The sickening attack by Karni Sena hoodlums on a school bus last week had a surreal quality when seen from Davos. Our Prime Minister had just left after giving a speech whose gist was that from ancient times India has believed that the world was one single family. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. In a conference whose theme was building bridges in a fractured world, these words of ancient wisdom had real resonance. Then came those images of small children screaming in terror as their teachers urged them to hide under the seats of their bus to escape the stones and glass from broken windows. If the teachers had not been speaking in Hindi, I would have found it hard to believe that the attack was in India and not in some war-ravaged African country.
It was an attack so reminiscent of the kind of thing Boko Haram does that Farhan Akhtar could not have said it better than he did in this tweet. ‘Attacking a school bus is not an agitation. It is terrorism. The people who did this are terrorists. Please refer to them as such.’ The truth is that the Karni Sena is a terrorist organisation. But, it appears to function under the fond gaze of BJP chief ministers. If the Chief Ministers of Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh had not been indulgent patrons, these hoodlums would have been jailed a year ago when the first attack happened in Jaipur.
The maintenance of law and order is the primary duty of chief ministers. This is usually done by being on the side of those who suffer when it breaks down. Not on the side of those who break the law. When they assumed high office, these chief ministers swore by the Constitution of India to do this without fear or favour. And yet they have shown more than once that they favour these Karni Sena terrorists. This is very much in keeping with their implicit support for the cow vigilantes who have lynched Muslims and Dalits working in the leather and meat industries and in the cattle trade. Not very different to the implicit support given to the violent goons who wander about attacking lovers and married couples in the name of ‘love jihad’.
Every time some new horror happens, the BJP’s apologists on Twitter, and there is a small army of them, blame it on a political conspiracy by the Congress party. Since this army of apologists is motivated by religious fervour and not political realities, it is hard to explain to them that a party that has been reduced to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha is simply incapable of organising violence on such a scale. I have sometimes tried to say this and been deluged by tweets that question not just my loyalty to India but my character. Since many of these belligerent tweeters proudly declare that they are followed by the Prime Minister, it is hard to believe that they are just freelance fanatics.
In any case, they make their loyalties plain by always defending groups like the Karni Sena and always spitting venom against anyone they believe may nurture sympathies for lynched Dalits or Muslims. I was recently in a Twitter row with a filmmaker who demanded to know if I had statistics to prove that Muslims and Dalits have been more brutally attacked in the past three years than in earlier times. There was no point explaining that it is not about numbers but about the atmosphere of brutality that these hate crimes have created.
It is an atmosphere so infused with latent menace and terror that it is hard to believe that the Prime Minister actually came to Davos last week to tell foreign investors that they were welcome to India. He probably meant what he said when he told some of the richest investors in the world that instead of the red tape of the past they would find a red carpet. But, did he not notice that the red carpet barely conceals violent thugs capable of attacking a bus taking small children home from school? Did he not notice that it would be hard to explain to a foreign audience that these violent thugs were burning public property and threatening to behead actors on the basis of a film they had not seen?
It is not just foreigners who would find it hard to understand what is going on. Many patriotic Indians (including this one) find it hard to understand. It feels a little like we are in the middle of a surreal horror film in which nothing is what it seems to be. So, the Prime Minister goes back from Davos to welcome the leaders of ASEAN to India in the middle of this horror movie. How surreal is that?
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