POLITICS

Why The ‘Not In My Name’ Protests Did More Harm Than Good

A false sense of victory.

30/06/2017 12:41 PM IST | Updated 30/06/2017 12:42 PM IST
Amit Dave / Reuters
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi spins cotton on a wheel during his visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, India, June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Every year, once a year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemns lynchings committed in the name of cow protection. Every year, his condemnation is stronger. Responding to the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri in 2015, the prime minister had offered platitudes for Hindu-Muslim harmony.

In 2016, after seven Dalits were beaten up by cow vigilantes, the Prime Minister, for the first time, directly named and condemned self-styled 'gau rakshaks'. Seventy to 80 percent gau rakshaks, he said, were anti-social elements.

This year, after a series of killings of Muslims with the false bogey of 'beef', the Prime Minister spoke again. Speaking at Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad yesterday, Modi said killing in the name of cow protection was not acceptable. Reminding people of Gandhi and Vinobha Bhave, Modi made a Gandhian appeal for non-violence. After all, Gandhi and Vinobha both believed in cow-protection as well as non-violence.

The Prime Minister's appeal came a day after individuals and came together through social media to organise a multi–city protest called 'Not In My Name'. When the prime minister spoke the next day against the lynchings, protestors felt vindicated. They had achieved something.

It didn't even take a day for them to be proved wrong. Soon, news came from Jharkhand that yet another Muslim was murdered, the assault justified with that one-word license to kill — beef.

Gau, Gau, Gau

The 'Not In My Name' protests are not going to stop these incidents. The Prime Minister will repeat his annual admonition of cow vigilantes next year, but this business of saying 'Beef!' and getting any Muslim lynched at will is now beyond anyone's hands to control. The lynchings now are taking place not by professional gau rakshaks but just about anyone who has a problem with a Muslim — over a seating dispute in a train for instance.

A closer look at the PM's speech shows he made a distinction between non-violent cow protection and killings-in-the-name-of-cow-protection.

It would be ok if the 'Not In My Name' protests were merely futile. One has to speak up and speak out even if one doesn't succeed, they argue. Silence is complicity. Fair enough. The problem is that the protests were actually counter-productive. A closer look at the PM's speech shows he made a distinction between non-violent cow protection and killings-in-the-name-of-cow-protection. He spoke at length on the issue of cow protection, narrating a story.

When he was growing up, an incident happened in his village. A cow mistakenly killed a new-born child of Modi's neighbour. The only child of two poor masons was born after many years of marriage. The repentant cow stood before the family's house and didn't eat or drink anything, giving up its own life. With this story, Prime Minister Modi admonished those who commit violence in the name of cow protection.

A cow mistakenly killed a new-born child of Modi's neighbour. The only child of two poor masons was born after many years of marriage. The repentant cow stood before the family's house and didn't eat or drink anything, giving up its own life.

The net result is that cow protection is again centre-stage as one of the primary issues of Indian politics, circa 2017.

The Golwalkar Plan

Modi did not name MS Golwalkar at Sabarmati Ashram. The second chief of the RSS between 1940 and 1973, Golwalkar has had a huge influence on Narendra Modi by his own admission. Golwalkar was the man behind a huge cow-protection movement in the 1960s. Golwalkar told 'Milkman of India' Verghese Kurian, "What I'm trying to tell you is that I'm not a fool, I'm not a fanatic. I'm just cold-blooded about this. I want to use the cow to bring out our Indianness..." Golwalkar was clear in what he was trying to achieve. He was trying to unite Hindus with the issue of cow protection, using a powerful religious and cultural symbol that widens the Partition-marred cleft between Hindus and Muslims.

In other words, anything that brings Cow Protection centre-stage in politics actually helps the Hindutva cause. It helps further use cow protection as a means of uniting Hindus against Muslims — the sort of polarisation that has become routine in helping the BJP win elections.

Sadly, even protesting against the lynchings in the name of cow protection helps Hindutva, and thus only increases the political cover that cow vigilantes receive, never mind the Prime Minister's annual condemnation.

As the prime minister spoke of non-violent cow protection, it is possible to imagine that images from the 'Not In My Name' protest are already circulating on hate–filled WhatsApp groups, Hindi captions saying, "look at the beef eaters! Look at these anti-Hindus who want to kill the cow!"

Not all deaths are equal

Our independent left/liberal/radical voices didn't say 'Not In My Name' for these farmers.

In Sabarmati Ashram, the Prime Minister did not speak about the farmers' agitations across the country, their demands, hardships or suicides. He did not speak of the five farmers who were killed in police firing in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh. All that the farmers were demanding was an increase in the rates at which the government buys their produce, given the drought in the region. Perhaps the prime minister did not feel the need to remember Gandhi or Vinobha Bhave in this context, because our independent left/liberal/radical voices didn't say 'Not In My Name' for these farmers. No multi–city Facebook protests were organised. There were no songs of resistance, no appeals for justice, no mobilisation of media.

Had India's shrinking but influential left–liberal community organised a protest for farmers, the political discourse would have shifted away from Keyword Beef (which only furthers Hindutva) to Keywords Farmer, OBC, unemployment, demonetisation, economic slowdown — issues that would have made people ask questions about the promise of #AchheDin. After this had been achieved, questions about the lynching of Muslims would have found greater resonance.

Ashish Meghraj who?

Similarly, India's left–liberals could have organised a 'Not In My Name' protest for Ashish Meghraj. If 15-year-old Junaid Khan was killed in a train for being Muslim, 25 year old Meghraj was killed in Saharanpur last month because he was Dalit. Just as Junaid Khan was not the first Indian to be killed for his religious identity, Ashish Meghraj was not the first Indian killed for his caste.

The BJP is clear in that it does not even seek Muslim votes. In fact, it seeks to exclude Muslims from political power. It is unable to find a single Muslim to give an election ticket to in most elections. However, the BJP does seek Dalit votes, increasingly so. Their choice of a Dalit politician from the RSS fold, Ram Nath Kovind, is proof.

This is how Hindutva could have been politically weakened, and without politically weakening Hindutva, Muslims cannot be saved from its violent edge.

Had our left-liberals organised a 'Not In My Name' multi-city, multi-media protest for Meghraj, his name would have become as well-known as that of Khan or Akhlaq and Pehlu Khan, amongst those who seek justice. This would have caused some real political damage to the Hindutva project of uniting Hindus against Muslims — using such symbols as the holy cow. This is how Hindutva could have been politically weakened, and without politically weakening Hindutva, Muslims cannot be saved from its violent edge.

Alas, no flex posters were printed for Meghraj, no songs written for him, no slogans coined in his memory.

Why only Muslims?

It is laudable that our left-liberals are moved by the persecution of Muslims, but why are they not moved by the persecution of Dalits or farmers or the poor in general? This is obviously because our left-liberals have Muslim friends but no Dalit or even OBC friends. The disconnect our left-liberals have from the real India is evident in their growing marginalisation in political discourse.

The BJP has risen to power by, among other things, fixing its upper caste bias. It has an OBC prime minister, will soon give India its second Dalit president, it assuaged and brought back its old OBC leaders such as Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti, and it has been inducting and allying with Dalit-OBC leaders at all levels from panchayat to Parliament. It has been doing so not just electorally but socially too, directly and through the RSS.

One obvious reason for the decline of the Congress party, and similarly the marginalisation of the independent left, is that both remain upper-caste dominated. They can't even see what they can't see. They are so trapped in their People Like Us filter bubble, constantly preaching to the converted, that nobody even pointed out that the name of a mass protest should perhaps not be in English!

The path to hell is paved with good intentions. With poetry and music aired through poor quality sound systems, our left-liberals walk into the Hindutva trap again and ever again, happily becoming the other pole of the polarisation that Hindutva seeks, getting played by the same old trick because it feels so cathartic to protest from the heart without thinking from the brain.

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