Threat of a civil war
Is the preservation and strengthening of democracy an objective for this government, or is democracy just a means to achieve certain political objectives? When a choice exercised by his predecessor is certainly available at the disposal of the Prime Minister, why is it not even tried?
Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a speech to the parliament, talked about the possibility of a civil war. Since he was not speaking in an election campaign rally for his party, it should not be considered as political rhetoric or a Jumala. Hopefully, one of the Union Cabinet Ministers’ assertions that Delhi’s Chief Minister is a terrorist, adding that enough proof exists was a Chunaavi Jumala. During the Gujarat assembly election, the Prime Minister himself alleged that former PM Dr Manmohan Singh tried to conspire with Pakistan to unseat him. Since no actions have been initiated against Dr Manmohan Singh by government agencies in this regard, we have grounds to understand that it was an act of Jumala. This time, however, Prime Minister Modi spoke about the possibility of a civil war in the parliament, which must be treated as a considerate position of his government, and not another Jumala.
One of the most salient features of a civil war, or even a civil war-like situation, is the loss of legitimacy of the central government. In this situation, at least two factions in the society not only come to a direct conflict with each other but also acquire significant powers aimed at overthrowing the government. How have we reached this position within 6 years of a very strong government under a stronger leadership at the centre? Is the Prime Minister signalling that neither his political party nor his government has any control over the armed goons that are threatening his opposition in the national capital? Is it because of such a loss of authority that the head-strong muscle-strong Home Ministry has failed to arrest any of the masked culprits who unleashed unprecedented violence against the students and teachers in JNU on 5th January? Those with guns who are targeting protesters at Shaheen Bagh are not scaring those women, youth, and children. They are challenging the authority of the Government, the Prime Minister, aren’t they? If so, we are certainly in the midst of an unprecedented situation.
We, the people of India, are now presented with three interlinked political scenarios. One, a fascistic government wherein detention centres, massive use of force, and the labelling of any kind of opposition as traitors have become the new political normal. The use of force, extra judicial killings, and keeping the opponents or disliked groups in the detention centres are going to be the means against ‘traitors.’ The second scenario is that of civil disobedience. People who are fearful and concerned of an authoritarian government turning into a fascist regime have decided to launch a movement against such a government, and are also contemplating civil disobedience against some of the policy measures. The existence of these two scenarios at the same time is a special case.
Ideally, in a fascist regime, there would not be any scope for public protests, which makes a civil disobedience a distant possibility. The inferences here are two-fold. One, a large number of people suspect the intentions of the government to turn India into a fascist state, which is why they are out protesting on the streets. Two, the state in India is not fascist yet because significant sections in society – the intellectuals, sections of youth and women, tribal, minority and Dalits – are conscious of their democratic rights, the importance of democracy for the protection of their rights, and also about the consequences of a fascist regime. Thus, significant sections of society not being fascist themselves, nor endorsing fascism by the government, is preventing the Indian state from becoming a fascist one. These sections, according to the Prime Minister, are now creating conditions of civil war in India. There is a third scenario. Two sections of society – one favouring more authoritarianism, whilst the other is determined to prevent a natural march of authoritarianism into fascism – are at odds with each other. In such a scenario, a civil war could erupt if the government remains neutral and allows two sections of society to sort things out between themselves on the streets, with both sections indulging in a free for all against each other. In such a scenario, is the government likely to be neutral? Are the protesters themselves indulging in large scale violence against those supporting and demanding more authoritarianism in the country? Are the supporters of the government’s authoritarian measures taking the law into their own hands to ‘teach’ the protesters a lesson or two? We, as a society, and the government, need to honestly search for the answers to these questions.
Another important characteristic of civil war occurs when a considerable number of civil servants or members of armed forces disobey the government’s orders and take the side of one of the factions. The resignation of a handful of bureaucrats because of disagreements on political issues is certainly not a sign of the country heading towards civil war, but these are signals of growing discomfort against the regime of the day, which may culminate in civil disobedience. Similarly, the resolutions by some of the state assemblies and state cabinets against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Population Register (NPR) could lead to civil disobedience and not a civil war. The question is how much is the Prime Minister willing to do to avoid a scenario of civil disobedience or a civil war without turning the Indian state into fascism? Or, does the government and the ruling party view such scenarios as opportunities for themselves to further use authoritarian means against their political opponents in pursuit of their political agenda of establishing a Hindu Rashtra?
8 years ago too, the country was on the verge of anarchy, if not civil war. Agitators often thronged large areas in Delhi – much larger than the Shaheen Bagh protest – that included Ramlila Maidan, India Gate, Jantar Mantar, Parliament Street, and even the roads leading to Rashtrapati Bhavan. The government of the day had two choices at the time. Either crack down on the agitators and put them behind bars or engage with them and try to find a solution. Dr Manmohan Singh preferred the second choice, not because he was a weak Prime Minister, but because he had democratic convictions. 8 years later, Mr Narendra Modi is turning out to be a weak Prime Minister with his inability to engage with different sections of society. This inability is often masked by pretensions of strong policies that raise doubts as to this regime’s democratic credentials. Is the preservation and strengthening of democracy an objective for this government, or is democracy just a means to achieve certain political objectives? When a choice exercised by his predecessor is certainly available at the disposal of the Prime Minister, why is it not even tried? Without serious attempts to reach out to the protesters and political parties in the opposition, why did the Prime Minister choose to talk about the possibility of civil war? Did the Prime Minister mention the impending civil war as an act of caution or a call in itself?