In early 2009, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC mounted an exhibition using Nazi propaganda material — posters, movies, newspapers, pamphlets, paintings — to show how the Fascists skilfully, subtly, spread the venom of anti-Semitism; to show how these messages, this propaganda, helped to create and nurture a climate of hate so widespread, so embedded in the collective psyche, that an entire nation stood by and watched, with indifference and even with a “they had it coming” acceptance, as over 6 million Jews were ruthlessly harvested and slaughtered in what Hitler, cloaking murderous intent in mundane words, called “the final solution”.
One of the most compelling exhibits of the State of Deception exhibit was a painting, commissioned by the Nazis, that showed a young Hitler speaking to a handful of followers. The circa 1937 painting, by Hermann Otto Hoyer, was used in the exhibition as a riveting example of the power of speech, of propaganda, to normalise unimaginable evil.
The painter titled it ‘In the beginning was the word‘, a reference to the first line of the Gospel according to John: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.’
In the beginning was the word…
Ajay Singh Bisht, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, opened his campaign for the Delhi elections yesterday. And this is his opening gambit:
Watch a clever, calculating, cold-blooded demagogue at work — a man who rose to power on the back of the muscle power of his own private militia, a man who on assuming power cancelled all the serious charges that had piled up against himself and his fellow-travellers, a man who has so normalised violence and hate in the state he rules that even as he was campaigning in Delhi, this happened in his home state and caused barely a ripple:
Boli se nahin manega to…
What boli? Where has the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, even attempted to talk to the protestors at JMI, at JNU, at Shaheen Bagh? At the over 60 Shaheen Bagh-style 24/7 sit-ins across the country? At the millions who have turned up for protest meetings across every single state in the country?
Bisht’s message is one of sly justification; it asks you to assume that the government has attempted to reason with the protestors — when, on the very same day, Law Minister RS Prasad said the government was “ready” to talk to the protestors. See the orchestration?
Officially, the government — after 50 days of unleashing the full might of its stormtroopers, in police uniform and out of it — is “ready to talk”. Simultaneously, the party’s star campaigner (Bisht has 12 rallies scheduled in a span of six days) plants in your head the thought that talks have failed, and only the “final solution” is left.
It is the time-honoured technique of the Fascist; the pre-emptive justification of the natural born killer. “We are all reasonable men here,” is how Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone opens his “peace” speech to a roomful of the most powerful mafiosi of the fictional time of The Godfather.
Bisht is a reasonable man, pointing out, reasonably and calmly, that the government has exhausted all its options and now has no recourse but to kill.
In the beginning was the word…
Note the calm, matter of fact tones. Note that this is not even incitement to violence — it is an open promise that extreme violence will be used. Note the brazen confidence with which he is able to make such a speech, a confidence that can only stem from the knowledge that all the institutions meant to protect the citizen against such as him — the police, the courts, the election commission machinery — have been suborned, subverted, neutered.
This is what happens when that happens. Activist Saket Gokhale, in a piece of protest-theatre that will enter the textbooks one day, officially asks the Delhi Police for permission to take out a march chanting the goli maro saalon ko slogan — and the police actually grant him permission because in the times we live in, even the police are no longer sure about what is legal and what is not, what is permissible and what is not.
The permission has since been revoked and Gokhale, in turn, responded with a perfectly valid question — if a Minister can do it, if crowds of people can march along Delhi streets chanting it with impunity, then why can’t he?:
Saket’s peskiness invites an involuntary giggle. But when you are done laughing, think of what this incident tells you. Think of how badly the police have been hamstrung that it has to twist itself into pretzels in a situation where, in more normal times, it would not only have denied permission outright but even acted against the petitioner for daring to so openly seek to defy the laws of the land. How did this come about? Because of what the ruling party has systematically done, what it has enabled. Thus:
Map Bisht’s words to Amit Shah’s campaign opener — ‘In logon ko sazaa deni chahiye ya nahin?’. Map that to Anurag Thakur leading a crowd in chants of goli maro saalon ko. Map that to BJP MP Parvesh Verma, in a highly communal campaign speech, saying in as many words that the people of Shaheen Bagh will enter “your homes” to “rape, kill, your wives and daughters”.
There it is, the saffron rag waved to both enrage the mob and to permit, even provoke, violence. In its immediate aftermath the Hindu Sena — yet another of the private militias the saffron brigade privately operates and publicly distances itself from — called its followers for direct action against Shaheen Bagh today, February 2. It called for the militia to “do what the police is unable to”. It made the call openly, its president spoke to camera with that same sense of impunity that characterises the speeches of Bisht, of Thakur, of Shah.
The plan has since been called off; the “Sena” making a virtue out of necessity by claiming that its action was being used by anti-national forces to create a “riot-like situation” — a classic example of how the right wing projects onto the “enemy” what it intends to do.
Remember, though, the words of the Hindu Sena’s call to action: It calls on Jats and Gujjars to unite and take radical action against Shaheen Bagh. And on the exact same day:
Kapil Gujjar, responding to the call. (Scroll has a round up of videos of his attack). Justifying it. Cloaking it, normalising it, with the “Jai Shri Ram” chant that — in an ultimate insult to the maryada purushottam the saffron brigade has totemised — has been subverted into a war cry of the hate-mongers. Why did he do it?:
“Kyunki humaare desh mein aisa nahi chahta, humaare desh ek Hindu rashtra vaadi kshetra hai
There it is, the justification the RSS and the BJP have used historically to justify their hate-filled agenda, their genocidal intent.
Pause for just a second, here, to see how the BJP hate machine operates. The party did not have any official comment, no condemnation, on Verma’s nakedly rabble-rousing speech. But on Saturday, from among the 303 MPs it could have picked from, the party chose Parvesh Verma to move the motion of thanks in response to President Kovind’s pre-Budget speech.
That is how you enable — by maintaining a studied silence on an issue, then doing something that sends a signal to both party and base that you are absolutely ok with the action.
In this connection, note that the Prime Minister is yet to say a single word about the hate-mongering his party is engaged in, and about three discrete acts of violence that are a direct outcome of the campaign vitriol.
In this connection, remember too that Amit Shah in a campaign speech defined the choice facing Delhi voters as being between “Narendra Modi , who conducted airstrikes and surgical strikes on Pakistan’s soil to kill terrorists, and on the other, there are these people who back Shaheen Bagh. You have to decide.”
Remember that this speech was made some three hours after a gunman had fired at protestors at Jamia Milia Islamia University, injuring one.
In the beginning was the word…
Now see this: The BJP’s new campaign song, released yesterday, the same day a gunman fired twice at the protestors in Shaheen Bagh. Consider the opening gambit:
Samay aa gaya chalo nikalein Dilli se dharne waalon ko
Yaad karo urban naxal ko empower karne waalon ko
It is time we evict those sitting on protest in Delhi
Remember those who empower Urban Naxals
Bharat ab lachar nahi to, Dilli hi lachar rahe kyun
Sabak sikhao bharat ke uthan se darne waalon ko
India is no longer helpless, why should Delhi be
Teach a lesson to those who fear the rise of India
Listen to the words (Scroll has the full lyrics), watch the accompanying imagery.
This is the party governing India; the party that already controls law and order in the national capital; the party that is now campaigning to control what is in effect a glorified municipality.
(Remember that in the run up to the 2014 elections, the BJP had at its national executive meeting in Delhi adopted a formal resolution that it would grant full statehood to Delhi if it came to power. That this promise was part of its 2014 election manifesto. Remember that when it comes to divisive acts such as the CAA, the BJP points virtuously to its manifesto and says, oh, but we said we would. Remember that statehood to Delhi, a promise made in 2014, has not been spoken about since. Ask yourself why).
This party, so totally devoid of issues, so completely barren of ideas, so aware of its own lack of ideology and appeal, is now nakedly, openly, falling back on the one thing it knows to do: sow hate; incite violence; then point to that violence, and to the resulting toll, to ask for votes. And the hell with the cost.
“Teach a lesson“.
In the beginning was the word. And the word was hate.