Votes and vengeance

 Amit Shah’s speeches suggest that hate remains a key mobilising tool for the BJP. Amit Shah’s speeches suggest that hate remains a key mobilising tool for the BJP.

Amit Shah’s speeches suggest that hate remains a key mobilising tool for the BJP.

Fear remains the chiefest of them,” the American critic, H.L. Mencken, famously wrote about politics under democracy nearly a century ago. “The demagogues, i.e., the professors of mob psychology, who flourish in democratic states are well aware of the fact, and make it the cornerstone of their exact and puissant science. Politics under democracy consists almost wholly of the discovery, chase and scotching of bugaboos. The statesman becomes, in the last analysis, a mere witch-hunter, a glorified smeller and snooper, eternally chanting ‘Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum!’”

In the famous nursery rhyme, the giant smells the blood of an Englishman and declares, “Be he live, or be he dead/ I’ll grind his bones to make my bread”. In the fables being pushed on to gullible voters in India these days, references abound to the blood and bones of cows, buffaloes and goats, to the vast fortunes allegedly being amassed by butchers. In Assam, Narendra Modi even deployed the poor rhinoceros. “These days there is a conspiracy to kill it,” he told a rally on April Fool’s Day. “I am making the allegation very seriously.

People sitting in the government… to save Bangladeshis… they are doing this conspiracy to kill rhinos so that the area becomes empty and Bangladeshis can be settled there.” But all of this irresponsible rhetoric pales into insignificance when compared to the poisonous campaign Modi’s lieutenant, Amit Shah, has been waging in the riot-affected areas of western Uttar Pradesh on the eve of elections.

I began this analysis of Amit Shah, Narendra Modi and the place of “revenge” in politics with a quote from an American only because apologists for these two eminent Indian professors of mob psychology are drawing great solace from a clip of Barack Obama, in which the US president uses the “R” word.

“No, no, no, don’t boo. Vote,” Obama told a crowd in Ohio during the 2012 presidential election when they started booing at the mention of the name of his opponent, Mitt Romney. “Voting is the best revenge.” While Republicans rebuked Obama for running a negative campaign, BJP supporters argue that if a Nobel peace prize winner could speak of revenge via the ballot box, Shah did nothing wrong in urging Hindus to take “badla” by voting.

The question, of course, hinges on revenge by whom, against whom, and for what.

It is beyond dispute that both Hindus and Muslims were killed in the riots that took place in and around Muzaffarnagar last year. While the state administration never released a community-wise break down of the victims, the fact that a large number of Muslims were displaced and are unable to return home, and that several Muslim women have come forward with allegations of rape, makes …continued »