If the PM continues his pattern, then these false letters and allegations are a part of a larger sinister ploy to clear the field for 2019 and will spell danger for our Democracy
On 27th September 2002, two armed attackers entered Akshardham temple premises in Gandhinagar, Gujrat. They killed 30 people and injured more than 80. Both of the attackers were killed by the security forces in the confrontation that ensued. In what followed, 6 people were arrested. They were eventually acquitted by the Supreme Court more than after a decade in 2014. The top court made very strong remarks against the police investigation and went to the extent of calling out the role of the then Home Minister of Gujarat as “non-application of mind”. But what had already followed in the aftermath of the Akshardham attack was a series of encounters by Gujarat police, who claimed that “terrorists” were out to kill then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. From 2003 to 2006, there were 22 police encounters and all of them had almost had the same storyline. Terror operatives apparently coming to Gujarat with the plan to kill the Chief Minister and the Gujarat cops foiling each and every attempt. Before any such assassination could have taken place, the police would kill the terrorists. Amongst such cases, the one that gathered media attention was that of Ishrat Jahan, Sadiq Jamal, Tulsiram Prajapati and Sohrabuddin Sheikh. Many of these encounters have been dubbed as fake, and the top cops of Gujarat Police like DG Vanzara had gone for long periods of incarceration for their role in these killings. Questions were also raised on the role of current BJP president Amit Shah and he also had to face jail time over his involvement. Incidentally, 2007 was the year of Gujarat Assembly elections. Total seats: 182. BJP: 117, INC: 59.
The script as was seen by many during that time was that Narendra Modi because of his Pro-Hindu image had to face the brunt of Muslim religious fanatics. Through this posturing of being a victim of Muslim fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism, he consolidated his image of Hindu Hriday Samrat, stealing the image from the late Shiv-Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray. An image that would give him returns in the form of a clear majority in Gujarat state assembly elections – elections that were contested on very personalised imageries of Narendra Modi.
Come 2014, in the month of March just prior to the polling for the General elections, again 4 terror operatives were arrested from Rajasthan. It was claimed that these were out on with a plan to kill the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Prior to this, from November 2013 to January 2014, several media outlets such as TV9, OneIndia, and even ANI, reported that Indian Mujahideen terrorists are out to kill Narendra Modi and other senior BJP leaders, quoting mostly “unnamed sources”. On 20th March 2014, the BJP citing these media reports, conducted press meets and sent a delegation to meet with the Home Minister to submit a memorandum, which read: “It has come to our notice that several sections of the media have reported, based on IB sources, that there is a threat to our leaders and this threat could even lead to kidnapping. It was suggested in these media reports that the motive behind such a heinous act could be to obtain the release of the terrorist Yasin Bhatkal.” Interestingly though, the news reports which had triggered these news conferences and memorandum to the Home Ministry, are nowhere to be found anymore. The only such report now appears on Niticentral, a BJP mouthpiece. Nirmala Sitharaman’s press conference and Ravi Shankar Prasad’s interview to the press after submitting the memorandum were carried prominently but no channel or newspaper bothered to dig up the media reports which had indicated the existence of such alerts and threats. Though the major plank for BJP’s election campaign in 2014 was “development” and “Gujarat Model” spearheaded by Narendra Modi, Hindutva agenda was also on the cards. Here as well, the election campaign was around the personalised image of Narendra Modi. The lurking danger around him fitted well with BJP’s narrative of Anti-India forces getting uncomfortable with his increasing popularity and thus there were threats around his life.
After four years of Modi government, with unfulfilled poll promises of employment development and all the over-ambitious electoral gimmicks, the discontent against this regime has been on the rise. With just one year prior to the elections, BJP finds itself in an uncomfortable position especially after the by-election reversals of Gorakhpur, Bhandara-Gondia and Kairana, as well as the uncomfortably close win in Palghar. It thus seems that it has resorted to the tried and tested mechanism of posturing Narendra Modi as a victim, not just of all the opposition parties coming together against him, but also a victim of mortal threats to his life. A strategy that has reaped dividends in the past on many occasions, one that presents him both as a crusader and as a victim, constantly in mortal danger.
Both the timing and content of these recent letters that are supposed to be “incriminating evidence” of a Maoist plot to kill the Prime Minister, deserve attention. Yet another election is knocking on the doors of the Indian polity, and yet again, there seem to be “assassination plots” being hatched (and unearthed) against the lives of important political leaders of the ruling regime. Over the past 4 years, the Indian electoral politics has seen a sharp decline of mainstream political opposition to the ruling BJP. The Congress, after being routed in the 2014 elections, has still not able to posit itself as a force that can take on the well-oiled election machinery of BJP. The regional parties have also seen shifting of their vote base, and even sections of their leadership, to the BJP and have struggled to offer a pro-people alternative in elections. In such a situation, the main oppositional force to the ruling regime is really from mass mobilisations on issues such as rising violence against Dalits and Muslims, peasant mobilisations against the crumbs that are being offered in the name of loan waiver, anti-displacement, and many other such movements. This is the current political context in which anti-caste social activists, people’s lawyers fighting for civil liberties, professors and anti-displacement activists working for people’s movements, are getting incarcerated.
But for now, the fact is that people’s activists and leaders of democratic struggles are being incarcerated on dubious grounds. Mass movements outside of the strict confines of the Parliament are being targeted, and the clear goal seems to be to dry out any kind of significant political opposition well in advance of the 2019 General elections. It is important to note that while on the day of the arrests, the mainstream political-media rhetoric was the arrest of “Dalit activists”, who were planning to “break the nation” through their “caste politics”, particularly post Bhima Koregaon, within 24 hours, the rhetoric was switched over to Naxalite-Islamist conspiracies, alleged assassination plots, etc. Attacking anti-caste, anti-communalism, anti-displacement movements in effect, while weaving a parallel narrative of Naxalite-Islamist mechanisation on the sovereignty of the nation – while it is not clear what the “two-line struggle on the urban front” from “Comrade R’s” letter really means, it is quite clear what the “two-bit” tactic of the Government looks like.
The fake, tampered and studio-made videos combined with the photo-shopped or morphed images have demonstrated to what extent the BJP can stoop down to, for maligning a leader’s or a party’s image and more dangerously to completely change the public narrative. The BJP IT cell is an excellent factory for such content. The doctored videos that were aired by media channels to harass the students from JNU are still fresh in public memory.
These doctored videos and posts show that the BJP will stop at nothing to ensure its return to power. But they do not reveal how far Modi, in particular, is prepared to go to maintain his grip on power. To grasp that, one needs to go back to the aftermath of the Gujarat riots of 2002, when he was the chief minister and Amit Shah was his home minister. Modi’s handling of the riots, in which a thousand Muslims were killed in a matter of days, is mired in controversy till today. But what is not in doubt is the callous ruthlessness with which he stoked Gujarati chauvinism even while the killing was going on, and claimed that the nation’s condemnation was an attack on Gujarati pride and on Hinduism.
Not only did he refrain from restraining the mobs, but he managed to postpone the state assembly elections by four months to checkmate the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s move to remove him from the chief ministership of the state. Having succeeded in doing this, he continued to shore up his position within the party and the nation by using the cover of a Pakistan-aided attempt to assassinate him in revenge for Ahmedabad.
It is this cynical, two-decade-long, use of false allegations, faked evidence, videos and news to manipulate public sentiment that makes the current allegations against the 5 alleged ‘Naxals’ arrested by the Maharashtra police in a BJP-ruled state so disturbing. If Modi continues his pattern, then this allegation could be only the beginning of a witch hunt designed to remove rivals from the field on charges of sedition, treason or waging war against the state, clear the pitch before the 2019 general elections.
If that is indeed the plan, then Indian democracy’s most dangerous moments lie only months ahead.