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Communalism in India is now several shades darker than what it was in the 1970s

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In Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh, authors Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar make a serious attempt to understand the contemporary form of communal politics in India.

Contemporary Hindutva is significantly different from the communal politics of the Jan Sangh in the 1970s and the BJP’s Ram temple agitation of the 1980s, and social media has a big role to play in it.

In Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh, authors Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar make a serious attempt to understand the contemporary form of communal politics in India.

Today, the violence is isolated in its eruptions, they argue, adding that such region-centric flare-ups allow political groups such as RSS and BJP to “keep the pot boiling”.

‘Socially nurtured, politically manipulated’

Examining communal violence in the post-2000 period, they map out the ways in which Hindu-Muslim antagonism is socially nurtured and politically manipulated.

The emphasis on its contemporary avatar allows the authors to deviate from the conventional understanding of communalism. The authors do not ask the old and somewhat problematic question: “What is communal violence?” Instead, they extract two relevant issues from information collected through fieldwork in Gorakhpur and Mau in eastern UP and Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in western UP.

The first question they ask is about the specificity of post-2000 communal violence. Making a broad comparison between the older forms of riots in the state and those that took place in the last two decades, the authors point out that the contemporary form of communal violence is confined to specific regions and does not become a state-level phenomenon.

The political economy of contemporary communalism is the second important issue the book raises. The authors study the socio-economic concerns of people at the bottom level of society and try to demonstrate how economic hardship is transformed into cultural hatred.

For instance, the chapter on Gorakhpur offers us a fascinating description of the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV). The authors show that the HYV primarily targets unemployed youth in the region and channelises their anxieties to pursue its anti-Muslim agenda. The political profiling of leaders like Yogi Adityanath and Sanjeev Baliyan bolsters the argument that Hindutva has undergone a radical change over the years.

‘Everyday communalism’            

The main argument of the book revolves around the ‘everydayness of violence’. The authors offer us a model of what they call “institutionalised everyday communalism”. For them, the defining feature of this model is the low-key, region-specific organised riots led by Hindutva organisations.

The institutionalisation of everyday communalism, the authors suggest, functions at three inter-linked levels. At the top, the BJP, as a political party, provides an ideological coherence and political legitimacy to the activities of individuals and groups who translate everyday conflicts into Hindu-Muslim rivalries. These actors function at the second level, where the actual institutionalisation takes place. The third level, which the authors call the outermost circle, is social media — Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp — which provides support to the strategy through constant propaganda.

This model is used to elucidate a few interesting questions, such as increasing OBC and Dalit support to the BJP, the creation of a larger Hindu consolidation, and, above all, the normalisation of anti-Muslim violence.

Two questions, however, may be further posed to evaluate the main arguments that stem from this fascinating study.

First of all, everyday communalism as a model does not sufficiently respond to the rich details this book offers. The authors do identify a legitimate pattern on the basis of similarities between the cases they study, but the specificity of each case poses challenges of a different kind. The Muzaffarnagar violence of 2013 and the Mau riots of the mid-2000s cannot entirely be described as two versions of everyday communalism even in an overtly comparative framework.

Second, despite the fact that the authors do look at Muslim politics of the post-Babri Masjid period in UP and try to find out a few trends, they have not been able to explain the formation of the contemporary Muslim identity in the state. As a result, we finally get two disjointed descriptions — a flat and dry narrative of Muslim politics and a detailed Hindutva story of political manoeuvring.

These inconsistencies, however, do not affect the flow of the arguments the authors make. They tell us that contemporary communal violence is more than a conflict between two or more religious communities. In fact, they argue that communal violence must now be understood primarily as violence against Muslims.

Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh, by Sudha Pai & Sajjan Kumar (2018). Oxford University Press. Pages 348 + xii. Price: Rs 995

Hilal Ahmed is an associate professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

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2 COMMENTS

  1. It is very unfortunate as Indians we failed to define terrorism. Terrorism or anyform of violence , what ever be the objectect , behind isbvoilence / terrorism. Unfortunately the political based violence and terrorism is dealth on a different putting. Suppose some Naxalite groups demolished Babri , the entire nation and even international community without batting an eye lid would have called it terrorist activity. Now what about that issue.Similarly cow civilians or moral policing orsuch activities were done by so called left oriented radicals , by this time all cases would have ended in judgement in one way or other.So we failed to define terrorism.

  2. Definitely … We hoped great things but he failed in all aspects ranging from employment,corruption, Defence, foreign policy, federalism , following spirit of democracy etc. He is good at political raj suppressing states, people, hiding facts ,one man show etc. He is the worst leader country saw till now.Not even a single contribution he can show off under his rule.

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