Perhaps the most telling public message Pragya Thakur sent out after establishing dominion over Bhopal was a visual she tweeted. It had photographs of Giriraj Singh, Sakshi Maharaj and herself. It had their Lok Sabha victory margins superimposed: 4.19 lakh, 3.65 lakh and 4.01 lakh, respectively. It also had a caption emblazoned in saffron that read: “Yeh aankde bahut kuchh kehte hain… (these numbers tell a lot)”. Indeed they do. So too Pragya’s chosen trio — Giriraj Singh, Sakshi Maharaj and herself, all outspoken Hindu majoritarians who have made political careers taunting, bullying and baiting minorities; Pragya stands accused of worse, of having masterminded the Malegaon blasts of 2006 which claimed 40 lives. But here she was, rich and righteous in proclamation, underlining to whoever cared to listen the meaning of the landslide margins for the three — it was the unabashed, unapologetic Hindutva arrowheads that had won big in 2019, get the message from the mandate if you haven’t yet: jo Hindu hit ki baat karega, wohi desh par raj karega.
And guess who tip-toed to the centre stage from behind such chilling chorus just days later? Pratap Chandra Sarangi, newly elected MP from Balasore in Odisha, called out on the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt to take oath as minister of state in Narendra Modi’s second government. Sarangi of the bedraggled mane and beard has come introduced to the uninitiated as a devoted, austere, even saintly figure whose lifetime’s leitmotif has been simple living. There is another way Sarangi must be introduced. He was chief of the Odisha chapter of the Bajrang Dal when the Christian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two boys were burnt to death in 1999. Later, in 2002, Sarangi was charged with rioting, arson, assault and damaging government property. The government property in question happened to be the Odisha state assembly, which a violent VHP-Bajrang Dal mob had attacked. Sarangi too is to the hardened Hindutva manner born, a recruit marked out for services rendered and patted into the Lok Sabha and public office from the same stables as Pragya and other such notables.
If Pragya was a dagger brazenly wielded in the face of the conscionable and the correct — how could one accused of terror plots, one who hero-worshipped the assassin of Gandhi, be endorsed for the Lok Sabha by India’s ruling party? Sarangi was a dare, revealed on the honours list at Rashtrapati Bhavan. They were both tools, as it were, of pushing the boundaries of public discourse; it’s done to award a Lok Sabha ticket to a terror-accused, it’s done to honour a belligerent sectarian with a ministerial berth. That’s the direction to head in. But this is neither about Pragya Thakur nor Pratap Sarangi. This is about their enablers and promoters, namely Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, and his effective Number Two and home minister, Amit Shah. This is about the project that they have been systematically, and successfully, pursuing a good while now. This is about the euphemism they call New India. Do not be confused about it, New India is nothing like the New India Indians adopted and swore themselves to on January 26, 1950. This New India is a work in progress; it has consumed two general elections and the spaces in between. It will consume more, not slowly and steadily but speedily and sweepingly.
Violent street oppression, even lynching, barely makes news or gets notice, it has been pushed to brief mentions in the inside pages, if that. You can be beaten up, even killed, for what you wear because in doing so you have publicly identified yourself as the Other. Nobody cares. You can be harangued and threatened into forsaking your faith, if only temporarily, and paying obeisance to another. Nobody cares.
Godse worship has leapt out of closets and now occupies more than just one seat in the Lok Sabha; many more than one, if only the Pragya example would encourage others to come out. Marginalization of the minorities is a badge proudly worn by the ruling party; it’s almost a manifesto resolve of theirs, we don’t want their votes, strong majority governments can be achieved without them. In fact, they can all go to Pakistan, so can those who espouse their constitutional rights. All of this has swiftly become the new normal over the last five years.
But more is to come, inevitably. For what Modi began in 2013 is only understood in part if it is understood as a quest for power. It was a quest for empire. We have seen two general elections in that period, but what we may be missing out on is the referendum that was simultaneously triggered and has not come to the end of its course yet. It is a referendum that seeks to establish a majoritarian India. It is the quest for an empire that predates the many empires that ruled these parts over the last eight hundred years or so, empires fashioned by those that came from land, and empires fashioned by those that arrived via the seas. The little problem with those that arrived from land is that they stayed; they became part, and even when they parted, more chose to stay than go away. That problem needs solutions.
And so what has rolled out between the general elections of 2014 and 2019 is an undeclared open-ended referendum on what the arrival of Narendra Modi in power should really come to mean. These were no ordinary elections. Their meaning needs to be understood beyond the numbers in the Lok Sabha and the arrangements of executive governments. The time that passed between the arrival of the first Modi government and the installation of the second also needs to be carefully grasped. This was no ordinary time. And the time to come may be even less ordinary. For if there is one thing the last two general elections have done, it is this: validate the values Modi and his worldview embody and vacate the values of several, or all, of his prviaedecessors. Majoritarian India has never been so audaciously enthroned. The majoritarian ethic has never appeared so unflinching in its determination to impose itself. It has promised not to stop doing so, and is in a daily dare to those who will come in the way. The proliferating use of the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ cry as a heckler hoot is merely the street symptom of it. There’s more in the works where that came from. There is the promise to dismantle Article 35A of the Constitution which enshrines special guarantees to Jammu and Kashmir; there is the promised push for a Uniform Civil Code; there is the issue of space for the ‘Mandir’, of course, forever on the board; there is too the foregrounded pledge to effect a National Register of Citizens, herald of an indigenous lebensraum. It’s part of the playbook of the powers, now better than ever abled with 303.
Those who cannot see the fracture between Modi bowing before the Indian Constitution in the Central Hall of Parliament and the Modi that prodded the likes of Pragya and Sarangi into our top legislative House are deluding themselves. Or perhaps, and unfortunately, they see it and like what they see. Pragya Thakur was probably right to put out the image of that trio of which she is part; it proclaims not the victory of the BJP but of those in the ranks who won bigger than most… yeh aankde bahut kuchh kehte hain.