India, with such songs of anti-fascism and liberation as Bella Ciao (Hindi version) and Marxist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s anthem of revolution “Hum Dekhenge” or We will Witness. “The earth will quake beneath the feet of the oppressed, lightning will strike the rulers…every crown will be flung away, every throne will be brought down,” they recited. They were joined by many of their fair minded, justice loving and law abiding Indian brethren. The spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity ruled. Because the proposed NRC-CAA regime set up a link between religion and Indian citizenship it was widely recognized as being unconstitutional. In the anti CAA anti NRC marches, participants who professed a different faith would sometimes form a circle to shield their Muslim brothers from traffic disruptions as they bent to offer prayers.
In south Delhi, in the coldest winter in decades, a gathering of women kept vigil round the clock in a large tent erected on a nondescript street in Shaheen Bagh, one of Delhi’s poorer neighborhoods. A handful of women started the vigil on December 15. By New Year’s eve the woman dominated vigil had gathered strength and numbers and swelled to become the throbbing heart of the megalopolis. As Shaheen Bagh’s fame spread far and wide, Muslims in other parts of India were inspired to launch similar gatherings in their cities and towns. The sit-ins became the locus of political debate and education on constitutional rights, resistance to tyranny, comradeship and mutual support. Aided by volunteers and contributions from across the city Shaheen Bagh’s functioning was formalized. Along with political protest and solidarity they served food and entertainment. In a widely shared video a pretty ten year old took the microphone to lead the Azadi or Freedom chant in her sweet, childish lisp. “Hindustan sabka hai” she insisted. India belongs to everyone. Graphic artists contributed wall and pavement murals, writers their poetry to the festival of solidarity. In February Shaheen Bagh attracted renowned musicians who came to show their solidarity, give recitals and absorb the political energy.
Naturally the political awakening was not allowed to continue. After all no self-respecting tyrant of saffron or other hue would allow a political revolution to flourish under his nose. Shaheen Bagh’s equivalent would not have been allowed to thrive in 1930’s Berlin. Eventually the will of PM Modi and his sinister consigliere Home Minister Amit Shah prevailed. By the end of February inflammatory speeches made by BJP leaders led to the mobilization of Hindutva mobs. The time had come to teach the minority community a lesson as to its standing in Hindu supremacist India. In communal tensions that followed fifty-three people died most of them Muslims. Muslim homes and businesses in north east Delhi were laid waste. A few days of arson and loot by Hindutva thugs was all it took. The police stood aside and watched or took an active role in the anti-Muslim violence. Undaunted the Shaheen Bagh protest went on. In the fourth week of March the protest was forcibly disbanded and the coronavirus lockdown imposed.
What did the solicitous PM think about as he fed peacocks and posed for the camera man? Was he gloating over the successful abortion of the political awakening represented by the anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) anti-NRC (National Registry of Citizens) protests? Was he counting arrests made by Delhi Police in connection with anti-Muslim violence that raged from February 25-29?The Delhi Police report to the sinister Home Minister Amit Shah. Since April they have used draconian anti-sedition and national security laws to put people behind bars. The police have charged these people with conspiring to incite the Delhi violence. The majority of those arrested are Muslims. In this theater of the absurd Muslims are being accused of fomenting anti-Muslim violence. The most conspicuous arrests are those of activists and student leaders who led peaceful protests against the citizenship laws. Clearly the purpose is to intimidate and silence those whose politics is opposed to the policies of the Modi-Shah regime. The intention could not be clearer if the Delhi Police had proclaimed it from the rooftops. So what if the anti-Muslim citizenship laws (CAA) led to a million mutinies? The regime knows how to suppress dissent and prepare the way for the promised land–India cleansed of Muslim citizens.
There was no dearth of victories for the ostentatiously nature loving strongman to gloat over as he fed peacocks. Take India ruled Kashmir. A little over a year ago in one fell stroke his regime revoked the autonomy guaranteed by an article in the Constitution of India. Autonomy for Kashmir was promised by India’s then political leaders in return for the coveted state’s accession to the Indian union in October 1947. Kashmir’s statutory autonomy has been severely eroded over the decades via decrees issued by the President of India. Since 1953 Kashmir has witnessed coups and state elections engineered in Delhi and an ultimately made in Delhi expulsion of Kashmiri Hindus from the Kashmir valley in the early months of 1990 as Kashmir’s armed struggle for freedom from Indian rule gathered momentum. The armed struggle was crushed in a few years by brutal counterinsurgency measures but the valley was now flooded with Indian military forces. They never went back. They remained and preyed on defenseless civilians although armed struggle had ceased to be a significant threat. Kashmir’s struggle continued by other means.
With PM Modi’s arrival in Delhi the time was ripe for finding a final solution to the Kashmir problem. Despite all the depredations on Kashmir’s statutory autonomy some real protections still remained in place. Kashmiris enjoyed special rights and privileges with regard to employment, ownership of immovable property, access to scholarships and other forms of aid. Hindutva’s logic required the dismantling of these protections. And so on August 5 2019 the Modi-Shah regime severed overnight the constitutional bond linking India ruled Kashmir to the Indian Union and split the state into two union territories that would be governed by Delhi. The regime imposed a communications blockade on the region and made thousands of preemptive arrests. Since then Indian oppression has intensified in the land which can be appropriately described as India terrorized Kashmir. The work of granting residency rights to non-Kashmiris and diluting Kashmir’s Muslim majority is now under way.
In the third week of September 2020, India terrorized Kashmir was plunged into mourning for Irfan Ahmed Dar and Kousar Riyaz. Irfan Dar was a young shopkeeper who was accused of aiding militancy and taken into custody by Indian forces. The following day he was declared to have been killed while attempting to escape. When his family received his tortured and bullet riddled body he was disfigured beyond recognition. Three of his teeth were missing and his skull had sustained heavy damage. A day later in a different part of Kashmir Kousar Riyaz was shot in her car by Indian forces. Her son was driving her to the family bakery in the early hours of the morning for the purpose of baking bread before the bakery opened for the day. She died on the spot. The same week Indian forces had to acknowledge that three so-called militants who were killed on July 18 by the army were in fact laborers seeking employment. The preceding is merely a snapshot of the army’s reign of terror in Kashmir. The Modi-Shah regime has taken the terrorization of Kashmir to heights that may rival even the brutal suppression of the 90’s.
So many final solutions. A final solution to the Kashmir problem. And the Muslim problem. And the problems of political dissent and peaceful protest. Still not all is grist for the tyrant’s mill. Storm clouds have been gathering in the north east. As the PM assumed a sanctimonious expression in front of the camera surely he averted his gaze from the direction where China lies. For months now he has been unable to utter the China word. There was no mention of China when he asserted in a June 18 broadcast on national TV that India’s borders remained inviolate. Satellite imagery and informed analysis swiftly gave the lie to his public declaration. Since April-May 2020 Indian and Chinese forces have been locked in a standoff in areas claimed by both sides along the disputed border. On June 15 for the first time since the India-Chinese war of 1962 the border conflict took a deadly turn when twenty Indian soldiers were killed in a skirmish waged with batons and spiked clubs. It’s not known if the Chinese took casualties. In his public statement the Indian PM glossed over the deaths of Indian soldiers in the border clash with China. The contrast with his milking of the Pulwama bombing of February 14, 2019 which took the lives of forty Indian paramilitary could not be more glaring. Back in 2019 he was chock full of nationalist and patriotic fervor as he shook his fist and threatened Pakistan with the full might of Indian firepower. Now a year and a half later the formerly tough on national security PM displayed the tameness of a lamb. For indeed incursions have taken place on territory claimed by India. After months of denial and obfuscation the defense minister acknowledged in Parliament on September 15 that China now controls nearly 15000 square miles of territory that India claims. In just a few months the People’s Liberation Army has been able to change the decades old status quo along the north eastern border. So much for the strongman PM’s chest thumping nationalism.
So what happened after the captive peacock was allowed to go on with life? After the video shoot was completed and the camera man packed up his equipment and left? Did the PM’s serene brow become furrowed as he perchance turned his gaze toward the north east? As he meditated on his success in undermining every institution of democracy–Parliament, judiciary, election commission, enforcement agencies and media–to name a few–did somber thoughts intrude? Did he rue his personalized diplomacy and political capital he had invested over the years in courting the goodwill of President Xi Jinping? Did he review India’s vastly inferior economic and military capabilities in relation to China? Did the cruel tyrant heave a sigh as he confronted the limits of his tyranny?