Two days after BJP’s Lotus bloomed in the north-eastern state of Tripura, a statue of Lenin was taken down allegedly by the BJP workers. A day after the incident, a similar act was reported from Tamil Nadu. This time the statue of Periyar was vandalised.
For Tamil Nadu, Periyar is more than just a social reformer; he is a Thanthai Periyar(Respected Father). Periyar has widespread influence on the state of Tamil Nadu- a state where the Dravidian movement was started and strengthened by Periyar. Periyar’s ideology runs so deep in the veins of Tamilians that even after 45 years of his death, he continues to dominate not only social, cultural but also the political sphere of Tamil Nadu. One of the reasons for this is the self-respect and Tamil Nationalist movement started by Periyar which touched people from all walks of life invoking Tamilian Pride in them.
Who was Periyar?
Erode Venkata Ramasamy also known as Thanthai Periyar (Father Periyar) even today continues to inspire the rationalists across the country. In the Tamil heartland, Periyar is considered no less than a God, criticizing whom would be inviting a lot of wrath upon oneself.
Periyar’s hatred towards Hinduism and Brahminism, in particular, was too radical but his rationale and logic found some admirers, even when they rejected his radical Anti-Hindu propositions. He took pride in his Dravidian ancestry and rejected the dominance of Northern Aryans on Southern Dravidians in its entirety. He considered Brahminism, Vedas and Caste system laid down by Manu a tool of oppression by the Aryans. Therefore, for his entire life, he batted for the abolition of castes and equality among genders, classes and self-respect amongst Dravidians.
The seeds of even prevalent Anti-Hindi notion in south India were sown during Periyar’s 1938 Anti-Hindi agitation when Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari became the Chief Minister of Madras Presidency and introduced Hindi as a compulsory language of study in schools.
Early years of Periyar:
Born into a rich and wealthy family, Periyar was inquisitive from childhood. He questioned the mythologies, pointed out contradictions and countered ideologies. In 1929, he even deleted his surname which he thought indicates towards his caste at the First Provincial Self-Respect Conference.
Growing up Periyar developed abhorrence towards religion as a concept to deceive people from the truth and considered it is his duty to make people aware of it. Though he also fought for allowing Harijans to enter the temple during Vaikom Satyagraha, he himself remained an atheist.
Periyar during his lifetime gained a huge number of followers. They consistently campaigned to pressurize the government to abolish social inequality and thereby removing untouchability the manual scavenging system, etc. The Self-Respect Movement was described from the beginning as “dedicated to the goal of giving non-Brahmins a sense of pride based on their Dravidian past”.
Periyar and politics:
He was a member of Indian National Congress in his early years. However, the dominance of upper caste brahminical leaders in the party led to his decision of quitting the party. He joined the justice Party later on. However, it was until only 1944 he served in Justice Party. At a rally in 1944, he in his capacity as the leader of the Justice Party declared that the party would henceforth be known as the Dravidar Kazhagam. A party that took social reform not as a political motive but as a social motive to root out the inequality prevalent in the society.
Periyar mostly stayed away from parliamentary politics as he felt the only way to achieve his aim of social equality was through masses and not parliament. However, many leaders who didn’t agree with his stance split from Dravidar Kazhagam and formed their own party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) under the leadership of C N Annadurai in 1949. Even though the split was due to the method adopted to achieve social equality, the main aim of both the party remained same.
In post-independence era, DMK rose to new heights following the mass mobilization for the Dravidian cause. Even the most powerful leaders like Karunanidhi, MGR and J Jayalalitha and now the new entrant like Kamal Haasan swear by his ideology.
Periyar on Women Empowerment:
Remarkably, Periyar advocated liberation of women from the chains of customs and superstitions that he felt were the reasons of degenerating Dravidian community. The Dravidar Kazhagam vehemently fought for the abolition of untouchability amongst the Dalits. It also focused its attention on the liberation of women, women’s education, willing marriage, widow marriage, orphanages and mercy homes.
BJP National Secretary H. Raja’s comment against Periyar, calling for breaking his statue after similar was done to Lenin, was the biggest mistake the BJP hoped not to commit. At a time when allies are on the verge of abandoning BJP ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP is seeking to make a stronger alternative to these allies in the south. Periyar’s ideology runs deep in the blood of Tamilian and he is one of the sources of Tamizhan pride. At such a crucial time, H. raja’s act is nothing less than suicidal for the party.
Congress strategies didn’t help the party but the regional parties
While Congress is trying to convince the masses that Modi is not the right choice, it is failing to answer- “If not Modi then who?”
In the run-up to Gujarat Assembly Elections last year, Rahul Gandhi kicked a storm by calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi the “Weak PM”. The campaign that followed saw an unusually aggressive Congress and Rahul Gandhi. A quick look at the Congress’ campaign in the recent Assembly Elections in the high stake Gujarat and Karnataka and it will not take long to conclude that it was mainly based around one theme: attacking PM Modi and his policies. Though the Congress raised its tally in Gujarat, the fact still remains that several other factors helped Congress achieve the number.
So has the “attack Modi” strategy really helped Congress?
The lost narrative:
While the strategy of focusing the campaigns on Modi has not proved to be completely successful for the party, it wasn’t a complete failure either. Mounting a direct attack on the PM has earned the Congress President a newfound popularity as revealed in the survey conducted by ABP-CSDS.
The campaigns were able to establish a message -Modi is not suitable for the PM post. But here’s where the faultline appears in Congress’ strategy. While it is trying to convince the masses that Modi is not the right choice, it is failing to answer- “If not Modi then who?” The inability of the Congress to provide a viable alternative to Modi has trapped the party’s campaign in a cycle where anti-Modi narrative consumes most of the part and leaves little room for the party to project any alternative. Simply put, the Congress is telling people about the problem but is unable to provide a solution to it and it is not enough to move masses.
The Negative votes and Regional parties:
It is said, sometimes people vote on the basis of whom they dislike the least. The best example to understand this phenomenon is the US Presidential election. It is possible that the Congress too is eying to cash on the negative votes against BJP and Modi in particular. In last four years of Modi rule, the government saw more misses than hits. A large section of demography including has turned against the BJP. The anger of minorities and Dalits are at peak in the last four years.
Tapping on the mood of these communities can be a good strategy. However, thinking that the votes of these communities will fall only in favour of Congress will be a euphemism. With a spectrum of regional parties spread across different states of India who cater to particular community or ideology (Shivsena-Maratha, RJD- Dalits, BSP-Dalits) it will be a huge task for the Congress to turn these voters to their side. One year is a shorter period to pull the juggernaut of this task.
Is Congress strategy only helping regional parties?
In last six months, the country saw a rise of the regional parties which eventually represents the resentment among people against the BJP. But it also represents the unwillingness of people to thus vote for Congress. While Congress campaign is helping build an “Anti-Modi” mood in the country the party itself is devoid of its benefits.
On the other hand, the success of regional parties in the recently conducted Lok Sabha bypolls shows that they have been able to place themselves as a solution to BJP, if not Modi. The alliance between arch rivals SP-BSP paid good dividends in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypoll elections. However, the parties are reluctant to add Congress to this coalition. The party patrons, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati are also opposed to the idea of Congress being the face of the opposition coalition. Same is the case with KCR and Mamata Banerjee.
Though Congress will be a part of the anti-BJP coalition, the chances are it will only be reduced to the role of facilitator of the coalition. If it wants to project itself as the leader of the coalition and shift votes in its favour it must provide the answer- “If not Modi then Who?”.
Did RSS influence BJP’s decision of quitting the alliance with PDP?
The Sangh had recently replaced its office holders in Jammu and Kashmir. The new RSS cadre was said to be in process of reviewing the alliance.
The BJP on Tuesday pulled out of the PDP-BJP alliance ruling the conflict-ridden state of Jammu and Kashmir. Though the announcement did come across as shocking, it really was no hidden surprise. Since the day, the parties joined hands to form an alliance government in the state, it was clear that a fallout between the two was inevitable. The differing ideologies of both the parties, which were termed as the North Pole and the South Pole, for over the period of three years, led to several incidents of confrontation between the allies.
When PDP-BJP got into an alliance with each other, they both knew that this alliance government in the state like J&K is like walking on the edge of the sword. Both knew that fall was fated. The parties only had to ensure that one of them gets bruised a little. By pulling out of the alliance first, the BJP achieved just the same.
So why in the first place the two parties went for such an “unnatural/unholy” alliance?
The Marriage of convenience:
The Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections took place in 2014 when the BJP had swept the Lok Sabha polls riding on the “Modi wave”. The Congress-Mukt Bharat slogan by PM Modi had turned into a mission for the BJP. Already having won the Assembly elections in the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Jharkhand, the victory in Jammu and Kashmir would be another feather in the cap of BJP. Besides, if the party was successful in forming the government in J&K, the Muslim-majority state in the country, it could prove the opposition wrong who termed BJP “Anti-Muslim”.
Thus, no matter the times Mehbooba Mufti said that the alliance wasn’t about sharing, it was indeed about the numbers.
The confrontations between PDP-BJP:
From Article 35(A) to Ramazan Ceasefire, the parties went into different directions. The incident of violence, stone pelting and terrorist attacks increased multiple folds. The killing of Hizbul Mujahiddin terrorist Burhan Wani displayed the peak point of the anger in the valley against the alliance, the Kathua case did the same.
On the insistence of Mehbooba Mufti, the Centre called for a ceasefire which was welcomed by all the J&K parties but it turned out to be a disaster. According to the official records, in one month alone 73 terror incidents were recorded. While 22 terrorists were killed the death toll of army men rose to 9. Stone pelting incidents too shot up during the month of Ramazan. While in the previous year between April 2016 to May 2017 total 258 incidents of stone pelting were recorded; during last one month, 107 such incidents were recorded.
The killing of riflemen Aurangzeb and journalist Shujaat Bukhari proved to be the last nail in the coffin.
RSS role in J&K:
The RSS leadership had always been varying of the BJP’s decision of alliance with BJP. Though the RSS man in BJP Ram Madhav was made in-charge of the state, the RSS was sceptical about the alliance lasting long. According to a report in Economic Times, the RSS also surfaced the issue of Kashmir during last two meetings with the BJP. According to the report, there was another meeting of RSS functionaries in Jammu in March in which top leaders from Nagpur participated. The meeting talked about the need for the state government to adopt a sterner approach towards militants in Kashmir.
The Sangh had recently replaced its office holders in Jammu and Kashmir. Rupesh Kumar was appointed as the new RSS Prant Pracharak in Jammu Kashmir replacing Ramesh Pappa. It was speculated that his proximity with Dy CM Dr NIrmal Singh, Minister for Health Bali Bhagat and others in BJP with ABVP background led to a biased approach in communicating with the ruling party. However, the new cadre was said to be in process of reviewing the alliance.
Is Sangh the reason behind PDP-BJP fallout?
With 2019 just a year away, the BJP cannot afford to upset RSS which played a crucial role in subsequent assembly election post-2014. The BJP has already been facing a crisis in NDA with several alliance parties turning their backs to BJP. While Shiv Sena has already announced that it will fight the next election alone, the upset TDP quit NDA earlier this years following the row over Andhra Pradesh special status. The other allies like Akali Dal, Lok Janata Party, JD(U) too are seemingly on a bitter term.
At such a time, BJP does not want to get on a wrong side of RSS. The RSS had recently called ex-president of India and senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee for an event. The Sarsanghchalak on several occasion had stressed that it does not believe in “Congress-mukt Bharat” or stifling the opposition voices. We can safely assume that it was a warning bell for BJP that RSS can even have a dialogue with Congress and define the narrative. It will not be overestimation if RSS is said to be one of the reasons why BJP dumped PDP.
Mob Lynching is being the new normal in India
Has human life become so cheap that a mob sees no wrong in killing human beings over a rumour?
“Please, don’t beat me”, “I am an Assamese,” the cries of Nilotpal Das fell on deaf ears as the angry mob surrounding him and his friend Abhijit Nath lynched them to death. Both in their 20s, Das and Nath were visiting Assam’s Karbi Anglong district but little did they know their nature trail would turn into a death call.
Abhijit Nath- a Guwahati Businessman and Nilotpal Das-a budding musician from Goa were travelling in a black SUV, when a mob of local villagers stopped them at about 7.30 pm on Friday few minutes after rumours spread that two men had kidnapped a child and fled in a black car. An eyewitness accounted that the mob forced them to get out of the car and searched it. Even though no child was found in the car, the villagers started beating them with bamboo sticks and machetes. The video captures the chilling moments where brutally assaulted victims could be seen begging for their lives. Though the police reached the spot 90 minutes later, however, both of them died before they reached the hospital.
The entire incident took place over a rumour which as The Indian Express reported was short- “Puwali aase garir bhitorot (There is a kid inside the car).” It further reported that the rumours were spread through social media, WhatsApp and even through phone-calls. As soon as the message of two alleged child-traffickers being held spread in the area, people from neighbouring villages too joined the mob mercilessly thrashing the two tourists. “People called their friends in neighbouring villages saying that child abductor has been caught. The people and even rode on bikes to join in,” said a 65-years-old eyewitness. “The crowd strength was at least 500 at one point,” she added further.
It is indeed appalling and shocking to believe that a baseless rumour led a mob to kill two innocent men. A false rumour turned the mob into murderers. A human life has become so cheap that a mob sees no wrong in killing human beings over a rumour. But given the rising number of lynching over false rumours, one can only say that it has become a new normal in India. The sporadically occurences of mob lynching have been increasingly reported since past few years. The incident based on rumours constitute a major part of it.
Lynched over rumours:
A media report analysis by IndiaSpend in June last year revealed that out of total incidents of mob lynching, 52% were fuelled by rumours. Spreading the false news and false statements in someone’s name, spreading edited clips that misreport a particular incident has been on a rise in India. The news generated and forwarded through WhatsApp has also been on a significant rise. Most of the time, the forwards are based on rumours and fake news. With the proliferation of smartphones and wider accessibility of the internet, it has also become easy to spread misinformation and rumours. Some WhatsApp forwards or viral videos serve the purpose to create panic and hysteria among masses.
In two similar incidents last year, Jharkhand mobs beat seven people to death that horrified the country. All over rumours of them being “Child Traffickers”. The trigger was a WhatsApp message that had gone viral, urging people to be careful of strangers as they most likely belonged to a “child lifting gang”.
In 2018 alone, almost 9 cases of mob lynching have been registered. In April this year, a man was beaten to death by a mob after he was seen aimlessly wandering the streets in Tamil Nadu. The month of May recorded six such incidents including a man in Bengaluru being lynched to death after a mob suspected him of being a child trafficker. During the investigation, the police found out the panic was caused over a video in which two men on a motorcycle are seen pulling up to a group of children as one of them grabs a child and they ride off. However, the video is neither from India nor is it real. This happens in most of the cases.
What does law say?
In the past few years, with the increase in social media users in India fake news and rumour-based news has become a menace. Though India has an IPC section 505 to tackle the rumour-mongering, it isn’t doing enough. Especially, in digital formats it is difficult to find who sparked the rumours or where did it originate from. However, by the time it is decoded, the damage would have been done as seen in most of the cases above.
Without a dedicated team of cyber experts, it is difficult for police to take precautionary action. Talking to BBC, senior Assam police official Mukesh Agarwal said, “When rumours start circulating on social media, it takes some time to stop them completely.”
While police departments in the state of Tamil Nadu and Telangana have started awareness drive, in Karnataka, police have set up social media control rooms to monitor posts, viral messages and videos. But it is the need of the hour to find out more robust and potential solution for the problem.
Even if it is over rumour, how is lynching justified?
Over the years, the problem of the mob taking control of the situation and acting on its own will have increased significantly. What or who empowers these mobs, collective mind-sets to take the matter into their own hands disregarding the very law and order in the country? These no more faceless mobs feel that they are immune from the law and act according to their own sense of justice.
In the case of Assam Lynching, so far 19 people have been arrested but it is not so in every case. Last year, when Junaid Khan- a 15-year-old youth from Haryana was lynched over a seat-sharing feud in the train, police found no witness to identify the culprits even when the lynching took place in front of a packed train.
The mob mentality hide behind numbers, which makes it easy for even a small number of people to get away with the horrific crime such as lynching. There have been attempts in the past to justify it as a reflection of people’s anger and frustration, but as a civilised society can we afford to have the mob run the rule? It is our indifference that contributes more to the flourishing of such incidents. The growing cases of mob lynching should unsettle us, worry us; and if they don’t then the day is not far when the anarchy will hit home.
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