Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s supporters say that despite the somewhat uncomfortable figures on economic growth and jobs, his government’s great achievement has been systemic reform in a slew of areas from bankruptcy code to GST and delivery of public services. But in recent times worries have grown, even amongst them, that all this will come to nought if the country’s political and social fabric is ripped apart by the growth of public disorder and vigilante violence, condoned, if not encouraged, by some of the party faithful.
In the best of times India has hardly been a paragon of peace and
virtue. In the 1970s and 1980s there were a succession of communal riots
in UP, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, with Muslims being killed in
disproportionately large numbers; there were the Sikh massacres of 1984.
The rise of the Mandal parties saw a sharp deterioration of law and
order across UP and Bihar.
But the nature of the violence now gripping the land is different. It
is more seemingly random and anarchic. Rupa Subramanya has plotted a
line chart of total incidents of mob violence beginning January 2011.
Her data show a clear rise of incidents per month till June 2017. When
she further deconstructed the data she found a distinct upward trend
ever since BJP came to power in 2014.
In some ways the current spate of violence linked to cows is merely a
subset of the lawlessness that exists in parts of the country,
especially the north. Throwing the head of a cow or a pig in a religious
place of Hindus and Muslims has been a time-tested recipe for
triggering communal violence. India Spend, which has analysed data since
2010, found a spurt in bovine related violence since Modi’s government
came to power. In 2017, 20 cow related attacks have already been
reported, more than 75% of the figure for all of 2016.
There are many reasons for this. Urbanisation is occurring at great
speed and more people are living cheek by jowl in poorly policed and
ramshackle urban and semi-urban sprawls. There has been a massive
proliferation of weapons, including desi firearms, among the populace.
But for the current uptick in violence it is difficult to avoid the
conclusion that it is being used as a systematic strategy to coerce the
minority community and Dalits.
As the man in charge of running the country, PM Modi needs to worry
about the unravelling of the fabric that knits the nation together.
India was rent apart in 1947. This time around the danger is not from
one big event like Partition, but an overall attrition. Since 1947
certain values have shaped what was a collection of provinces and
princely states into this Republic. Foremost among these is the
importance of the safety and security of every citizen and their
equality before the law. There is a distinct impression these days that
some sections close to the ruling party feel that, perhaps, not all
citizens are equal in this country.
Modi has called on states, who are constitutionally responsible for
law and order, to act against vigilantes of all kinds. But his
admonitions, few and far between as they have been, lack his customary
authority. It is difficult to get over the suspicion that the coercion
of India’s largest minority is intrinsically linked to an electoral
project. If so, there is danger ahead. Reducing a significant proportion
of citizens to second class status is neither feasible, nor compatible
with the India Modi says he wants to build.
Sustainable economic growth must be accompanied by a deepening of the
republican and democratic promises of the Constitution. You cannot have
a society where law and order is coming apart, and the economy is
growing. Reversing the growing anarchy, especially in the northern part
of the country, is a precondition for the economic transformation of the
region and the country. Modi’s slogan – sab ka saath, sab ka vikas –
needs to include “sab ki suraksha” as well.
Times of India July 22, 2017