Not In My Name. Not In Gandhi’s Name Either!

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Indian liberals showed an impressive show of solidarity in various Indian cities under the banner of ‘Not in My Name’ campaign against the brazen lynchings of minorities in the name of beef as well as the enigmatic silence of the Narendra Modi government. A day later Modi broke his silence at Sabarmati ashram condemning the violence in the name of cow in a long winding speech salted with ambiguity. Did the success of the public campaign pressurise Modi into speaking out? It is possible but not necessarily so. More importantly, to expect few hours of hand holding to inspire a dramatic change of heart in Modi and his government would be a case of counting chickens before they hatch.

Since Modi’s speech, two more lynching cases have come to light, both in Jharkhand. But it really is not a case of mismatch between the prime minister’s words and his actions. The problem rather is the inadequacy of his words and the conspicuous absence of his unequivocal condemnation, leave alone a commitment to put the law-keeping agencies to take effective action against culprits. Barring his two words of remorse immersed in vagueness, he stuck to the importance of cow protection, invoking Mahatma Gandhi and Vivekananda with an erroneous misreading of history and facts. This subterfuge of legitimising his pet projects that are odds with Indian ethos by recalling national icons has become a habit. Neither of the two national heroes, he mentioned, advocated country wide beef bans, leave alone militant bans, even though they personally favoured cow protection.

While Vivekananda was a Hinduism revivalist and reformist who believed in a pacifist form of the religion and sought to promote its liberal values through interfaith awareness, Mahatma Gandhi’s is known as an apostle of peace and a crusader for values of equality, liberty, freedom and secularism through non-violent means.

Gandhi famously said, “I have been long pledged to serve the cow but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus.” He also added, “How can I force anyone not to slaughter cows unless he is himself so disposed? It is not as if there were only Hindus in the Indian Union. There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians and other religious groups here.” Gandhi showed no inclination of imposing his cow protectionism on others or even propagate his own personal belief among masses peacefully. However, Modi, who two years ago reduced this apostle of peace to a cleanliness man, has now sought to use him as a prop not as much to oppose lynching mobs but to justify cow protectionism. This is a clear case of deception. In the name of the country’s most beloved and respected icon at that.

With his double speak, Modi has very craftily trivialised and dwarfed the seriousness of the issue of lynchings by raising cow protectionism on a higher pedestal. The polysemy of his words cannot change historical realities or offer any kind of legitimacy to butchery in the name of cow protection and ultra-nationalism. A correct reading of history would have acquainted him with Gandhi’s intolerance for violence. His staunch belief in the principles of ahimsa made Gandhi call off his peaceful non-co-operation movement against the British oppression after the violence of Chauri Chaura erupted. In response to communal violence that erupted in Naokhali in Bengal, Gandhi spent months in Bengal to calm down tempers, In September 1947, soon after independence, he went on his last hunger strike not only to protest against delay in transfer of Rs 55 crores to Pakistan, in accordance with the partition deal, but also against the rampaging of a Muslim shrine in Mehrauli which had sparked immense fears amongst Muslims. Can one think of Modi even making a feeble attempt to tighten his grip over law and order machinery to act against lynch mobs, rein in the saffron brigade motivators of these mobs or spend time among Muslims and Dalits to speak words of assurance or even to express solidarity? Can Modi evince even a minute fraction of Gandhi’s courage?

But Modi is no Gandhian. He is an RSS pracharak first; and even though he rode his chariot to 7 Race Course road by talking about inclusive development, his obvious ambition is to centralize all authority and practice exclusionary politics by turning India into a Hindu Rashtra. To expect him to act against the monstrous genies of lynch mobs he has created with his constant obsession with cow protection would be a bit too wishful. So does that render the ‘Not in my name’ campaign futile? Not at all!

The campaign has come under criticism even by some liberals, who either feel that such campaigns only help the Hindutva cause with its anti-minorities focus or does not promote the cause of Dalits oppressed not just by Hindutva but also by the oppressive Hindu caste system. Such queries should not be dismissed but engaged with critically to strengthen the campaign further. History offers a fascinating lesson of the evolution of liberal ideas and values; of periods and eras when new ideas have been infused and became acceptable only with time. It is time to grapple with these critical questions of how a movement against oppressive Hindutva must also begin to challenge the oppressive caste system that exists irrespective of the hate soaked saffron agenda.

Some have also questioned why liberals took time to come out of their closet only after 15-year-old Junaid’s lynching on the train. Human nature is too baffling as to offer a suitable explanation. But there are always inexplicable ways in which collective human conscience is shaken by some incidents more than ever. The building of nation-wide massive campaigns against Delhi bus gang rape or 2G scam, in recent years, even though sexual violence and corruption had been existing in the society for long, are two such cases in point. It is not necessarily the religious identity of Junaid but more likely his age that provokes an automatic outrage. However, it is important that the focus of this wave of oppression does not become a voice singularly for one oppressed community.

It is true that trumpeting about Muslim victimization in an age of Islamophobia will eventually be used by the saffron brigade to brand and demonise the liberals. But that should be no excuse to dig holes in the campaign. After all, it is also true that the latter has been using every discourse to anti-nationalise any kind of opposition and dissent – be it GST, demonetization or farmer’s issue. It ably uses its well oiled propaganda machinery to distort facts and use it to its advantage. Therefore, it is not only worthless to avoid speaking the truth to power but also important to unequivocally uphold liberal values without being apologetic about it.

However, what is important are strategies that are employed and words that are uttered for a sustained campaign. It is not necessary what is morally, ethically and legally right may also sound right for the rest. In times when a sizeable chunk of Indians are mesmerized by hate soaked Hindutva and right wing fascism, caution is extremely precious and must be exercised. There is need to learn a language that has better acceptability and is also able to connect with the masses at the grassroots.

There is need to oppose what is unacceptable but also weave along with that a vision of a better India. This requires patience, ideas, intellectual stimulation and evolution, grasp over ground realities and the ability to combine all these for a consistent and collective fight not only to reclaim the liberal space but to turn these dark times into an opportunity for laying the foundations for a better India. To sum up, the ‘Not in my Name’ campaign is a good beginning. But it is important that this not be reduced to symbolism. Let this be nurtured, allowed to grow horizontally and vertically; and evolve.