A week earlier, for what felt like the umpteenth time since 2014, a bunch of well-meaning individuals wrote a letter to PM Modi about the ‘lynching of Dalits and Muslims by mobs’ which had ‘turned Jai Shree Ram into a provocative war cry’.
This was followed by a counter letter from a group of equally well-meaning individuals who slammed the original letter writers and their ‘selective outrage and false narrative’. Between the two of them, both letters had enough logical fallacies to make Wittgenstein spin so hard in his grave that it could probably create a perpetual motion machine that would generate as much energy as bellicose anchors shouting incoherently on camera – the only group which actually benefits from said letter-writing.
Frankly, it’s the literary equivalent of a Kunal Kamra joke, sure it was vaguely amusing five years ago, but it follows the same rules of what macroeconomists like to call – the law of diminishing marginal utility. Familiarity breeds contempt. Thundering, like most other things not emitting out of a perpetual motion machine, follows the laws of diminishing returns.
One week later, the nation has moved on, to presumably more interesting things like PM Modi surviving in the wild with Bear Grylls, and as was always the case, the letter war was going to end in a whimper.
There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, violence is an everyday occurrence in India. There’s a near riot every time a car bangs into another car. Despite paying lip service to Gandhian ahimsa, we are a violent race and many instances mentioned are those of violence which were post-hoc given a communal turn depending on the religion of the perpetrators and victims.
Secondly, people have trouble buying into the liberal narrative that India’s myriad problems came into existence post-2014. They refuse to acknowledge any causal link between BJP’s rise and increase in lynchings as a certain hate tracker claims. Of course, Union Ministers garlanding lynching accused gives opposition fuel to outrage, but most voters don't really care for it.
In fact, many regular Indians consider opposition's campaign an insidious attempt to discount their voice. They don’t take kindly to being called bigots or cheerleaders of 'fascist regimes' for choosing to vote for a particular party.
Now here’s the thing, no matter how opinion writers would love to paint it, exercising one’s franchise is the best way to read a populace’s mind, not op-eds.
And the Lokniti CSDS post-poll survey shows that BJP’s vote share went up across groups including the so-called marginalised groups that are supposedly at the receiving end of ‘majoritarian violence’.
Comparing 2014 with 2019, this is how many voters chose BJP from particular groups:
Upper Castes – 54-61%
Upper OBC - 30-41%
Lower OBC 42-48%P
Peasant Castes – 33-38%
Muslim - 8% to 8%
Semi-Urban 30 to 33%
Urban - 39% to 41%
Poor -24 to 36%
Lower - 31 to 36%
Middle - 32 to 38%
Upper Middle - 38-44%
As one can see, BJP’s increase is sharp across all income groups and caste groups.
Indeed, it’s rather surprising that groups that were supposedly angry with BJP like the peasant castes (Jats, Patels), lower castes and others would vote so overwhelmingly in favour of the current dispensation which would suggest we take all op-eds on dissatisfaction with a pinch of salt.
It only remained constant for the Muslim vote but there exists a school of thought that Muslims who vote for BJP won't mention it out of fear of being osctracised, much like the silent black Trump voters in America.
In fact, BJP won half the minority-concentrated Lok Sabha seats in 2019. Of course, first past the post system has a lot to do with that.
Thirdly, the protesters will always be called out for highlighting one section of crimes and painting one religion as perpetrators, no matter how much they deny it.
As the outspoken Meghalaya governor Tathagata Roy pointed out, those who worry about Jai Shree Ram becoming a ‘provocative war cry’ have never uttered a word against Allah-u-Akbar which has caused a ‘thousand more casualties’.
What Roy simplistically puts, was explained by political Shafiqur Rahman with far more articulateness, the liberal’s’ obstinate blind spot for the flaws of Islam has opened them up to accusations of being selective in their outrage.
He wrote on The Dhaka Tribune: “In established democracies, Muslims are generally politically allied with liberal progressives, and this alliance has opened liberals up to accusation of double standards in protecting a very illiberal minority identity. Abandoning universalism and embracing identitarianism is hollowing out liberalism from within. Either the principles of liberalism apply for all groups or none at all.”
Yet, it’s the rock that is breaking liberalism (as Rahman’s column was aptly called) across the globe, given rise to a right-wing nationalist identity that enjoys rich dividends in calling out the super-selectiveness.
The letter from the first group of intellectuals doesn't mention BJP activists killed in Bengal for chanting Jai Shri Ram, nor does it mention any other instances where Hindus are victims, and that sort of omission will always be called out.
Fourthly, the sources cited by the original letter, when a ruler is run over it, will be called out. In the past, it has been accused of bias, and even amended its list after being called out. Also, law is a state subject, not a central one, as many, many commentators have pointed out and it’s not like every incidence is taking place in BJP-ruled states.
Now one could say one shouldn’t look at incidents of violence through the cold prism of facts, but then one would be like Squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who once said that ‘people are more concerned about being precisely, factually and semantically correct than being morally right’ and went on to claim her ‘mistake wasn’t the same as the president lying about immigrants’.
That any sane person will tell you is a deeply flawed argument and it will always be called out. We don’t get a veto on facts simply based on our tunnel vision.
Fifthly, and most interestingly, if one were to go through the names of the signatories, there’s huge Bengali representation on both sides.It’s almost as if the battle isn’t for India’s soul at all. It’s for Bengal, where the chant Jai Shree Ram has become as much of a religious slogan a rebellious cry against Mamata.
Most political watchers missed the woods for the trees whilst predicting the saffron juggernaut’s rise in the state. No one saw the BJP sun rise so fast in the state, and Banerjee has called in reinforcements ahead of the 2021 state polls.
Prashant Kishor, the political strategist who rode to fame by helping Modi capture the nation’s mood in 2014, has been called in and TMC appears to be putting in great efforts to make amends. She has even started a 'Didi Ke Bolo' campaign, a public outreach program reminiscent of Modi’s 'Chai Pe Charcha'.
Didi has asked supporters not to indulge in political violence and to stop using state machinery against BJP supporters. She has asked leaders across the party hierarchy to participate in JanSanjog Yatra, to stop taking 'cut money' and wants to be seen as a more secular leader, both pro-Hindu and pro-Muslim.
Whether that works or not, we will see, but there’s no doubt that this isn’t the last we’ve heard of this battle.
And perhaps there are more letters in the offing, but one hopes that this time the letter writers will have the good sense to post them so at least the Indian postal system can benefit from their verbosity.