What was an Indian tri-colour doing at Capitol Hill? Finding space with American flags and flags of other nationalities like Iran, Vietnam and Korea, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise or a shock. Those worried about the Indian flag at the site of violence as America’s temple of body politic was being assaulted had forgotten about the Indian tri-colour going up when Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, batted for and fully supported Trump and his racist policies at various rallies organized by the Hindu supremacists settled in USA. It wasn’t too long back when the reciprocal Howdy Modi and Namaste Trump events reverberated with Modi’s slogan of “Ab ki Baar Trump Sarkar”.
The flag is only a symbol – used both by patriots to exhibit their pride and abused by those who weaponize it to assert their hatred, in the garb of nationhood and patriotism, with acts that are often undemocratic and inhuman. The ideas of those hoisting them should more be the subject matter of discussion.
Within India, there have been times when the Indian tri-colour has been misused in conjunction with Vande Mataram to shake the very edifices of the Indian democracy that rests on the principles of equality and justice. Those asking questions now should also be asking why they were silent when a 1000 strong group, lead by an organisation that erupted overnight, marched on the roads of Kathua with great pride under the shadow of the Indian flag – all in defence of the rape and murder accused of an eight-year-old nomadic girl. Also, when those who have used the flag to give legitimacy to their hate speeches and violent act, preceding and during the many recent riots across the country including in Delhi a year ago.
Most of the flags including the ‘tiranga’ that went up at Capitol Hill last week as rioters scaled the walls, smashed window-panes and tried to take control of America’s seat of power, beseeched by Mad King (outgoing) Trump, do not epitomise violence, illiberalism or fascism. (One of the few exceptions was the flag of the American Confederacy, a symbol championing slavery, that went up). Those who held these flags, however, were moved and inspired by these ideas.
To understand what the Indian flag was doing there, the Indians would need to look within at the many times Indian democracy has been assaulted, civil liberties of their fellow citizens crushed and the constitutional guarantees of equality trampled under the umbrella of multiple symbols and slogans including the national flag. This ultra-nationalism that has been at free display to harass minorities, activists and intellectuals, perpetuate a gender biased discourse, invoke obnoxious and convoluted conspiracies of ‘Love-Jehad’ and ‘Beef-eating’ is less about the nation and patriotism and more about an endorsement of fascist brand of politics that supports a supremacist agenda.
Those who support such a world view don’t need a particular nation, country or particular community for manifesting their contempt for liberal values, democracy and certain communities or groups of people. Fascist and supremacist agenda comes from a privileged position and is fed by the desire to protect that position. Even though the basic fountainhead of such an ideology would be contempt for a certain caste, community, tribe, nation or even economic class, the ideologues of supremacism tend to build up solidarities with others sharing similar ideologies. Their fascist and contorted world-view is a larger protective umbrella to protect their own elitist privileges and hegemonies. The pride of the Indian flag and American hoisters reveals a nexus between the White supremacists and the Hindutva ideologues – both fed by their common hatred of common enemies – Muslims, Leftists, Liberals and Democrats.
For the Indians, while the larger question is of the gradual destruction of democracy from within, what happens in America remains of interest not only because it is the superpower but also because despite all its bullying nature and many idiosyncrasies, its robust democracy and liberal values are inspiring for the world.
For the liberal Americans who are determined to preserve these values and strengthen them, as they grapple with the dark episode in their journey of democracy, there are lessons to be learnt from world history including India’s history of the past few decades. The scenes at the Capitol Hill were in many ways reminiscent of something that happened in India exactly 28 years ago when frenzied right-wing mobs took control of a monument and razed it to the ground while the law enforcing agencies watched as mute spectators.
Babri Masjid was not India’s symbol of democracy but its demolition remains a symbol of the destruction of one of the core principles of Indian democracy – secularism. Like the demolition of the mosque, there were prior intelligence inputs about the Washington D.C. incident. On December 6, 1992 when the mosque went down, there were reports of sections of the law enforcing agencies sympathetic to cause aiding and supporting the mobs, actively or with tacit silence. We saw a sequel of that feeble action in Capitol Hill last week with video footage showing some of the cops leading the mobs inside who not only engaged in rampage and threatened to harm the Senators inside with incredible confidence but came back to talk about it on camera and on social media posts with great pride. The Babri mosque demolishers may have been let off the hook by several investigations and courts in India but they continue to flaunt their actions with a similar pride, almost three decades on.
Yet, despite that ugly blot in India’s history, for a long time the Indian liberals chose to think of the cabal of right-wing mobs that brought the mosque down as the ‘fringe’. The Congress government in power at that time chose to treat the culprits with kids gloves falsely believing that by playing the soft-Hindutva they would be able to appease to the vitriolic majoritarian sentiment and assimilate it. This was a blunder that emboldened the supporters of fascism and gave them the fuel they were looking for. We continue to pay for that folly. Successive governments dragged their feet over issues of justice related to the demolition and the riots it triggered in various parts of the country till the apex court in 2019 called the demolition wrong and illegitimate and yet decided to proceed with gifting the land, where the mosque once stood, to the very people who demolished it. (The absurdity and ugliness of the final verdict rings louder now as a court in Pakistan, a country with scant respect for secularism and its unstable democracy, recently directed the reconstruction of a Hindu temple demolished by frenzied fanatics – a mock at democratic, secular India.) The signs of Indian nation’s increasing fascination with the Hindutva fascism project were visible when the Babri mosque fell but they continued to be ignored. What happened at Capitol Hill last week exhibits similar signs – the growing American appetite for white supremacism, the pride that frenzied people intoxicated by hatred can take in demolishing everything that America has achieved through a historic journey of struggles. Coming events cast their shadows before them.
As Joe Biden takes over the reins of power in America, he has the choice of treating the incident as an aberration and respond to it with lenience and some political hotch-potch; or view it as the evidence of a phenomenon potentially loaded for disaster and act with greater seriousness. His actions could change the script of this onward march of white supremacism. He should take a cue from world history.
Tailpiece: While outgoing American President Donald Trump oscillates between his victory of inspiring a mob to hold America’s temple of democracy hostage and that of the fears of his actions criminalised, opportunism is the sign of the times across the world as old allies and friends, weighing the course of the wind, decide to turn him in. Political friends turned foes like Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi apart, the social media corporate giants chose to block his account and delete his tweets promoting fake conspiracy theories and hate rhetoric only after the Capitol Hill ‘coup’ failed. Another lesson to bear in mind!