The minority vigilante groups may have several motivations, but the vigilante of the majority is undoubtedly for the subjugation of minorities.
India is experiencing a spate of violence with incidents of lynching in different parts of the country. Citizens are helpless and the government is unresponsive.
Over a couple of decades, BJP has grown on vigilante politics rooted in the Hindutva ideology of the RSS, which is a distorted interpretation of Hinduism. The major vigilante act by the Hindutva affiliates was the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992. The demolition was carried out by outfits sympathetic to BJP.
Yogi Adityanath, the present chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, founded the vigilante group “Hindu Yuva Vahini” in Uttar Pradesh in 2002. He became the chief minister in March 2017 when BJP secured three-fourth of majority in the state assembly elections. He continues to be the chief patron of the “Hindu Yuva Vahini”. The organization has charges against them for the Mau riots of 2005 and during the Gorakhpur unrest of 2007.
The BJP’s polarization tactics won them the election in 2014 paving way for Narendra Modi to become the Prime Minister. Modi faced allegations of collusion in 2002 Gujarat riots while being the chief minister of the state but was given a clean chit.
The political leaders emerging out of majoritarian vigilante politics tend to be authoritarian because they are the product of emotions of fear and anger hence need to appear tough and decisive. They realize that they are in power despite the law and therefore don’t care about it.
People across the country are unable to enjoy their freedom on things such as where to go, whom to befriend and marry, or what to eat and say.
In a press briefing, the Uttar Pradesh police claimed that under the anti-Romeo campaign they questioned nearly 7.5 lakh people and issued a warning to nearly half the number. 11 students of Lucknow University spent 20 days in jail for protesting against a program in which Yogi was participating.
The new chief minister closed illegal slaughter houses. There were also new rules issued by the central government effectively wiping out the meat industry, and rendering millions of people without any means of livelihood.
In November 2016, the Prime Minister declared 86% of the country’s currency frozen, causing hardship, chaos and death. Amartya Sen called this a “despotic action”. The government rejected 43 names out of 77 names that the Supreme Court Collegium had recommended for appointment to various high courts as it was in a battle over control of the appointment of judges after the Supreme Court struck down National Judicial Appointment Commission Act asserting its independence under the Constitution. The government also raided the owners of NDTV in the backdrop of the ruling party’s spokesperson accusing the media house of bias and agenda on a live programme. The raids were described by the noted constitutional expert, Fali Nariman as an attempt to de-legitimize media.
In a society where violence is legitimized to achieve political ends, authoritarian tendencies emerge at the expense of the rule of law, order and civility. However, given India’s long tradition of plurality, Gandhian legacy and a cosmopolitan middle class these aberrations are likely to be fiercely challenged.
Pushkar Raj is a Melbourne based researcher and author