Insanity in individuals is something rare, suggested Nietzsche,
but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it’s the rule. The
world didn’t have to wait long to see the wisdom of the German
philosopher in action in his own homeland. And shades of the same
madness are seen in India these days. Indeed, this appears to be
the season of mass hysteria. A strange, unprecedented panic has
seized the great republic. As the New York Times memorably put it,
like a fever, fear has spread across the country, from big cities
like Bangalore to smaller places like Mysore, a contagion fueling
a message: Run. Head home. Flee.
And that is what thousands of economic migrants from the country’s
lately troubled Northeast are doing in what is being termed as the
biggest exodus since the 1947 Partition. Tens of thousands of
workers quietly earning their bread in melting pots like Mumbai,
Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai have been swarming railway
stations and airports in their desperation to get out, totally
baffling the authorities and just about everyone else. The
collective panic was ostensibly sparked by some mysterious email
and text messages warning of massive reprisals for the recent
attacks on Assamese Muslims.
The crisis acquired such epic proportions that several additional
trains had to be pressed into service to deal with the rising sea
of spooked humanity even as ministers and senior government
officials went about reassuring and promising security. The
administration has also banned the bulk email and text messages to
check the 50-paise terror, as a newspaper put it, radiating fear
and panic although it was a classic case of closing the stable
door after the horse has bolted.
This Eid day, when I tried to text my friends, I got the following
message in typical officialese: “As per Govt direction, only 5 SMS
per day is allowed, till 31-Aug. You have sent 5 SMS today. SMS
service will resume tmrw. Regret the inconvenience.”
It was indeed an ‘inconvenience’ but was apparently necessary to
quell the “rumor-mongering by miscreants,” as the minister put it.
Social media and the blessings of technology have clearly made the
job of merchants of hatred a lot easier and exciting.
No one knows what and who started it all. The most perplexed have
been the people on whose behalf the madness was seemingly started.
Nonetheless, the Muslims in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai have
responded to the crisis quickly, going out of their way to support
and plead with the panicked lot to stay on.
A befuddled government has been quick to blame social media and
the ubiquitous foreign hand for the phenomenon. Websites based in
Pakistan have been accused of fanning the firestorm by spreading
the “morphed images” of violence in Myanmar as those of Assam.
Maybe there’s some truth in there. There have been reports of some
overzealous sympathizers posting on Facebook pictures of Asian
tsunami victims as those from Myanmar.
What happened in Assam is not the invention of a feverish
imagination; it’s a reality that has been reported by India’s
mainstream media. Right now at least 400,000 people, who fled the
violence last month, are living in relief camps in appalling
conditions even as there are reports of continuing violence.
Even if some websites are responsible for those morphed images,
what explains those text messages and emails? Who started those?
Who’s sowing the seeds of hatred in the name of Muslims in Assam
and elsewhere in the country and why?
Harsh Mander, a member of National Advisory Council known for his
peace efforts in Gujarat, explains in his Hindustan Times piece:
“The country is once again dangerously adrift in a stormy sea of
competitive hate politics. The signs are both ominous and
familiar—the systematic creation of hatred against people because
of their ethnicity or religion; rumors and hate propaganda choking
the internet; the public moral justification of violence against
targeted communities on grounds of ‘larger’ alleged wrongs; and
weak-kneed State action against people and organizations which
preach hate and organize slaughter and arson.
“In districts and towns in which I have worked, I observed during
the 1980s how dedicated communal organizations skillfully spread
rumors, which manufacture hatred locally and provoke communal
attacks. Hate propagandists are today equipped with sleek new
vehicles of cyberspace and mobile phone technology, which they
deploy to transport provocative falsehoods, rumors and emotive
messages of hate across the country. These recast people of
different ethnic or religious identities as the dangerous ‘other’,
and foment suspicion, dread and loathing against them. Even more
hazardous is the creation of an alternative moral universe in
which violent attacks on people of specified communities is
accepted as defensible, even justified.”
Mander isn’t alone in his conclusions. Hindustan Times and The
Telegraph, two of the most respected, establishment papers, have
warned of the Hindutva parties “fishing in Assam’s troubled
waters” to fuel a communal divide across the country ahead of the
crucial 2014 poll battle, supposed to be fought between the
Congress’ Rahul Gandhi and Gujarat’s Modi. The threats to the
Northeastern people are being portrayed as “anti-national” forces
siding with the “foreigner,” says a HT report by Vikas Pathak
(August 17 ).
In another report, Radhika Ramaseshan of the Telegraph says that
the Hindutva groups are using the Assam violence and exodus of
Northeasterners to try and rebuild its base. She says: “Repeating
a familiar strategy, the RSS and VHP are overtly talking of a
Hindu-Muslim divide in Assam while the BJP has confined itself to
the more politically correct illegal immigrants issue, targeting
the Congress for treating them as “vote banks. The collective
objective is the same: driving a wedge between Hindus and Muslims
and projecting the BJP as the sole “savior” of the former.”
Painting all Bengali-speaking Muslims, living for generations in
Assam, as Bangladeshi infiltrators and warning of the ‘coming
Islamic invasion’, RSS-VHP-BJP rabble rousers are trying hard to
raise a perfect storm of communal frenzy as they did in the 80s
and 90s. The “Muslims are coming” is the new mantra of the Sangh
and its allies.
The massive show of strength and hate fest in Mumbai by Raj
Thackeray, the nephew and inheritor of Bal Thackeray’s toxic
legacy, this week would have made Hitler proud with his antics and
rhetoric egging on the Hindus and Marathas against the “traitors
and infiltrators.” No wonder social activist and Planning
Commission member Dr Syeda Hameed, sees a grand design and agenda
to “destroy the secular fabric (of the country) which has held us
together for centuries.”
Coming days and weeks could be critical for India and for its
minorities. The Muslims are bracing themselves for the coming
storm after years of relative calm since the Gujarat pogrom a
decade ago. A dispossessed and voiceless community languishing on
the margins of society which cannot protect itself has been
transformed into a ‘clear and present danger’ to the great
republic and its 800 million Hindus. Knives are being sharpened
once again in the shadows. A
clueless, callous government quietly bleeding itself to death
doesn’t help. It seems the end is nigh. In Yeats’ evocative words:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published writer.
Write him at email@example.com