Mumbai: American scholar Paul Brass, who has studied identity politics and communal violence in northern India extensively, talks of an “institutionalised riot system” in his book The Production of Hindu Muslim Violence in Contemporary India.
In this institutionalised system, he writes, “known persons and groups occupy specific roles” for the production of communal riots. And this production is often a very political one, with “intense inter-party competition and mass political mobilisation.”
Brass was talking about communal violence based on his research in Aligarh, but political experts say, the theory is perhaps not far off from what is currently happening in Maharashtra.
In the past three months, there have been at least seven incidents of communal unrest in different parts of Maharashtra. All the incidents were around common themes — a procession, a temple or a mosque, and social media posts — and in all of them, a combination of one or more of these factors sparked tensions between Hindu and Muslim groups.
The most recent incident was in Nashik district’s Trimbakeshwar after certain groups of citizens last week alleged that some Muslims tried to forcibly enter the temple. Many residents of the temple town later said that this was an age-old tradition where Muslims show fragranced smoke to the deity on the steps of the temple and pass.
The friction led to members of the Muslim community deciding to discontinue the tradition, while members of the Sakal Hindu Samaj, an umbrella group of various Hindutva organisations, sprinkled goumutra (cow urine) in the temple to supposedly purify it.
“As per Paul Brass’ theory, the sowing of seeds had happened a long time ago. And there is a machinery in place for watering the seeds, adding fertiliser,” Shruti Tambe, head of the sociology department at Savitribai Phule Pune University, told ThePrint.
In Maharashtra, there have been multiple factors that could have watered this seed, political analysts said.
And there are several instances that state the same — like a spirited campaign by Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena against loudspeakers atop masks in April and May last year; the uproar over “love jihad” after the murder of Mumbai’s Shraddha Walkar, allegedly by her Muslim boyfriend; and more than 50 ‘Hindu Jan Akrosh’ rallies held by the Sakal Hindu Samaj across the state alerting people against supposed ‘love jihad’ and ‘land jihad’ by Muslims.
The other instances include the renaming of Aurangabad and Osmanabad to Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar and Dharashiv to wipe out their Islamic influences, and also a change in Maharashtra’s political landscape with a split in the Shiv Sena and there now being three parties jostling to claim their supremacy over the Hindutva agenda.
“Love jihad” is a term that some use to refer to interfaith marriages or relationships allegedly done with the intention of converting Hindu girls to other religions.
“Land jihad” is a term that some use to allude to an alleged conspiracy by non-Hindus to acquire land parcels and edge out Hindus.
According to Tambe, social conservatism and religious fundamentalism are the children of globalisation, and the fabric of social interaction is unfortunately woven around fear.
“Sometimes the fear of China, sometimes Pakistan; from jingoism to xenophobia to Islamophobia. The citizenry can be turned into disciples and blind followers through the instrument of fear,” she said.
Meanwhile, political analyst Hemant Desai finds striking similarities between the situation today and that in 1992 when the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president L.K. Advani led a Ratha Yatra of 10,000 kilometres, passing through 10 states, to campaign for building a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
Speaking to ThePrint, Desai said, “I was there when the yatra crossed the Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar. The atmosphere that I could see there then, I can see in the state now.”
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A dominant Hindutva political narrative
State Home Minister Devendra Fadnavis speaking to reporters after the Trimbakeshwar incident said there are some organisations and people “who want the state to be unstable.”
Leaders of the Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) parties have blamed the BJP and pointed to a “conspiracy” to form gangs in the name of Hindutva to foment communal violence.
However, neither the ruling parties — the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena and the BJP — nor the MVA, which comprises the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, have made any assertive, emphatic statement about the rise in the number of such communal conflicts in the state.
According to Desai, the undivided Shiv Sena was any way in competition with the BJP over which of the two parties is more committed to the cause of Hindutva.
Now, with a split in the Shiv Sena, there are three parties trying to claim the Hindutva narrative in the state — the Shinde-led Shiv Sena, the Shiv Sena (UBT) and the BJP.
“Maharashtra’s political discourse used to be about issues related to economy, agriculture, criminal nexuses, underworld and development. This has now become all about Hindutva vs Hindutva, and everything revolves around that,” Desai said.
He added that the Congress and the NCP aren’t explicitly saying that they are against the Hindutva philosophy that the Shinde-led Shiv Sena and BJP are espousing. “Instead, these parties are also pushing emotional Hindutva issues such as how they will not tolerate disrespect to Chhatrapati Shivaji and Sambhaji Maharaj,” he said.
Ajinkya Gaikwad, assistant professor of politics at the Mumbai-based SIES College said it is only some civil society organisations that are talking about this strain of politics and the recent incidents of communal unrest.
“The Opposition parties are largely muted. Sharad Pawar will not get into such a sticky narrative because he knows his party is a fallback option for Marathi Hindus who are not happy with the Shiv Sena or the BJP,” he added.
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‘The Hindu sanghatan’
Speaking to ThePrint, Maulana Mehmood Dariyabadi, general secretary of the All India Ulema Council, said some people are trying to build an atmosphere keeping the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in mind.
“Over the past few months, there has been a concerted effort by some people. There were rallies being held across Maharashtra. This (the recent communal incidents) is the result of it,” he said.
However, he added, that the situation in Maharashtra is still not as bad compared to some other states, without naming any. “But, if this is not controlled, things can get out of hand,” he warned.
What Dariyabadi was indirectly referring to was a series of over 50 rallies from November last year to about March this year that multiple Hindutva organisations united to put up in Maharashtra. All these rallies centred around calls of protest against “love jihad” and “land jihad” as well as calling for an economic and social boycott of Muslims.
While the BJP as a party distanced itself from these rallies saying it had nothing to do with organising them, party leaders, MPs, MLAs as well as BJP state ministers enthusiastically participated in them. Leaders of the ruling Shinde-led Shiv Sena also attended some of these rallies.
Speaking to ThePrint about the rallies in March this year, Shriraj Nair, spokesperson and joint secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for Mumbai and Goa, said, “Atrocities against Hindu women are not cooked-up stories. We are not exaggerating. We are only showcasing what is happening. The people involved in the rallies are all Hindus, irrespective of caste, language or political preference.”
Nair said the rallies organically saw people coming out in support without the Sakal Hindu Samaj having to make any special efforts to mobilise them.
He explains the idea of a Sakal Hindu Samaj is it being a more spontaneous grouping of the entire Hindu community — the Sanskrit word ‘Sakal’ meaning whole — rather than any organised platform.
Political experts said the key word here is “Hindu community,” essentially “Hindu sanghatan,” which is better translated as “Hindu unionisation.”
Gaikwad, who is researching the rise of right-wing politics in Maharashtra, said, the Hindus are a scattered community broken into different languages, castes, and sects.
“As a political group, you want to challenge a community rooted in culture and which has brotherhood across the world. So what is the one thing that can bind the Hindus from leaping over the linguistic and caste-based identities? This is where the sanghatan comes into play,” he explained.
He added that the Hindu Mahasabha tried this, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP tried this. “Now, the Sakal Hindu Samaj is what the idea of a sanghatan is. But the very fact that it exists along with the RSS and with the BJP being in power is something that we have to think about,” he said.
According to him, with the BJP occupying power at the Centre, representing India on a global platform, the party can by itself not be this far right.
“The BJP cadres are strong enough, but they will try to fight battles online, keeping it civil on the ground. So who will bring the Hindus together? The RSS is seen as a very sanitised image, and so the Sakal Hindu Samaj helps,” Gaikwad said.
He explained that it serves multiple purposes — it represents itself as a civil society organisation and acts as a proxy for far-right politics while helping the BJP stay moderate and still take cues from such rallies to justify framing certain laws and policies.
To Gaikwad’s point, speaking in the state legislative council in March this year, deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who also holds the state home portfolio, said, “Prima facie, it appears that there is some kind of design behind such (love jihad) incidents. When there have been a large number of rallies by the majority community (on the issue), the government cannot ignore it.”
“It needs to take cognisance of their demands,” Fadnavis added.
(Edited by Richa Mishra)
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