Behind mobs: India’s dark politics

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The spurt in lynching can be attributed to India’s social psyche combined with politics of hatred fuelled by the current state of anarchy.

Last week the Supreme Court, in its judgement against mob lynching, called upon the Parliament to initiate fresh laws to address the rising incidents of lynching. The judgment gives an impression that the country’s highest court is really concerned about the sudden spurt in such heinous acts of violence and mob lynching. It is disconcerting to note that nowhere has the Supreme Court mentioned the underlying reasons behind the incidents. Ineffective implementation of laws, tardy investigation and sluggish trials have often been cited as reasons for the state’s inability to control such crimes. These are only proximate causes. A closer look at the lynching incidents reveals that there is a distinct pattern to it where Muslims have been specifically targeted. Hence, before attributing the above as the root of all troubles, there is an urgent need to introspect as to what/what all could have suddenly motivated and instigated an apparently harmless mass of people in different parts of the country to participate, almost in a coordinated manner in such acts of brutality. As much as disinformation or deliberate dissemination of inaccurate information/news through social-networking sites like Facebook and apps like Twitter and Whatsapp is to be blamed, there is something deeper to the kind of cruelty and antagonism that we have been experiencing lately.

The influence of social media and other online platforms in aggravating incidents of lynching is probably getting disproportionate attention from the experts. Amidst all these, we must not lose focus, as these become humdrum and trivial problems when compared to the disturbing role played by the current political regime in abetting such occurrences.

As we know, India is yet to shed its feudal mindset. For a very long time, almost all political parties have made a concerted effort to continue with the master/slave or insider/outsider discourse. Therefore, the larger political will in reality implies manipulation of common people’s affective responses. For instance, irrespective of one’s level of education, one is made to believe that there is an imminent threat to her/his identity and livelihood. It is precisely this fear which breeds hatred and succeeds in bringing together a large number of otherwise disparate individuals of a particular identity or religion, who are willing to forget every other difference and pursue a larger objective. And, this is best reflected in the communal nature of lynching.

In several states (Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh), there have been cases of barbaric lynching of migrant labourers. Those involved in attacking or lynching the labourers justify their actions by falsely portraying the victims as “outsiders” or a threat to the local populace either because of their religion or ethnicity.

India is currently experiencing probably the worst form of income inequality in the world, and, studies suggest that the gap between the rich and the poor is going to widen further. Experts have observed that unless the government is proactive in finding solutions through democratic and peaceful measures, tensions are going to escalate. Since inequality leads to extreme distress and frustration among those who are at the receiving end and their circumstances remain the same year after year, it is not difficult to infer that it is a politically manufactured misery. It helps in creating a mass of people (mostly young) seething with utter disappointment who, at any given point, may turn hostile.

Deprived of opportunities and constructive engagement, they could unwittingly become participants in the politics of fear. For most political parties, it is this crowd of discontented and vulnerable youth who could be easily “red pilled”; made to face horrors of lived realities and therefore, most suitable as potent instruments for unleashing anarchy.

In this context, what is more disturbing is that there is no public outcry (in the form of mass rallies or protests) against such happenings. In 21st century India, this is unthinkable, as the middle class, which has  a voice, is not coming forward indicating that a majority of them have also been bought into this narrative of divisive politics. The lynching then is only a manifestation of a deeper rot in our political system. From atrocities against dalits to beating up of petty thieves and criminals by groups of angry people, incidents of lynching are not uncommon in the country. But the magnitude of recent aggression and inhumanity against the minorities, particularly Muslims is unparalleled. People have become law unto themselves. On the surface, it may be a reflection of a complete absence of trust on the state machinery. Given that corruption and police-politician nexus are rampant at all levels, people neither report to the police nor fact-check the information which circulates on various online platforms.

“Rumour, suspicion and disinformation are bound to thrive in such a vacuum. However, the manner in which the incidents have occurred is an evidence of how the state machinery’s inaction has provided a fertile ground for the growth of fanaticism which eventually leads to these assaults.”

The politics around beef ban laws (which goes to the extent of considering mere possession beef as a crime) has been used both as an instrument as well as justification for the ruthless killings and lynching of Akhlaq (Dadri), Junaid (Ballabhgarh), Pehlu Khan (Alwar) and today Akbar Khan (again in Alwar) by the cow vigilantes. With formal recognition and establishment of institutions like gau raksha chowkis, there is clear indication of a tacit support of the ruling political party in instigating and shielding the miscreants and assailants. In most cases (even today’s) the accused are roaming scot free, being rewarded and the police is reluctant to file cases against them or implicating the victims on false charges.

Similarly, the mainstream media (now corporate media) too has significantly contributed towards this politics of hatred. Serving the interests of the ruling political party, it feeds people with lies and manipulates their consciousness. People across educational categories are taken in by the visuals and reporting of instances where top central ministers are seen publicly felicitating those convicted of lynching (when the accused walked out on bail in Jharkhand).

Today, mob lynching is not only the ‘new normal’ but has also been raised to the level of a spectacle. It is this formal celebration and valorisation of crime and the criminals, which creates a secure and encouraging environment for those who are more than willing to do away with their “imagined” enemy.

Therefore, the current state of anarchy has to be attributed to the current political dispensation. It came to power through anti-corruption campaigns and promising employment to the youth. Today, when studies have shown that there has been neither employment generation nor reduction in black money, the promises have turned into a hoax or more aptly seem to be mere political jumlas. Since it has nothing to project as success on those promises, it has taken refuge in the insider/outsider discourse and intensified communal politics which has always been there in the country in some form or the other. To remain in office, it is patronising religion and divisive politics, as it has proved to be an effective strategy in winning elections in the past.