Very nice — in a ‘can you really fool all the people all the time’ sort of way. Modi is an SPG protectee (in fact, he is the only person covered by the SPG). His life is under constant threat — at least, that is what he says during his campaigns. There is a Khalistani terrorist wandering about the country, and all the king’s asses haven’t been able to locate him. No protective unit worth its FN P90 submachine gun will allow a protectee to go wandering about in areas that have not been thoroughly vetted and secured in advance. Or, simply put, there is no such thing as a “surprise visit” by a top-level protectee — it just won’t be permitted.
This would be laughable, if it weren’t frightening — frightening, as an indicator of how the BJP has figured out, correctly, that its core constituency is so very easy to fool. And how it deploys its army of jobless ministers, compromised media, and paid ‘influencers’ to spread the propaganda far and wide. Like, so:
YESTERDAY was Ram Navami. And the “celebrations” involved thugs wearing saffron markers of identity fishing for trouble outside various mosques and Muslim territories across the land: Surat. Mathura. The Dargah Haji Abdulreham Malang Shah mosque, Maharashtra. Jalgaon, Maharashtra. Mumbai, and one more. Gujarat. Jahangirpuri, New Delhi. Khargone, Madhya Pradesh. Kishanganj, Bihar; and Bihar Sharif, Bihar, where a library with over 4500 books was set ablaze. Bulldozers figured in a Ram Navami procession. Hyderabad, where a ‘Tiger’ whose hate speech forced even the BJP to suspend him led a procession, took an oath to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra, and rubbed it all in by including Nathuram Godse in the iconography. (While on iconography, here you go: Ram, shaded in size by Modi and Shah) And in many other places across the land, including in West Bengal.
So here’s a thought: Maybe we need to build more mosques rather than temples since the regime and its stormtroopers believe that no Hindu festival is complete unless it is “celebrated” with acts of vandalism outside Muslim places of worship.
It’s not just the saffron brigade, though. There is a fish shop a 10-minute stroll away from where I live. Despite the ease of ordering online via Fresh to Home and similar outlets, I prefer to get my fish from this shop. I know everyone there; no matter how busy they are, we take turns to get tea from the neighboring outlet; over tea we catch up on news and gossip — everything from how the fishers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala are doing, to the impending elections in Karnataka, to whatever else happens to come up.
This easy camaraderie has unlooked-for advantages. The other day, I was picking out white pomfret while waiting for the usual cup of tea. The guy who cleans the fish caught my eye and discreetly shook his head in a ‘don’t buy’ gesture. Later on, over tea, I asked him why. Not fresh, he said; not good for you. He didn’t seem to have any such qualms when another customer picked out half a dozen of the same fish and asked for them to be cleaned.
Anyway, so I walked over yesterday morning — and found the shop shut. The five men who staff the shop — all Hindus, by the way — were sitting on the step, smoking. Shut today, one of them said. Whyfor? BBMP diktat that no non-veg shops should be open on Ram Navami.
I live in a quiet, secluded neighborhood; I’ve seen such edicts ignored before, without any fuss being made. So what changed now, I asked. I was told that they had opened their shop as usual at 4.30 AM (which is when they take delivery of fresh fish trucked in from the two states to the south). Around six, a group from an apartment complex diagonally across the road had come over and told them to shut down if they didn’t want trouble. Just regular folks, my fisher friends told me, but they were aggressive, they took pictures, they stood there till the shutters were downed.
While walking back home, fish-less, memory threw up something I had read sometime during the Covid lockdown. Here is the passage in full (not from memory; I looked it up):
It doesn’t matter if Trump or Erdogan is brought down tomorrow, or if Nigel Farage had never become a leader of public opinion. The millions of people fired up by their message will still be there, and will still be ready to act on the orders of a similar figure. And unfortunately, as we experienced in Turkey in a very destructive way, even if you are determined to stay away from the world of politics, the minions will find you, even in your personal space, armed with their own set of values and ready to hunt down anybody who doesn’t resemble themselves. It is better to acknowledge — and sooner rather than later — that this is not merely something imposed on societies by their often absurd leaders, or limited to digital covert operations by the Kremlin; it also arises from the grassroots. The malady of our times won’t be restricted to the corridors of power in Washington or Westminster. The horrifying ethics that have risen to the upper echelons of politics will trickle down and multiply, come to your town and even penetrate your gated community. It is a new zeitgeist in the making. This is a historic trend, and it is turning the banality of evil into the evil of banality. For though it appears in different guise in every country, it is time to recognise that what is happening affects us all.Quoted from How To Lose A Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship by Eve Temelkuran
Hindus vandalizing places of worship belonging to other religions to “celebrate” the birthday of a god they have weaponized. And Muslims are stopped from praying inside their own homes and, worse, fined for doing so.
See what Temelkuran meant by the evil of banality?
“The evil that men do lives after them…”, a half-decent poet once wrote. And that is the crux of this problem: around the world, authoritarians are facing a blowback; several have been forced to flee, while others are facing escalating protests. But it no longer matters whether they are in power or not — the evil they have seeded in society has taken deep root.
Meanwhile, we (myself included) sit on the stoop sipping our tea and smoking our cigarettes. While on which, check this out: a flashback to a time when people with standing, with a voice, used that voice, that influence, to speak out against evil:
PostScript: Arvind Kejriwal keeps upping the ante, with his speeches in the ongoing session of the Delhi assembly. Here is his latest salvo via a Twitter thread:
On the whole, it is good that Kejriwal is keeping the pressure on the government, more specifically on Modi, despite all the attempts at distraction. But there is also a smart calculus at work here.
Thus far, Rahul Gandhi’s USP — and the point his supporters keep making — is that he is the only one brave enough to directly take on Modi (and the RSS). Kejriwal is now usurping that mantle, and it is a politically shrewd move. He had avoided the Congress last year and earlier this year; he was carefully silent during the Bharat Jodo Yatra; when RG was sentenced by the courts and promptly disbarred from the legislature, he jumped off the fence onto RG’s side — and now he is gradually positioning himself as the alternate RG, with the added advantage that there is no bar on his contesting elections, unlike in the case of the Congress leader.