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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 46 November 5, 2022

Governance to stifle hate | Vikash Narain Rai

Friday 4 November 2022


by Vikash Narain Rai *

Religion and nationalism may be touted as their sweet allies but it is the politics of hate that has all along defined the strident march of Hindutva forces to power. In this context, it is remarkable how the unprecedented crowd support to the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, has consistently and successfully pitted Hindustan against Hate-istan. To an optimist, it is a point of no return. Really?

Almost half way through the longest political foot journey ever, should not the Yatra unpuzzle the inevitability of the ‘what next’ momentum rather than being accused of presenting an idyllic plateau at some later stage. in order to carry forward their polarizing impact in governance as well, they must unfold an administrative road-map to crush the hate. Without a forceful response on the executive side, the experience tells, neither the painstaking legal elaborations nor the best of legislative intents will sustain the desired results. In fact, such a response should become inherent to strengthening the democratic polity.

The enforcement being crucial, more than any administrative doctrine the cutting-edge level policing culture becomes the key to the legal safeguards for the citizen. Some of the BJP ruled states, like UP, Assam, MP, Karnataka, have gained notoriety in recent years on account of their communal, casteist and gender biased policing approaches. Accused of big scale illegitimate and partisan application of law enforcement through the central agencies, the BJP government at centre too, on occasions, seemed to be similarly positioning. Modi recently advocated one common uniform across all state and central police organisations while addressing a two-day chintan shivir, of the country’s top brass of the law and order and internal security organisations, presided over by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah. He seemed to be emulating one organisation one uniform unitary culture of some of the self-righteous organisations, including his own RSS. The terminology chintan shivir itself is foreign to police parlance and is borrowed from the RSS vocabulary.

The tone of deliberations as set by Amit Shah, centred around the challenges of borderless crimes of terror, narcotics and cyber genre, and seemed to be advocating a borderless federal policing with more and more branches of central investigation and enforcement agencies in the states. There was no mention of the hate crimes. In the earliest 2014 doctrine of the Prime Minister for the law-and-order machinery, his acronym SMART stood majorly for developing the police not beyond a body of the obedient skill sets. Not surprisingly, the concept of ‘S’, standing for strict in tandem with sensitive, was conspicuous by its absence in the chintan shivir. One police uniform concept may add to the optical unity of the nation, a cosmetic unifier at best, to camouflage the divisive polity. Will it not someday touch the highly captivated ‘one nation one police’ pitch?

Conceding that the phenomena of religious and caste identities competing for political space, would continue to be a vital feature of Indian democracy, can there still be an administrative prescription to stamp out the hate from the governance? The American model, their society still besieged with the politics of race and immigration, comes closest to the Indian situation. Let us compare with their gallant fight against hate crimes, carried out as much in the streets as in the court rooms and legislatures.

In one of the Indian videos, the police response to jai-shriram sloganeering lynch justice, the final assault being a hurrah jump upon the victim’s seemingly lifeless body, seemed a spell under Pavlovian conditioning. The police simply transformed into a mechanism of glaring professional inadequacies. In the experiments that Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov conducted with his dogs, a potent stimulus (food) was paired repeatedly with a neutral stimulus (bell), and the neutral stimulus came to elicit a response (salivation) that was similar to the one elicited by the potent stimulus. The Police response too looked conditioned to be pairing not with law but with perpetrators.

That is what makes the anarchy of the group violence in this genre even more sickening- the palpable helplessness of the police personnel present on the spot or somewhere in the background. The police seemed to forget that the lynch-violence is forbidden not because the victim is sometimes not bad enough, but because the rule of law is always too good.

Therein lies the parallel between American experience and Indian experiment. The RSS has repeatedly asserted that the idea of Hindu rashtra cannot be revisited. The hate lynching in India is to establish the concept of Hindu rashtra supremacy, like it used to be to stamp white supremacist domination in America.

In his pioneering book, Lynch-Law (1905), political economist James Elbert Cutler had noted, “It has been said that our country’s national crime is lynching. …. The practice whereby mobs capture individuals suspected of crime, or take them from the officers of the law, and execute them without any process at law, or break open jails and hang convicted criminals, with impunity, is to be found in no other country of a high degree of civilisation.” Lynching decreased dramatically after 1919, the year a National Conference on Lynching took place in New York city.

There is plenty to learn from the American experience. The lynching of Michael Donald, a 19-year-old African-American, in Alabama on March 21, 1981 was about the last lynching in United States. Several white people beat him to death and hung his body from a tree. One perpetrator, Henry Hays, was executed by electric chair in 1997, while another, James Knowles, was sentenced to life in prison. A third man was convicted as an accomplice and a fourth indicted but he died during trial. Donald’s mother brought a civil suit for wrongful death against the United Klans of America (UKA), to which the attackers belonged. In 1987, she was awarded damages of $7 million.

It has taken USA hundreds of unsuccessful bills, starting from the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill first introduced in the Congress in 1918 to establish lynching as a federal crime, and innumerable demonstrations and other public advocacy manoeuvres to reach the stage of a lynch free society, where they proudly and firmly stand now. The anti-Lynching Bill 2019 amended title 18, US Code, to specify Lynching as a deprivation of civil rights. Compared to this, the ruling duo of RSS and BJP, the social and political arms of the extreme right in India, together deliver nothing more than an occasional confusing lynch-rhetoric. They are consistently seen espousing the cause of perpetrators, leaving the vulnerable sections exposed to violence and, worse, the policing community too demoralised to act independently and strictly.

The movement of RSS has a stark resemblance, in being extremely paranoid about liberals, with the John Birch Society (JBS), an American advocacy group founded in 1958 supporting anti-communism and limited government. The Birchers would even believe that President Eisenhour was a traitor and that John Foster Dulles and General George Marshall etc. were part of a communist conspiracy; RSS propagates along the similar lines about Indian liberals, from Nehru to Manmohan Singh.

In their 1964 book on JBS, ‘The Strange Tactics of Extremism’, Harry and Bonaro Overstreet gave two main reasons to call its methods fascist, “It fosters the cult of the leader, reducing the rank-file to a kind of task force, to carry out directives and exert pressure at assigned points. And it openly advocates strong-arm methods, such as the killing of reputations by innuendo, which easily lead on to a tolerance for and a readiness to use physical strong-arm methods.” The organisation’s influence peaked in the 1970s, and a resurgence is noticed in the mid-2010s. The Huffington Post called the JBS “the intellectual seed bank of the right,” and many commentators from across the spectrum have acknowledged its role in shaping the Trump administration. The uncanny similarity with RSS and Modi administration is too obvious.

Rahul Gandhi’s seemingly impossible calendar of the Bharat Jodo Yatra has positioned the democratic courage against the politics of hate, ideologically. Can the Congress follow it up administratively? Mark Twain, called the father of American literature, wrote an essay in the summer of 1901 reflecting on the 19th century rampant practice of lynching, titled ‘The United States of Lyncherdom’ in reaction to a homeland lynching. Fearing a backlash from the South the essay was published in Europe, 13 years after his death. He had concluded, “I believe that if anything can stop this epidemic of bloody insanities it is martial personalities that can face mobs without flinching ……. there must be other Merrils and Beloats (two exemplary sheriffs down south).” The Pavlovian shadow on lynch policing will have to dissipate in India too.

(Author: Vikash Narain Rai is Former Director, National Police Academy, Hyderabad and Former DGP (Law & Order), Haryana)

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