Driven to the edge
Much like the Naxal crisis, current social unrest gripping the nation regarding the CAA-NRC-NPR triumvirate is a product of inequity and exclusionary politics
Tangible fears have been expressed in certain quarters that India may be on the verge of large-scale social unrest which may emerge as a challenge that is every bit as formidable as the Naxal war being waged against the state. We may recall that India's erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had more than once stated that Naxalism remained the biggest internal security challenge and warned the nation and its future leaders to not underestimate the problem of Naxalism. Therefore, an evaluation in its backdrop is necessary.
Naxalism, the ultra-leftist manifestation of a more than 200-year-old peasant struggle in India was truly nurtured in West Bengal's Naxalbari village in 1967 with an armed revolt led by Comrade Charu Majumdar. Although suppressed in the areas where it initially originated, the movement continues to breed in both its political and violent forms in backward and tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and some parts of Tamil Nadu. Governments have now and then claimed control over the movement and its proponents but periodic reports of armed conflicts negate such governments claims.
But what is important to note is that the Naxalite movement came into being as a result of prevailing social and economic issues. These issues were longstanding and there was no dearth of reform legislation. But the spirit of the law remained confined to paper and the people were left to languish. There was a deeply entrenched feeling of deprivation and inequality.
Known as Naxalites, these ultra-leftists strikes have struck awe and terror in equal parts in vast tracts of central India. Carrying on a bloody legacy of Marx-Lenin and Mao-inspired 'protracted people's war', they had allegedly cultivated links with Nepali Maoists, LTTE of Sri Lanka and even the ISI of Pakistan.
All the regions in which the Naxal movement took hold are ones with alarming levels of poverty and social disparity. With the spread of socialist ideologies, there was a greater mobilisation of the sharecroppers and landless labourers, who mostly belonged to the so-called lower castes and tribes. This polarised the agrarian classes and created an environment of confrontation driven along with a familiar narrative of agitating against the powers to be that propped up this system of inequity.
India of the last half-decade needs to compared to earlier periods in its history. The secular Republic of independent India, nearly seventy years later, appears to be in the midst of the shadow of fear of lynch mobs. In the first six months of 2017, 20 cow vigilantism attacks were reported, more than 75 per cent rise over the 2016 figure. The attacks included mob lynching, attacks by vigilantes, murder and attempt to murder, harassment, assault and gang-rape. In two attacks, the victims/survivors were chained, stripped and beaten, while in two others, the victims were hanged.
The anguish against this mob violence has been palpable amongst a significant section of India's largest minority community, the Muslims. Its presence shows an inept law and order situation and prevents society from facing and handling other serious issues of development.
There is also the dimension of a perceived escalation in such mob-violence over the past few years and its relationship with the rise of right-wing ideology in circles of power. There is a majoritarian denial of reality, that it is the deliberate persecution of minorities based on hate and promotion of an anti-Muslim feeling. Lynching is the majority's way of telling a minority population that the law cannot protect it.
Is it an expression of latent communal prejudice, which has always been there as a symptom of an incomplete democratic project? Communal polarisation has historically been one of the most important phenomena in Southern Asia and regimes in the past had purposefully worked towards ameliorating the sense of fear in the minority groups. But in recent times, not a single instance of strong condemnation by government institutions has been witnessed in these cases.
What is important to bring out is that these occurrences promote a deep sense of inequality and social deprivation. Scholars have established that the aforementioned feelings matter strongly and are the genesis of political violence. The inequality problem in society has been used to explain such diverse phenomena as social deviance, protest and political violence.
In a meaningful democracy, political stability and working within the conventional framework of law and ethics are the two most desired virtues. People across continents have long cherished the dream of living under healthy governance, which has led to them reaffirming the mandate for constitutionally approved governments irrespective of their efficiency levels or experience. Sometimes there is a limit to all that people can brook. Their faith in the legal system fails them, the popular government becomes a toy in the hands of non-constitutional forces, they lose the power to govern even the aspects of their own lives and there is a sense of simmering anarchy. This is not a passing mood, it has been born out of a strong sense of being wronged and alienated amidst their land and property. We are yet to resolve the riddle of the 'National Register of Citizens', regarding which the Chief Minister of West Bengal has already echoed grave anxieties of it essentially being boiled down to an anti-Muslim issue.
We must heed the warning and take note of the Indian Constitution which lays down the nature of Indian polity. The founding fathers of the Indian State had learnt greatly from the values of "Vasudaiva Kutumbkam".
The writer a retired Air Commodore and strategic affairs commentator. Views expressed are strictly personal