Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Muslim in blood: Are there no alternatives to BJP?

The significance of India’s General Elections 2024 cannot be understated. It’s unarguably a big moment in both the country and the world’s history-the road we take and the vote we cast will decide whether one of the largest genocides in the world will happen in and around our most treasured homes and in the world’s largest democracy. Be they pro-BJP, or anti-BJP, pro-Muslim or anti-Muslim, pro-Hindu or anti-hindu those who speak the reality of human rights crisis in India, many people realize the weight of the decision. This article is for us to collectively reflect on those who are in middle, appearing to be strangulated by the moral weight of the impending electoral decision that they ought to make. These people in the middle ask, “is there an alternative (to BJP)?” In colloquial terms, the question becomes, “Aur options kya hain?” 

In the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher and many other world leaders deeply cemented in the world order that there is no alternative (TINA) to capitalism. Philosopher Mark Fischer theorized TINA to have produced a capitalist realism-a society organized through unrestricted flows and accumulation of capital that shape how individuals work, educate and more importantly think and act in the terms set by capitalism. Within the structure that produced to portray capitalism as the only option, a society is ordered to slowly keep its alternatives out of reasoning, even as we face the oppression of a world ordered through capital accumulation.

The TINA moment in India’s (Hindu Rashtra) electoral history similarly points to the production of “Hindu Realism” where thinking in the terms set by Hindu Majority, its social activists, news channels, etc. seem natural and normalized. It’s precisely Hindu Realism that constrains Indian voters to not factor in (the indifference to and perpetuation of) anti-Muslim violence by the BJP, when evaluating the electoral options at hand in the 2024 General Elections. This article will lay out a few characteristics of Hindu realism that includes, first, mobilization of Hindu Pride and that when coupled with TINA discourse secondly, numbs Hindu Guilt and lastly, engenders an indifference towards the regime’s anti-Muslimness.   

In the last one year, I have asked in my social circles, “why does the majority feel that there is no alternative [to BJP]?” The answer followed a similar architectonic to Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s article, “Is there really no alternative to BJP and Modi?” The debate starts with the status/death of democracy in the country, followed by national security, internal security, the question of Kashmir, inflation, unemployment, corruption (does the opposition even stand a chance with respect to corruption?), opposition bashing, pappu-bashing and now, when they feel they have “reasoned out” all that affects the society and why there is (no) alternative, they rest back in their chairs. 

Two significant issues that factors into voter’s electoral decision making that never come up in these conversations, but act as undercurrent, are Hindu Pride and violence against Muslims and other minorities. According to CSDS Lokniti’s 2024 pre-poll survey, about 23% of the respondents agreed that the most admired work of the BJP was the consecration of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya which they further agreed consolidated the Hindu Identity and as  Apoorvanand had written augmented (an anti-democratic) Hindu Pride. While an activity that has contributed towards Hindu Pride sets BJP as the go-to party this season, this aspect remains upspoken, even as it animates, as the pre-poll survey shows, electoral decisions. This Hindu Pride dissolves into the societal background to form a Hindu realism against which choice for BJP against a “non-existent” alternative is made. Disturbed by anti-Muslim violence not brought in the conversation, I go onto lay some facts out in these circles.

Lynching and assault of Muslims have become almost an everyday incident since 2019, with some key events of the sort in 2017 like the lynching of Junaid Khan that triggered “not in my name” protests by Hindus across country. NIMN protests are non-existent today, begging us to ask, “if people are okay with Muslims being killed and lynched in the name of their religion?” In 2023 alone, there has been two hate speeches per day against Muslims in India. Mosques have also become targets of Hindutva mobs including BJP candidates who throw arrow at them and municipal corporations that bulldoze them. As Hindus take pride in their religious festivals through rallies during Ram Navami etc., it comes with an exhibition of their supremacy with rallies passing through Muslim colonies and societies, playing inflammatory songs that demand that Muslim leave the country. Communal Anti-Muslim riots on a dubious account that Muslims pelted stones on the rallies ensue. In 2023 Ram Navami rallies alone, around 16 places witnessed anti-Muslim violence. 

Land Conflict Watch researchers Sukriti Vats and Priyansha Chouhan surfaced Socio-Legal Information Center’s documentation “that about 1208 structure at 37 sites across 11 villages and tehsils in Nuh were demolished.” Allegedly, the demolition was a punitive measure against those who pelted stones on a Hindu hate-filled yatra for which there is little documentation or proof.  Vats and Chouhan’s reportage also revealed that around 50 shops with registered sale deeds and permits including pharmacies, diagnostic centers, grocery shops, pathology labs, Kajaria tile showroom of Mohammad Sahud, Mohd Arif and three brothers, Mohammad Shareef, Saleem and Mubin were demolished by municipal authority. Simply put, Muslims are being actively dispossessed economically, socially, culturally and the wounds of these assaults lay on our bodies in blood. 

After laying out these facts, I asked, whether the increased violence against Muslims since 2014 factors in Hindus “choice” to vote for/against BJP. Often times, even as people did not speak about Hindu Pride or anti-Muslim violence, they reply to my question, “those are, of course, there [as major factors for why people choose the BJP]!” Moving out of the terms set by left liberals like inflation and unemployment to talk about electoral choices, once Hindu Pride and BJP’s anti-Muslimness are factored in, the stance in the conversation shifts from “there is no alternative to BJP” to “people choose BJP.” The difference between the two stances is agential-whether people make an active choice, freely voting for BJP or make a passive choice out of compulsion as there is no alternative? The answer to this is not in the opposition at all. Afterall, even after the widespread prevalence of the idea of TINA to the BJP, leading anchors in India’s TV news had to curate 52% of their shows in the last 45 days to frame opposition as incompetent and as non-alternatives to BJP according to Newslaundry report.

The question, then is crucial is this society voting for BJP just because there is no alternative (TINA) or behind this rhetoric, can there be a society that is willfully bonded? like humans to a chain deceiving ourselves that we do not have the power to break the chain. Or, even worse is there an existence of society that feels free only when bonded to a chain! Eric Fromm calls this the diamagnetic force of freedom. The freedom which has brought us the power to think freely through reason (and not due to subordination to a higher power) is both what we desire and what humans are scared of. This is because, we have to, inevitably take the responsibility for the choice made freely by our own reasoning and would not be able to blame it on structural issues like the absence of an alternative. 

Fearing the responsibility that comes with actively choosing anti-Muslim hatred or, the BJP, the Hindu majority frames their vote for BJP as a result of TINA conditions while simultaneously enjoying the Hindu Pride. The double-bind of Hindu Pride is that individuals dually enjoy the supremacy of Hindu in societal hierarchy, sugarcoating it in joyful celebrations, while staying clear off the guilt of Muslims in blood who have been othered to make Hindus superior by the BJP. The people in the middle, who ask the TINA question, simply subvert their own responsibility for peace by choosing a non-BJP party and hand it over to a structural issue so as to stay clear off Hindu guilt. Dug deeper into the road to Hindu Pride is where Hindu Guilt of Muslims in blood lies. The rhetorical production of TINA by the BJP keeps the majority on the road to Hindu Pride, numbing the guilt of violence in their name.

Strangely, even as the anti-Muslimness of this regime is, “of course, there!,” nobody openly talks about them as factors that should constrain vote for BJP. The Muslim question i.e. the violence against Muslims, has been derided into a non-issue in electoral calculations just like how the left has wanted which often claims, “let’s focus on real issues [and not on religious issues even as the entire Hindutva practice today is organized around religion about which I have written elsewhere]”. Pratap Bhanu Mehta too, in his article writes at the end, “There is no alternative” is just a euphemism, a different way of saying “we are just fine with communal poison and authoritarian repression.” Pratap Bhanu Mehta, just like many other liberals and left liberals, buries the core issue of anti-Muslimness in the national crypt as
“communalism.” 

The term “communalism” doesn’t as much capture the anti-Muslim hatred that has been used to mobilize the Hindu Pride. TINA numbs emotions that emerge from an anti-Muslim Hindu Pride by making BJP voters believe that they are compelled to choose BJP because there are no options. It is only when the Hindu Pride is flipped on its head to deal with Hindu Guilt underlying it, via confronting the anti-Muslimness on which Hindu pride is built on, that an alternative will become visible. Further, the alternative to BJP will not be realized in the “real” terms set by the powerful discourse framers of this country namely, inflation, employment or even the assessment of opposition etc. The alternative to BJP will only be realized when the anti-Muslimness of this regime is outwardly spoken about and centered in 2024 electoral calculations. Any regime that is not a genocidal one could, then, become an alternative. 

Misria Shaik Ali is a researcher and writes on the alterity of Muslims in/of India.

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