[Author’s note: This column/post is dedicated to a Twitter legend, @barbarindian , whose media-expose blogs deserve to be a part of curriculum in the modern schools of journalism. But, incidentally, he was blocked/banned temporarily by the Govt. of India in an operation manned by 12 different agencies this week.]
“He was murdered in cold blood by RSS goons!” exclaimed the short balding freelance reporter to no one in particular, but the few hundred people who had gathered there early in the morning were shell-shocked by his assertions, possibly even more shocked than when they had first discovered the body lying in a pool of blood in the playground. Khan Baba was the genial old man who lived in the deserted 17th Century tomb known as “Jor Gumbaz” adjoining the “Shakha grounds” where kids (mostly “Hindu”) played cricket every day and left their cricketing gear with the baba for safe-keeping, who meticulously maintained a list of items and almost never mixed up their stuff. For an old man living in a decrepit mosque, Khan Baba was quite well off and never asked for any monetary assistance from anyone, but nobody knew where he had come from or what his antecedents were; the kids even peddled conspiratorial stories of him being as old as the Jor Gumbaz itself, but he could hardly have been in his early sixties.
The story of Khan Baba’s murder by “RSS goons” spread like a wildfire across the town, the local media covered it extensively, despite of the fact that he was not the only one who had died in that past week. In fact, he was the 12th victim of “communal violence” (actually a neat 6 from each religion) in that town itself, while hundreds had died across India. “Hindu Bigots”, “cannibals from VHP”, “Marauding Shiv Sainiks” or plain “Bajrangis” had become the favourite punching bags of newspaper editorials. Indian intelligentsia was almost apologetic about being a Hindu in Hindustan. The Khan Baba murder was a reminder of that “heartless Hindu cannibalism”.
Television was still limited to the sanitised 8:40 PM “samachar” on Doordarshan, yet Mark Tully had given India’s first satellite television images of “Karsevaks” climbing up the Babri Masjid and had also declared in his unmistakable baritone that “Right-wing Hindu nationalists” had destroyed the “disputed structure”. It was December 1992, when cities and towns across India were used to day long curfews and communal clashes, yet the Khan Baba episode was even picked by a few national dailies as a human side-story of communal hatred. The “Hindus” in that town had suddenly become defensive, even those who had whole-heartedly supported the Ram Janam Bhoomi Andolan had gone into a shell, the cold-blooded murder of a “nice old man” like Khan Baba who had no prejudice against the Hindus was simply inexplicable. After the 8th day of curfew the violence finally subsided, it was as if the collective conscience of an entire town had been awakened suddenly; Hindus and Muslims had all realised that enough was really enough. In that one final act of kindness, Khan Baba in his death had rescued a murderous town.
A week later, police investigations revealed that Khan Baba was murdered by his brother-in-law due to a property dispute; nobody could have guessed that this decrepit Fakir owned 6 acres of ancestral land and a house in a nearby village. Of course, no bold headlines in newspapers declared “brother-in-law the killer”, by then the obituaries had stopped, but the collective Hindu guilt has continued to live a life of its own.
A nation of Karsevaks
Nehruvian socio-political assertions and the Mahatma’s religiously tolerant interventions had left India with an unbearable weight of being. For more than 45 years India was atoning for its sins of partition, for dividing Bharat Mata, for the killing of Muslim brethren, for Ghodse’s bullets. It was a uniquely one-sided guilt trip of the Hindu conscience that was supposed to overlook the omissions and commissions of the other side, for Hinduism took the high moral ground of offering the proverbial other cheek. As India continued to live a life of self-imposed austerity with Mark IV Ambassador cars and lightening trunk calls that took 18 hours to materialize, through a derogatory “Hindu growth rate” era of 4%, the atonement for sins continued on a parallel track. When Jawaharlal Nehru gifted Kashmir to the Abdullahs, it was considered to be part of that atonement package. When Indira Gandhi gave unbridled access to Bangladeshi infiltrators into Assam and Bengal, it was considered as a large-hearted gesture of Hindustan. When Rajiv Gandhi decided to stop the 120 Rs alimony to a 70 year old divorcee as a mark of respect to Sharia, it was considered as a part of the penance for past Hindu sins. When had the thin line separating penance from vote-bank politics disappeared is anybody’s guess; did that line ever exist is a different question all together.
45 years of guilt trip is one too many. India as a nation was looking for deliverance. The Hindu was tired with his penance; he now needed a different narrative. As Swami Vivekananda had suggested much earlier, it was time to go out there and play out our battles rather than continuing to read the Gita. Women stood on the roadsides with aartis in their hands, men wearing tilaks on their foreheads waited to shed their passivism, young ones played and sang songs from the popular television series, Ramayan. Thus rode the man in his chariot across the nation, to alter the Hindu discourse from the one filled with penance to the one filled with assertion and hope. History will remember Lal Krishna Advani as the king who vanquished the collective Hindu guilt and created a nation of Karsevaks.
The disputed structure of Babri Masjid symbolised that guilt, more than that, it symbolised the synonymic nature of appeasement with secularism. It had to be brought down, there was no alternative. No matter the retrospective apologies or the assertion of that being “the saddest day of their collective lives”, the inevitability of Babri’s destiny shall always remain unquestionable. That entire Ram Janam Bhoomi movement was not just a socio-cultural or emotional awakening of the Hindu thought process, but also for the first time in India’s political history the hidden value of the Hindu vote was unlocked. Since then it has been an irreversible process. Hindu evolutionary history of the last century owes as much to Lal Krishna Advani as it does to Mahatma Gandhi, for every religion needs such revisions from time to time.
The riots across the nation that followed December 6th are often used by the mainstream media and Indian intelligentsia as an albatross around Hindutva’s neck, as if it was a continuous process; let it be clear that they were two different events. Even the “cause and effect” theory is nothing but an attempt to impose the same old secular guilt on the collective conscience. What mesmerized the left-libbers then was that Hindus did not remain passive spectators; like many a times in the past; when the Muslims resorted to violence after the 6th. It signalled the beginning of the end of secular-socialism and also demonstrated that appeasement politics could not be carried on in perpetuity. From that moment in history of Hindu nationalism to the post-modern digital re-birth of “Internet-Hindus”, India has come a long way, yet the shadow of that Babri Mosque continues to haunt us.
The decadal cycle of Babri
In an eerie coincidence, every ten years since 1992, India has been witness to large-scale polarization along religious lines as a Karmic reminder to India’s tryst with Hindutva. If 1992 is taken as a starting point with the Ayodhya movement and the rise of the Hindu nationalism, then the 2002 post Godhra-riots is the continuing link in that chain. What is more, there is an uncanny Babri connection to the events of 2002. When everybody believed that Ayodhya had reached a political dead-end; what with even the ruling BJP only giving lip-service to the once core issue of Hindu political right; suddenly, out of nowhere, a group of 58 Karsevaks returning back from Ayodhya were burnt alive in Godhra. Babri had played its ugly hand once again.
Predictably, news media and intelligentsia of 2002 India played the same game of attempting to apportion all the guilt on to the Hindu conscience by conveniently forgetting the 58 charred bodies on the Sabarmati express. The big difference this time was the presence of television news media which gave an audio-visual paradigm to that convenient narrative of the left-liberal variety. This made all the difference in the world. For instance, try and talk to a not-so-politically-aware average Indian middle class Hindu youngster about 2002 Gujarat/Godhra riots and you will realize that he is mostly unaware or vaguely associates the riots with some kind of a “train incident”. Whereas on the other hand, the first image that he/she would conjure up is that of Narendra Modi. To that extent it has been the success story of news media induced guilt trip version 2.0. Also in a major departure from the previous decade, the entire onus of guilt has been bestowed upon one individual, and one individual only.
The irony of 2002 is that secularism in India is willing to do business with absolutely anybody today just to attribute tyranny to Modi. So much so, that even the Hindutva poster boys of the previous decade could be certified with bona-fide secularism, if it achieves the solitary goal of keeping the “tyrant” at bay.
2012 and the alter-narrative
Azad Maidan gathering and the follow-up violence along with the silent-spectator attitude adopted by Mumbai police under the leadership of Arup Patnaik has received tremendous support from the same left-liberal ecosystem that has been up in arms against the Modi govt. in Gujarat for more than a decade. It is once again the same old story of guilt by virtue. We are subtly being told by the mainstream media to be sympathetic towards the causative factors of Assam violence and an even more distant and even more falsified Muslim massacre of Myanmar. The Hindu should not only be ready to accept others guilt and offer penance for it, but also should be sensitive to others pain areas in the first place.
Imagine, if unfortunately, there were about 58 charred bodies of Muslims somewhere in the vicinity of Mumbai on the 11th of August 2012. The entire gamut of Indian intelligentsia, the whole gangs of editorial pontificators, the rainbow spectrum of television anchors including wives, husbands and children would have all imposed such mammoth guilt on to the Hindus that the whole nation would have been “ashamed”. Hindu men would be expected to offer their heads in sheer guilt. Hindu women would then have to offer themselves for being raped as an act of penance. As for the police, they would be expected to create new “history” by remaining silent and improve the Muslim-Police relationship by suspending any non-silent cops and freeing the rioters. Yet after all that self-flagellation, future generations would be continuously reminded of those charred bodies for ever. Come to think of it, Indian mainstream news media and the left-liberal intelligentsia would have almost succeeded in their agenda, but for an obnoxious technological intervention.
The enduring image of Azad Maidan violence of 2012 is not a group of Karsevaks on top of a dilapidated tomb. It is not even that of a chief minister or a politician. It is the image of two lowlife criminals desecrating the memorial of the Unknown Soldier who laid down his life so that those lowlifes could breathe the fresh air of freedom. That is the alter-narrative of internet and social media which has destroyed all the best laid plans of mainstream media, which has now forced them and their favourite UPA2 government to use blockade tactics as the last measure of a bankrupt regime.
The Azad Maidan riots and the consequent reactions were just a small manifestation of the festering anger across India. The anger at one level is that of a Frankenstein monster who has been fed on the other side’s guilt for so long that he no longer accepts anything less than abject surrender. At another level it is the logical trajectory of the rising tide of Hindutva, which pundits always mistake to be in linear propagation and presume its death at every ebb. A decade after 2002, we are living in a highly polarized state right from Assam to UP to Mumbai to Bangalore, thus maintaining the balance of that decadal cycle. Mysteriously, there is at least an indirect partial connection to the Babri shadow on this latest cycle of polarization. The Muslim anger across India today can be traced to a beginning in the Allahabad high court judgement in the Babri Masjid demolition case, which also marked the other beginning – that of best-laid-secular-media plans going awry for the first time since 2004.
Epilogue: In the March of this year, the national media went berserk over the birth of a new dynast in the form of UP chief minister. As soon as SP won the mandate to rule India’s largest state, the junior Yadav and his camera friendly wife became the darling of the Delhi media circles, who chose to forgive all the past hooliganism and criminal antecedents of the Samajwadis to believe in an Akhilesh Yadav mirage. Akhilesh’s chief ministership will probably go down as the shortest political honeymoon in India’s electoral history. In a span of less than 6 months there is not only a sharp divide in UP but also waves of anti-incumbency against the blatantly communal Goondaraj. Unfortunately, the Samajwadis have not yet realized that a purely Muslim-Yadav vote bank is not sustainable in the long term as the Muslims are constantly in the lookout for greener pastures (both literally and figuratively). In this transformation of Uttar Pradesh (in a span of 6 months) is another story of India’s liberal media adaptation; the moment they realized that their new found favourite dynast was not fitting into their narrative template and was rather busy in letting loose his goons, the media instead of taking him on, simply managed to close their eyes and forget him. Thus we have no coverage, forget outrage, about the Mathura-Bareilly riots or the Bamian-isation of Lucknowi Muslims. Meanwhile, UP, the land of the Babri, is heading into the depths of oceanic proportions of polarization.
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