Minorities’ faith in institutions needs to be guarded
If at all a harmonious, prosperous, India is our vision, Muslim disagreement with the ideology of Hindutva should not be allowed to transform into Muslim alienation with all institutions that sustain the state.
Two incidents that took place in the wake of the Delhi riots are symptomatic of how institutions expected to sustain the state in India are not just unwilling to play their role but are even punishing people who wish to perform their duties the way they ought to be.
Hours after Justice Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court grilled the Delhi Police for not taking action against those who made provocative speeches in the run-up to the riots, he was transferred by the Centre to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The Supreme Court collegium had recommended his transfer two weeks back, but the fact that the Centre notified it just after he asked why FIRs should not be registered against four BJP leaders – including Kapil Mishra, whose provocative speech was followed by rioting in parts of the capital -- who had made incendiary statements made the decision spark controversy. He had asked the Delhi Police to appear on Thursday with a status report.
This incident isn’t the only one.
The Centre was also quick to place under suspension civil servant Ashish Joshi for writing to the Delhi Police Commissioner against a controversial video uploaded by Kapil Mishra. No reason was offered for the suspension.
Coming at a time when there is deep concern over the riots in Delhi – in which 34 people have been reported dead till now – these decisions are ominous.
For decades, institutions in India were seen to be robust. And this was seen as a crucial difference between India and its immediate neighbours. India was a stable democracy with a relatively apolitical bureaucracy, an independent judiciary and a free press, for decades on end.
And it is these institutions that not only sustained India but also ensured that there was normative space for justice for people, across religion and caste.
Significantly, marginal groups in India – like its 16-percent Dalits and 14-% Muslims – have seen these institutions, many drawing their legitimacy and their powers from the constitution itself, as central to democracy.
If the idea of an Indian culture or civilization remains important for many who are seen as culturally “mainstream”, the constitution and values like secularism and social justice are sacrosanct for religious minorities and disadvantaged caste groups.
The institutional bulwark of the nation is, unfortunately, showing signs of weakness in recent years. And the above two executive decisions suggest this.
These decisions are part of a pattern due to which many commentators and citizens – particularly from the disadvantaged groups – no longer have faith that these institutions can offer justice even in a normative sense.
The complaint isn’t just delays in the system – something Indian faced for years – but the inability of the system to be seen as standing on the side of justice.
The CAA aftermath
The passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was itself a hasty move. The government got it passed easily in the Lok Sabha, given its brute majority there. In the Rajya Sabha, opposition parties like the Congress said that it may be violative of Article 14 of the constitution in the sense that it arbitrarily classifies undocumented people. Opposition members asked the government to send it to a Select Committee for further perusal.
However, even as riots had broken out in Assam, the government chose to put it to vote and won on the basis of some smart floor management that made many regional parties back the Bill.
After this, there have been constant protests. The protests at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi are more than two months old, and similar protests are being seen in many locations across the country.
The protests – with rare instances of violence – followed the rulebook to near perfection. They were peaceful. And they chose to have the tricolor, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. BR Ambedkar as their symbols.
Protesters were insistent they would continue to protest till CAA was withdrawn. In Shaheen Bagh, Muslim women became the pivot of the protest, with people across communities joining it.
However, this peaceful protest – the BJP itself had seen the peaceful protest of social activist Anna Hazare some years back for a tough Lokpal law as legitimate – attracted the choicest of invective from members of the ruling party.
Matters took a turn for the worse just before Delhi elections, with Home Minister Amit Shah asking people to press the button on the electoral voting machine so hard that the current travels to Shaheen Bagh. Union minister Anurag Thakur raised a provocative slogan, with the crowd repeating after him that “traitors should be shot”. BJP leader Parvesh Verma also made a provocative speech. These seemed to have an instant effect, with incidents of armed men firing shots, one of which injured a Jamia Millia Islamia student.
After the BJP’s electoral loss – and Shah’s statement that provocative speeches could be the reason for the defeat – BJP leader Kapil Mishra made another provocative speech, telling Delhi Police that it would not be able to prevent people from forcefully evicting protesters if it didn’t remove them within three days.
This was followed by rioting, with armed men taking to the streets. The police was accused of reacting late, which led to many people, mostly Muslim but also Hindu, getting killed and scores of people being admitted in hospitals with injuries. A mosque was also desecrated.
After the High Court judge’s transfer, Delhi Police have got a breather, with the bench agreeing with the Solicitor General’s contention that the authorities be given more time.
Dangers of institutional damage
The most dangerous aspect of the turn of events – in which institutions are seen as unwilling to provide immediate relief – is that the faith of minorities, particularly Muslims, in the fair functioning of the state has been shaken. The transfer and suspension orders only make it seem that upright individuals within the system will not be allowed to do their duty.
For decades, Muslims in India had misgivings about the Sangh Parivar in general and the BJP in particular. These had been exacerbated after the party’s spectacular victory in 2014 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, it was institutions that members of the community looked up to when they perceived the executive as oppressive. In other words, the Indian state – drawing its vision from the Indian constitution – was seen as above the fray. The threat, many Muslims felt, came just from one ideology that had grown in power in the last few decades. However, they saw institutions as their defence, as these were seen to be secular. This explains the gusto with which the Ram Janmabhumi title suit and the Babri mosque demolition case were pursued.
Today, there is a real danger that this faith may not be as strong as earlier. When a large minority – accounting for 14-percent of the population – suffers institutional alienation, its ties with the nation-state can get weakened. And if at all a harmonious, prosperous, India is the vision, Muslim disagreement with the ideology of Hindutva should not be allowed to transform into Muslim alienation with all institutions that sustain society.
For, such alienation will be bad for India, for Muslims and also for Hindus.