India: three scenarios out to 2030
The Kashmirisation of India, a phrase coined by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, is well underway. The mayhem by the police on the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia finally brought home to Indians in the mainland what Kashmiris might be undergoing on a routine basis, flooded as Kashmir has been with security forces for some thirty years. Alternatively, from events in Uttar Pradesh, with its chief minister out to emulate the prime minister in his initial days in the sun, it could well be that Gujratification instead. The prime minister complimented the police for its handling of the unrest that resulted in over two dozen deaths. Taking inspiration from the approach to rule of law in Kashmir and Gujarat, three possible scenarios lie ahead for India.
The first is the visualization by the Hindutva-vadis in which they gain their ends through polarisation. The second is a contested one, in which the Hindutva rampage is checked by democratic means resulting in one-sided violence. The third is a benign one in which the largely Hindu support base of the right-wing rethinks its ways, resulting in democratic displacement of the regime at the next elections.
Scenario 1 - A Hindutva triumph
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s eagerness to have a Congress-mukt Bharat owes in part to its reframing of the idea of India in saffron colours. It is also to defang the opposition, whereby there is no political fight-back to its Hindutva project. The reconfiguring of the environs of the central vista along the Rajpath is symbolic of the change to be brought about by the 75th anniversary of the Republic and the centenary year of the mother ship, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, both in quick succession.
With most institutions (including—to its critics—the judiciary) already defanged and netted, a definition of majoritarian democracy will be deployed to justify further depredations such as the onrushing nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). The vulnerable and defenceless minority will only be further trampled down. If the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) faces such ruthless implementation, what might be the rigour with which the NRC citizens shall unfold? With the articulate and aware segment of the community—its student cohort—disarmed through ruthless means, the defences of the multiple Muslim communities clustered around the country will be inexorably breached. The final knocks administered would set in a flood of ghar vapsi, the choice being detention centers or a return to the Hindu fold. Eventually, quite like Andalus is without memory of the Moors—which in the Hindutva imagination is a model for India—India too would be free of the blood of invaders of the last millennium.
A minority community divided within and unable to protect its pockets of habitation across the country will be unable to answer the call for peaceful non-cooperation against the NRC. There are several reports of Muslim readying their documents to present, preparing for the worst. The saffron tide shall enhance to tsunami by several gimmicks of the ‘triple talaq’ variety as the Uniform Civil Code, restriction to prayer venues and methods, sporting of identity markers etc. The ‘Go-to-Pakistan’ will currency with the argument that since India offers sanctuary for persecuted non-Muslim minorities from its Muslim neighbours, Muslim neighbours could do the same to Indian Muslims.
Scenario 2 – Hindutva contested
A contested ascendance of Hindutva has the possibility of going either way, with the degradation of Hindutva being as probable as its displacement. To preempt this, Hindutva minders may resort to the patented Chanakyan tactics of subterfuge, dissimulation, divide and rule, strong-arm policing, rationalization, propaganda, managing of the external environment, inducement within etc. Ahead it can be imagined that there would be instances of terror incidents of uncertain provenance, including bombings, to enable a security blanket to be put in place before the rollout of the NRC.
If the CAA launch has been greeted with such angst, the NRC aftermath will likely be more volatile, necessitating anticipatory measures of an escalated order on part of the state. Tried and tested ‘black operations’ will be back in use. The dividend for Hindutva perpetrators has precedence, including possible elevation to parliament as compensation for their pain and risk run. The energy on display on streets over the past few days after Mr. Shah rung up the curtains on the CAA-NRC in parliament indicates that Muslims may be less than accommodating to the one-sided brutalisation. There could be alliances forged in the struggle between the underclass, including a Muslim-Dalit one, symbolized by the firebrand leader of Bhim Army turning up at the steps of the Delhi Jama Masjid.
This foregrounding of security would help the regime with diverting attention from a tanking economy, making for a self-reinforcing loop. The prime minister implied as much in his campaign speech in Dumka, Jharkhand, when he referred to arsonists in clothes making them easily identifiable as Muslims steeling his determination to follow through with the two-punch combo: CAA-NRC. A tactical pull-back followed with Modi denying any thought of NRC, even though his government pushed through the NRC by the backdoor by doubling the budget for the National Population Register.
Authoritarianism may deepen and make academic the distinction between fascism and the complexion of the regime. However, as the counter CAA-NRC agitation shows, this is not a Muslim-only show. Most are out to defend the Constitution. The non-cooperation strategy can be expected to kick in, if it does not cause a dent to the ruling party’s fortunes in the next elections, any repression could invite backlash. That national security minders are not unmindful of this is evident from Modi’s reference to ‘urban Naxals’ at Ram Lila Maidan, a scaremongering on Maoists-at-the-wings set to grow if the repression-alieanation-backlash cycle takes off.
Scenario 3 – Benign exit of Hindutva
Neither of the two scenarios above are edifying for a secular democratic republic, as being noted in most capitals around the world. This should brighten prospects for the third scenario: of a democratic displacement of the Modi-Shah combine at the next elections. There are four years for the electorate to get its act together. The prospects have brightened with the set back to the ruling party in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. Returns from recent elections suggest diminishing marginal returns for the ruling party’s tactics of polarisation. The post-election farce in Raj Bhawan Mumbai makes it possible to outflank them even at their Kautilyan best. If they are administered a defeat in West Bengal and Delhi, it would keep India safe from an authoritarian turn. However, this hopeful moment can prove as chimerical as that at the Delhi and Bihar elections in Modi’s last term, since the Modi-Shah-Doval combine can pull a Balakot act from its electoral hat any time.
The electoral strategy foregrounding the state of the economy, unemployment, farmer distress, state pullout from education and health etc was undercut by Balakot last time. Communalism and manufactured national security concerns remain handy for the regime. A worsening economy can well be blamed on deteriorating security. However, in this scenario, Hindu consolidation into a vote bank proves a chimera. Modi’s antics around the coming up, through this term, of the Ram temple at Ayodhya draw a blank with his development constituency. It’s very first promise of the current tenure of a $5 trillion economy has already fallen flat. The middle classes desert Modi for betraying his development pledges and making India look small on the world stage due to demise of secularism and democratic credentials on his watch.
The juncture of Muslims expressing their reservations across India on a matter of community interest after a quarter century is pregnant with possibilities. The threat posed by the regime’s policies privileging its ideology over national interest is the primary national security threat and must be securitized by being recognized as such. The counter that its policies then instigate thus cannot instead be vilified as the significant national security concern. In fact, the counter must be seen as preserving the nation and state from a majoritarian takeover.
Which scenario emerges as a result would depend on how the Muslims take forward the counter CAA agitation in face of the regime’s covert sabotage and vilification of the same. Muslims standing up to the regime to preserve the republic could over time help the Hindu brethren shed their blinkers. While Modi-believers cannot be expected to reform, the Hindus who voted for Modi for his development promises have now seen through his game. The Gujarat model is not so much in terms of Gujarat’s economic gains under Modi as much as its manner of authoritarian rule and policing extended to rest of India. Muslims then, with students - and women students at that – at the vanguard, can emerge as the heroes of the second struggle for freedom, this time from an authoritarian and majoritarian threat to liberal, secular democracy.
Ali Ahmed, PhD (JNU), PhD (Cantab), is visiting professor at the Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia