Portrait of the Bulldozer as an Instrument of Communal Justice; Parties Before Court Are Equal in Theory, But State Now More Than Equal
Khargone-Khambat model debuts in Delhi, CPI(M) physically halts demolition, Jignesh Mevani arrested, tweets withheld, Sudarshan News pilots ‘naukri jihad’, TV anchor has seat on bulldozer, will travel
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Snapshot of the day
April 21, 2022
This edition of The India Cable is dedicated to the new flavour of communal politics ― a mechanised improvement on an old script (see The back story below) ― that Delhi has just been introduced to, and which sections of the press have shamelessly embraced. Its ascendance should have been obvious with the re-election of ‘Bulldozer Baba’ in UP. The bulldozer strangely attracts authoritarians in India. Sanjay Gandhi had got Jagmohan, an extraordinary man who withered everything he touched, to deploy them in Delhi’s Turkman Gate in the Seventies. The experiment didn’t go well, but is being reprised.
But first, this morning’s news: Gujarat Dalit MLA Jignesh Mevani has been arrested by the Assam Police in the state, and will be taken to Assam. Two of his tweets have been blocked in India. The first, translated from Hindi: “PM Narendra Modi, who reveres Godse, will visit Gujarat on the 20th. I request him to appeal for peace and amity in Himmatnagar, Khambhat and Veraval, where communal violence took place.” The second tweet: “The gaddars of Nagpur, who haven’t flown the tricolour in decades, danced with saffron flags at a mosque in Veraval yesterday. For shame! This is the land of Ramprasad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan, keep the peace here.” Both the withheld tweets are appeals for peace.
And in an indelicate irony, British PM Boris Johnson will apparently inaugurate a plant for manufacturing backhoes on his impending visit, in the thick of bulldozer politics. As if he didn’t have enough improprieties to deal with back home ― a Covid norm-breaking party and the rerouting of UK asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Now, of the developments in Delhi, readers can decide which is worse:
1. The government-backed Hindutva violence against Muslims, which has reached the national capital? The state has used first the police and then the municipal bodies with their bulldozers, with television networks and newspapers carried along to broadcast triumphal images.
2. Or the defiance of a stay order by the Supreme Court ― of a bench headed by the Chief Justice of India himself? This is happening in the national capital, days after similar violence in numerous BJP-ruled states and after a public dressing-down by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington DC in the presence of two top Indian ministers. The depths being plumbed are bottomless. The demolition and the defiance of the law are equally disturbing.
As Scroll describes it, “An hour after India’s Supreme Court ordered municipal authorities to stop demolitions in Delhi, a bulldozer came crashing down on the entrance gate of a mosque in Jahangirpuri. Muslim residents who live in housing enclaves behind the mosque stood watching through tall iron gates that were locked that morning. ‘But there is a court order,’ one of them shouted in disbelief.” Today, the Supreme Court extended the stay on demolitions by two weeks, and said it would take a serious view of the flouting of its earlier order. The Wire reports today on a Hindutva mob raising slogans outside the Jahangirpuri police station against those who had been arrested for the Saturday communal violence. Women who had come to inquire about their family’s whereabouts were called Bangladeshi and anti-national. Meanwhile, the PM is on his own trip.
In the past two weeks, there have been at least two other instances – in Khargone in Madhya Pradesh and Khambhat in Gujarat – of bulldozers being sent to demolish homes of alleged rioters as local authorities suddenly woke up to “encroachments” after episodes of communal violence. Both states are ruled by the BJP. The practice of punishing alleged Muslim offenders by battering their homes, however, has been pioneered by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath, who has earned himself the monicker of ‘Bulldozer Baba’. With the demolitions at Jahangirpuri on April 20, the BJP’s bulldozer politics finally arrived at the national capital.
Delhi became the fourth state to roll out bulldozers in connection with the violence accompanying Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti.
In Gujarat, see what happened just after the violence, here. For Madhya Pradesh, read what the chief minister said to justify the use of bulldozers and eventually, this is what transpired there. In UP, which pioneered the use of the bulldozer to whip up majoritarian sentiment and dress it up as the legitimate imposition of ‘law and order’, the signs were visible in the election rallies of Chief Minister Adityanath.
In the sweltering heat, CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat stood in the way of a bulldozer, waving a copy of the Supreme Court’s order to maintain status quo on the demolitions, as the municipal authorities continued to raze homes and shops despite the order. “I have come here because the Supreme Court had given a status quo order at 10:45 am. Our senior lawyer was present in the court and I have the court order. I am here to meet officers and demand the implementation of Supreme Court orders. I am here to stop the bulldozer which is disregarding the law and the Supreme Court order,” Karat told the media. Citing the example of several BJP-ruled states, Karat said the demolition drive had nothing to do with “encroachments” and was clearly communal in nature, and unconstitutional. The Left seemed to have been the only Opposition on the ground. The Major Jaipal Singh Memorial Fund is collecting contributions for affected families.
In Delhi, it all began at around 6.30 pm on April 16, Hanuman Jayanti. Hindutva groups of the Sangh Parivar had organised processions supposedly to commemorate the occasion – like similar processions were organised on Ram Navami in places like Khargone. In the working-class neighbourhood of Jahangirpuri, these so-called “shobha yatras” took place at 9 am, 3.30 pm and 4 pm that day.
According to a dozen Hindu and Muslim residents who spoke to Newslaundry, all three yatras were visibly violent – the processionists wielded swords, bats and even guns. This is visible in video footage shot. Then, at 6.30 pm, according to residents, two participants in the yatra attempted to plant saffron flags inside Jahangirpuri’s Jama Masjid, where Muslims had gathered for the evening prayers. The day after, The Quint caught a BJP leader and his followers on film, raising slogans in front of the very mosque that was at the heart of the clash that resulted.
Of course, the Delhi Police FIR tells a different story. Filed on the basis of a complaint by Inspector Rajiv Ranjan Singh, the FIR said the yatra had been “peaceful” until it reached the mosque, where “one Ansar” and four to five others “started quarrelling” with participants in the yatra: “Despite repeated appeals by the police, one community continued to pelt stones and as a result, the police had to use tear gas shells to ease the situation.” The FIR also said the crowd “attacked” the police, and a sub-inspector suffered a gunshot injury. A stampede took place and public property, including a few shops, was allegedly damaged and some vehicles were torched. Additional police forces soon reached the spot and barricaded the entire locality.
In the aftermath of the rioting on April 16, BJP leaders had alleged that Bengali-speaking Muslims who live in the alleys of Jahangirpuri are “illegal Bangladeshis” and “Rohingya” refugees from Myanmar. It was a prelude to the demolition drive to root out so-called illegal encroachment. Muslim residents who live in the lanes behind the mosque were hurt by these claims. While AAP had initially picked up the ‘Rohingya’ thread, saying that they were settled by the BJP to trigger communal riots, Manish Sisodia said today that razing the house of Amit Shah and the BJP HQ would rid India of communalism forever.
Influenced by The Kashmir Files, Hindutva workers have threatened to purge Muslims from a Roorkee village. In the aftermath of a Hanuman Jayanti procession which saw stone pelting on April 16, most Muslims have had to leave the Bhagwanpur area. Those who stayed behind say they are in constant fear.
A rabid Hindutva channel supported by government advertising, Sudarshan News is back to targeting Muslims over employment, calling it ‘naukri jihad’. State-owned Pawan Hans, under the Ministry of Civil Aviation, is hiring Muslim candidates trained at Jamia Millia Islamia, alleged the channel, starting a new Hindutva conspiracy theory against Muslims. AltNews has the factcheck of the malicious and vicious rumour.
Reuters, Al Jazeera and CNN, among others, carried the Delhi demolitions as the main news from India. On sites like Al Ahram in Egypt, it found a prominent place, entitled, ‘Muslim properties razed in New Delhi after communal violence.’