All in the name of fighting terrorism

Ravi Kumar

Profiling, Repression and Consensus Creation

Post-September 2008, the political landscape of the country has further revealed what lies in the belly of the so-called ‘secular’ politics. The bomb blasts in Delhi and the subsequent ‘encounter’ in the Batla House area, which has been shrouded in controversy, gave us certain new tendencies that have been there in our polity but could never come out so overtly. The mass media, along with other instruments of state reminded how Muslims are potential terrorists. This message was conveyed wide across the country reflected in an image construction of Jamia Millia Islamia as a university where potential terrorists find a safe haven. So, media told us how the new face of terrorists is educated, urban, Muslim, somebody who lives with us without revealing his actual anti-national identity, may be as our friend or neighbour. The profiling of a religious community has reached a new stage. While political formations are out there proving their nationalist credentials, particular religious communities are also compelled to prove their nationalism. An era of homogenised perception of nation is being carved. Irrespective of political colours, these trends are fostering an overall right-wing fascist character of polity to become dominant and the only possibility.

If one travels through the recent incidents, beginning from Delhi’s, one finds a general trend towards enforcing the spirit of nationalism (which is more so, perhaps, in times of economic recession of which India has not been aloof). One particular community gets targeted and this time, the Congress Party which is in power and which has claimed to take up their cause vis-à-vis Hindu fundamentalism, has been instrumental in this whole process. It not only rejected the demand for a judicial enquiry into the police ‘encounters’ that took place in Delhi at the cost of creating significant dissent within the party (leaders such as Salman Khurshid came out openly against the Party’s stand) but being the party in power at the Centre as well as in the state of Delhi it was instrumental in killing of the youth in police ‘encounters’. Obviously, it has to compete with the ultra-nationalism of the right wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Hence, the issue was to prove who could be a more committed nationalist (which could be proven only by rejecting any appeal for an enquiry into the incidence).

Alongside this politics has been the role of mass media. It is impossible not to condemn the barbaric acts of terror such as the one that took place in Mumbai, though, due to its own obvious compulsions, the electronic media played down the death of ‘others’ (those who died at the railway station, on road or elsewhere) in comparison to those who died in the two hotels or the Cafe. While the condemnations of such acts have been overwhelming but they are not bereft of their own ideological and political ramifications. Take for instance the case of how the electronic media became ‘concerned’ with such an incident and in what language did it express its concern. The analysis and acts of brazen political allegiance hidden under the garb of value neutrality and ‘truth’ – that is partisan, partial and blatantly elitist – told us to do many things and think in a particular fashion during the course of those three days.

Equipped with the art of, what Goffman would have called, ‘role-play’, some of them told us, panting, with voices choking out of concern, stories of how people died and how terrorists broke glasses, fired shots and burnt down halls. Sensationalism sells, there is no point arguing about it, and therefore everyone was trying to give us information which was different from others. While telling us that one could capture ‘live’ the encounter between police and terrorists and a hostage drama, something that we could have watched only in films, the news channels were also putting their ideas onto us.

In between Suhel Seth, Alyque Padmse, Shobha De and others came out virulently against ‘politics’ (not telling us overtly that they were, therefore, arguing for another kind of politics), for a citizen’s initiative to be led by the TV news channels. A typical attitude that appeals to the post-liberalisation middle class and moneyed segment, which argues for stringent security measures (in fact one of the ‘serious’, pro-people, pro-encounter, ‘nationalist’, news channel boss did suggest something along the lines of the Patriot Act or Homeland Security Act for India), stronger bureaucracy and army and less space for dissent. Criticism by the electronic media of those who have been demanding enquiry into the Delhi killings by the police has been consistent ever since. They have been termed ‘conspiracy theorists’, anti-nationals and pro-terrorists. In other words, any voice of dissent, any question raised at the acts of the police has come under severe criticism. Somehow a majoritarian understanding characterises our life now – from what we are fed through the media to the everyday beliefs that we tend to form about the world and its inhabitants. And we have seen that even within the political framework of those who call themselves champions of minority rights. The State, in such a situation, reflects an overwhelmingly majoritarian politics. And one of the biggest disadvantages of such politics is that it does not allow dissent or does not entertain self-critical positions.

In such a situation where does the politics that bases itself in the anti-capitalist ethos stand. The opposition to the way the state has been involved in an active profiling of the Muslims or the way it has institutionalised repression under the garb of security and nationalism fails to look through the apparent forms of state actions. Hence, a critical standpoint that analyses majoritarianism, the right-wing fundamentalism or authoritarianism of the state as the obvious outcomes of its inherent character is lacking. The issue of false police ‘encounters’, or profiling of the Muslim community can be countered only through a counter-politics (it will be interesting to see which class of the Muslim community comes with such a politics). In other words, one will have to demolish the majoritarian stance of the Congress and BJP alike. In an environment, where politics among the learned (intelligentsia itself) is ‘repressed’ (it gradually becomes a consensual repression) under the pretext of law and order, or under the garb of a narrowed interpretation of communalism it becomes difficult to tackle the issues discussed above. Hence, unless the resistance becomes overtly political at all levels, right from the bottom of the societal pyramid, the issues will remain effervescent as they are now.


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