[Image courtesy Hindu]
One of the principal, if not the principal scourge of the Indian political system is the cynical use of targeted intimidation as a populist political weapon. Deep divisions run without our country with persistent narratives of fear, historical notions of “hurt”, and generational denial of opportunities. Political parties have realized that the lowest hanging fruit is pandering to this, through violence or the threat of violence. The message is simple. While your elected representatives may not be able to provide basic amenities, they can surely facilitate “revenge” and “maintenance of morality” and “self-confidence” , where the latter is invariably defined by the subjugation of some other group.
There is also an implicit assurance given to the rank and the file , “engage in violence that is aligned with our party’s identification of enemies and we will ensure you do not pay for the legal consequences”. This is why even moderately important perpetrators, identified with the party, are never punished, sometimes not even one (as in 1984), because justice meted out would be seen to be a betrayal of the compact between high-command and cadre. Thus you have the riots of Gujarat, Delhi, J&K, Assam, the anti-“foreigner” agitations in Mumbai and Assam, the politically-directed intimidation of the Communists in Bengal (now they call themselves Trinamool), where the only thing that changes across states and political parties is the scale, never the principle, nor the non-delivery of justice.
One would have thought that if there was any true revolution that AAP and Kejriwal would bring to this country, it would be its ability to move beyond this old way of politics. Arguably it’s a low bar for achievement, but even being able to accomplish that would be quite significant, given the Indian political context.
So how did Kejriwal fare on that count?
Now one can say that in his brief period of office, there were no communal riots in Delhi. How creditable is that? Not much, because in a way, we have moved beyond the days of classical communal riots in urban areas, simply because the proliferation of cell-phone-cameras and news channels makes it impossible for politicians to move with impunity through the streets of a Delhi or an Ahmedabad, carrying weapons and words of hate, without the images being flashed across the nation. In other words, real-time information has killed the communal riot in major cities. But it still has not in other parts of the country, as attested to by the Muzaffarnagar riots, where the media focus is less severe.
So coming back to AAP and their Delhi government, let’s repeat. There were no communal riots in those 49 days. That indeed is true. And AAP does not play on the religious divide. That also is true.
However the rhetoric of AAP has never been temperate. When it comes to vaguely-identified “class-enemies” like “politicians” and “bike hue mediawaalon” the vitriol has been as trenchant and as abusive (Yes Mr. Roadies I am looking at you) and as threatening (send all who promoted Modi in media to jail) as the worst of the others. Much of AAP is fuelled by anger, as this ad brings out.
Every political party claims that their anger is righteous and AAP does so, but it’s still there. The anger.
Why is that a problem?
Mr. Somnath Bharti is an extremely popular leader of the AAP and can be found in many pictures, standing right next to Arvind Kejriwal. He was the Law Minister in the Kejriwal government and his actions at Khirki extension, and this I personally know from my FB Wall, are soundly defended by supporters of AAP.
The logic of the defense is instructive, in that it provides an insight into why Mr. Bharti did what he did and how it taps into this sense of anger.
Let’s repeat the chorus. “African men fight on the roads.” “African men sell drugs”, “African women are selling sex”, which if you look at some of the interviews of Khirki residents comes down to “African women have strange men coming into their apartments at odd hours of the night”, where the assumption is that independent women having multiple partners necessarily implies that they are engaged in prostitution and even if they are not, consensual sexual behavior immediately demands action from the authorities. As supporting evidence of their anti-cultural activities, we are shown traces of fluids in cars, which if I am not wrong, is proof that someone had sex in a parked vehicle, which again if I am not wrong, seems to be an issue important enough to require intervention by the state. There were whispers of a sex “racket” (“Eyes Wide Shut”-type I am guessing) with Chief Minister Kejriwal going on record blaming sex and drug rackets for rape, which is of course patently untrue but something that his core-constituents, angry men, would shake their heads in agreement to, because, as we all know, nothing is more threatening to the fabric of civilization than other people enjoying sex whereas you can’t.
But for now, let’s assume all of the accusations are true. That they are drug-traders. That they are prostitutes. That the police know all of this but are bribed to keep quiet. That controlling drug and sex rackets would reduce rape. If these indeed were true, why did AAP government conduct no raids at GB road, where prostitution activities in Delhi are considered to be historically centered? Surely if the Chief Minister believes in what he said, should he not have his acolytes start with a cleanup from the biggest source of stench? If the aim was to bust drug rackets or control violent African men, why did the honorable minister go to the house of a woman who would at best be an user? Not to mention the fact that a forcefully done drug-test, where police enter a house without probable cause based on the pressure of a mob and a minister, is perhaps as severe a curtailment of civil liberties as one can possibly imagine and would be riddled with holes by any defense attorney, should the intent was prosecution.
The answer is simple. This wasn’t not about busting a drug racket or a sex racket or to clean up Delhi or to prevent rapes. It was to satisfy the “aam aadmi” that had voted for AAP, to pander to their prejudices, to satisfy their “kya aap gusse mein hai” souls and show “them” (these nefarious “others”) who is the boss. And guess what?
It worked. [Link]
Following last week’s midnight raid led by Delhi’s Law Minister Somnath Bharti at the homes of African nationals accused of drug and sex trafficking at Khirki Extension, the Africans, mainly women, have begun moving out.
Most of the 300 African nationals living in the south Delhi neighbourhood find themselves vulnerable since the raid and have been keeping a low profile, even avoiding the press. Almost 100 of them have left the area so far.
It worked for the AAP.
The Khirki residents love Bharti and AAP. They don’t care that the woman was innocent or that the whole thing was illegal or that or that Bharti, the Law Minister no less, incessantly shows the law his middle-finger (he did not appear in front of Delhi’s Woman’s Commision and instead went to a kite-flying ceremony)
On the contrary, that the law does not apply while their concerns are being addressed is precisely what makes them feel that the government cares for them.
This is exactly why communal riots have always been such a good thing politically in India. They allow “hurt” people to vent, to express their emotions, to get back their self-confidence. And not letting the law be applied to rioters and even triggering them, it’s how politicians show they care.
Sure no one got killed at Khirki. But that was just an accident, because as I said it is difficult to do mob-kills in Delhi these days and also I do not believe the schism between Khirki residents and the African immigrants was so deep and violent that there would be murder.
This little hustle-bustle was more on the lines of “This is a decent neighborhood where we live with our sisters and mothers. Stay within moral limits or get out.”
Essentially mohalla gunda-gardi.
And with that being what they wanted, they got exactly that.
In case you have the time, watch Muthalik of Sriram Sene explain the bar incident. What he says should sound chillingly familiar in this context. Local residents complain about drugs and sex that is supposedly happening in the pubs. Local residents complain that the police station does nothing despite repeated complaints because they are on the take. Which leaves Sri Ram Sene to do what needs to be done. Since obviously they do not rule,and hence can’t bring police along, they do the next thing. Get the mob to the pubs. And we know what happens after that.
The thing is that while Muthalik has been the target of much hatred and has been inundated with pink chaddis (and rightfully so), Bharti has not been taken apart (and he deserves to be) nor has been mailed objects like say dildos. I have a hypothesis as to why but laying that out here would just be a diversion. Maybe sometime later.
Which brings us to Kejriwal. What did he do in response to Mr. Bharti’s adventure? Well he could have done three things.
He could have taken the moral high ground and expelled Bharti. That would have set an example.
He could have stayed silent. This is what politicians often do when they disapprove of a colleague’s action but realize that opposition expressed in public would be not politically expedient. While Kejriwal claims he is not a politician, (and we all know he is), he could have at least done that.
But no. What he did was totally different. He strongly endorsed what Bharti did and even went on a dharna protesting police inaction. In other words, the only problem Mr. Kejriwal perceived in the illegal raid was that the police did not support Bharti, that they did not slap their heels, salute and fall in line behind this state-supported excess?
I am sorry but how different is this from every other Indian politician since independence? How does this show a commitment against intimidation or respect for the rule of law? How does this square with the narrative that “Hum tuccha hain naganaya hai” when what you are demanding is that you have the power to set the law as you please?
I remember a comment posted on my FB Wall by an AAP supporter. His comment was “Have you stayed in Khirki Extension? Do you know what the residents want? AAP did what no other government did.”
You see, this line of reasoning stems from a basic misunderstanding of the notion of democracy. Democracy means that people choose their leaders. It does not mean that people directly set policies. If they do, then that becomes majoritarianism, rule by the mob, or what the Greeks called ochlocracy. The mob does not get to decide who lives and who goes, or what economic policy should be or who is the enemy and who isn’t. They do not get to decide if they want to form their Islamic Khaliphate where minorities are eviscerated (yes that’s basically the referendum on Kashmir) nor do they get to get to decide if same-gotra marriages should be made illegal (yes that’s what many people in some states of India actually want).
AAP’s core philosophy of “SMS democracy” is based on these questionable interpretation of democracy. Thus, the more successful their model of democracy becomes, the more their actions will mimic the prejudices of their core constituencies and most importantly, reflect the wish of the mob to make their own laws.
Because, hey, the way they understand it, that’s democracy.
The law, in the Kejriwal narrative, is a construct imposed by the corrupt to rule the innocent. Hence flouting it is an act of bravado. So Bharti is a hero. Kejriwal is a hero. Why? Because he refused to follow the accepted procedures for tabling the Jan Lok Pal and resigned, because as we all know, sab bhrast hai.
And yet, when it suits them, Kejriwal is a stickler for the law, and for audits and for procedures.
So basically the exact same hypocrisy that characterizes all of our political parties. The law is evil when it suits us. The law is sacrosanct when it suits us.
In essence, that’s what Kejriwal is. Another politician. And that’s what AAP is. Just another party.
The revolution they promised.
I am still waiting for that.