We are a country where you will find followers of Gandhi and Godse living together, as do admirers of Hitler and Stalin. However, this perception of India is fast changing.
Barely one day since the election results in Tripura, Section 144 of the CrPC has been imposed in several areas of the state. Among the various acts of violence, one stood out in particular — A statue of the erstwhile Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin was torn down by a mob whose members wore BJP caps. Of course, it was hailed as a symbolic act against oppression.
Across the world, India is known for being a vibrant, peaceful democracy marked by tolerance and diversity — ethnic, linguistic, religious and political. We are a country where you will find followers of Gandhi and Godse, as well as admirers of Hitler and Stalin, living together. However, this perception of India is fast changing.
The razing of the Lenin statue marks the beginning of the fall of India’s tolerant political culture. The incident does not signal the fall of communism, as many people on the Right would have you believe. The space where you could freely express your political ideas is shrinking and tightly monitored — especially opinions that go against the majoritarian view. One ideology wants to hijack the nation as its own. If you don’t subscribe to it, you are not patriotic and are acting against the nation.
Decades ago, you could belong to different ideologies and still pursue the shared endeavour for development and nation-building. Bhagat Singh, a revolutionary freedom fighter worshipped by many in India, was an ardent follower of Lenin and inspired by communism. In fact, right before his execution, he was reading a book written by or about Lenin. Manmath Nath Gupta, a close associate of Bhagat Singh, wrote about those moments:
“When called upon to mount the scaffold, Bhagat Singh was reading a book by Lenin or on Lenin, he continued his reading and said, ‘Wait a while. A revolutionary is talking to another revolutionary.’ There was something in his voice which made the executioners pause. Bhagat Singh continued to read. After a few moments, he flung the book towards the ceiling and said, ‘Let us go.'”
Despite being deeply inspired by Lenin, was Bhagat Singh hated by his fellow freedom fighters? No. Subhas Chandra Bose, another legendary freedom fighter, sought to form an alliance with Hitler’s forces. Was his role in the freedom struggle erased from history books because of his ideology? No. That India was very different.
Today, the razing of the Lenin statue has been justified by several people, including members of the ruling party, saying that it was the fall of a destructive ideology.
— ABP News (@abpnewstv) March 6, 2018
This raises a big question mark on the future of our country. Will acts of mob justice and vandalism of public property henceforth be supported by the government if they are in accordance with its political opinions? What if the government changes in the future? Will it be justified for a future government to endorse the vandalism of RSS members’ statues?
Some supported the razing of the statue with the argument that it was a symbol of painful oppression for some people:
I am not justifying vandalism-but surprised you are justifying continuance of painful symbols of oppression upon the masses! Perhaps you would have advocated that Hitler statues, Nazi symbols should have remained untouched as if to mock the victims of his oppression? #Lenin https://t.co/cXoYR3yt8G
— Shehzad Jai Hind (@Shehzad_Ind) March 6, 2018
However, does a mob have the right to decide what is a symbol of painful oppression and act against it? If, tomorrow, a mob of Nehru-haters pulls down his statues saying 60 years of Congress rule were painful and oppressive for them, will it be justified?
The truth is that if the rule of the mob is allowed to continue, the country will descend into anarchy. The police and judiciary would become mute spectators.
Our country has unfortunately started down that path already. Violent protests in the name of a ‘baba’ in Haryana, and against the movie ‘Padmaavat’ elsewhere, as well as the recent spike in mob lynchings: The common theme across all such incidents is the unwillingness of the government to implement law and order. These are all signs pointing in the same direction.
When one ideology wants to rule over others, it will not selectively choose which of its competitors to kill; it will want the elimination of all competition. And all kinds of criminal acts favourable to that ideology will be endorsed.
Today it is Lenin, tomorrow it will be Gandhi.
Dhruv Rathee is an activist and YouTuber.