I fear I myself may have been guilty of this sin (forgetting the past) recently, when I wrote in a message to my friends, reacting to the SC verdict on Ayodhya, that I hoped that this verdict would take the biggest grievance and most potent weapon of the BJP for the past 30 years, viz., the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, out of their armoury, and force them to focus on issues of governance.
That in itself is not an unreasonable hope: after all, the BJP’s rise and rise began only with the Ayodhya agitation, which started in 1989, under the leadership of LK Advani, and culminated in the Supreme Court verdict of 9th November, 2019. This far-reaching verdict granted the entire land where the Babri majsid had once stood to the Hindus, even ordering the Central Government to build a Ram Temple at the spot (why this is a concern of the Honourable SC is a mystery). So to hope that the granting of the main demand of the Hindutva movement of the last 30 years might give us some respite is not illogical.
|The Demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992|
However, in hoping so, I had clearly forgotten what history has taught us happens when you appease those who bully and oppress. The classic case of failed appeasement, of course, is that of the Nazis before World War II.
I am thinking of how, in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler first annexed the Saarland, then the Rhineland, then enforced the “Anschluss” (union) with Austria, then annexed the Sudetenland, and finally invaded Czechoslovakia, before the rest of Europe decided that there was no end to his territorial ambitions, and declared war on Germany when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.
It is important to note that at the September, 1938 Munich agreement between Germany, Italy, France, and Britain to force Czechoslovakia to give up the Sudetenland to Germany under the threat of imminent war, Hitler grandly announced that the Sudetenland was his “last territorial claim” in Europe.
And yet, within six months of the agreement, Germany had invaded and conquered the rest (the “rump") of Czechoslovakia. And in six more months, Hitler had invaded Poland.
It was the invasion of Czechoslovakia that told Britain and France that Hitler could not be trusted, and that the Munich agreement was a failure and a mistake.
What was the lesson of Munich for posterity? The lesson was that appeasement of an aggressor does not work; on the contrary, appeasement only encourages the aggressor to indulge in more aggression.
Fast forward to 2019.
Why did the SC rule in favor of the Hindus in the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute? And why were so many people “relieved” at the verdict?
There may be many reasons for this. It is hard for us to fathom why the Hon. SC delivered such a verdict. But certainly we can speculate on why many people have welcomed the verdict. In my view, one of the main reasons is the implicit (and often explicit) threat of violence in the event of a verdict that might be unfavourable to the Hindus. In today's hyper-aggressive posturing by the Hindu right, it does not take an Einstein to figure out that had there been an adverse verdict (for the Hindus), there could have been widespread violence, bandhs, and lynchings all over the country. Rivers of blood could have flowed in communally sensitive areas. This is not an idle speculation: Advani's “Rath Yatras” were accompanied by extensive rioting and killing. Whatever other motivations the SC might have had, this concern could not have been far from the surface, and the Court would have been very aware of the heavy responsibility that lay in its hands as it drafted the verdict. It is not inconceivable that the need to maintain public peace and order trumped other aspects of the case.
Several commentators have pointed out some of the puzzling and unexplained aspects of the verdict. For instance, Brinda Karat writes in ndtv:
The basic question which is troubling is that after the judgement accepts that the demolition of the mosque in 1992 and the placing of the idols in 1949 were “serious violations of the law,” why does the court reward the serious violators of the law by handing over the entire land to them? Are there any overwhelming issues which would support such a decision? The judgement does not provide any convincing reasons.
The judgement acknowledged, though perhaps inadvertently, the political dimensions. One of the reasons given while rejecting the Allahabad High Court judgement mandating division of the disputed land into three equal parts was that it "will not restore a lasting sense of peace and tranquility." Therefore, one can assume that the Supreme Court believed one of the aims of its judgement must be to "restore a lasting sense of peace and tranquility." This would be based more on a political assessment rather than one based on legal issues.Similarly, Zainab Sikander talks about one of the obvious contradictions in the SC verdict in The Print:
… the fact that the Supreme Court itself recognised that the demolition of the mosque was illegal and that placing of the idols in 1949 was a desecration of the mosque, and still gave the verdict in favour of those who believed it was originally a temple made the verdict seem contradictory. The judgment clearly states: “The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law.”
Yet, the very act of placing the idols and destroying the mosque has been used to suggest that Muslims did not have exclusive possession of the inner courtyard of the disputed land, thus making the case stronger for Ram Lalla.One cannot escape a sense of deja vu at the implicit expression of hope that Karat highlights in the judgment, because it reminds us of King George V's words when Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact in September 1938 with Adolf Hitler:
After the magnificent efforts of the Prime Minister in the cause of peace, it is my fervent hope that a new era of friendship and prosperity may be dawning among the peoples of the world.
|"I've Got It!" British PM Neville Chamberlain proudly displays the Munich Agreement After Returning to the UK|
And so, just as Europe unsuccessfully appeased Hitler to prevent a war from starting again in Europe in 1938 (it was, at the time, less than 20 years since the end of the Great War, aka WWI) and the big powers in Europe decided to cave in to Hitler's demands to prevent a second World War, we in India seem to have caved in to the demands of the Hindu right in Ayodhya to prevent further violence. Thirty years of strife and violence are enough, the Hon. Justices appear to have decided.
But just as appeasement of a bully did not work in Europe in 1938, it will not work in India in 2019.
Just as Munich was preceded by so many conquests, such as the return of the Rhineland and the conquest of Austria, Ayodhya, too, was preceded by several aggressive moves by the Hindu right — "Sabarimala; the public lynching of Muslims since 2015; the anti-“Love Jihad” campaign; the Citizenship Amendment Bill; the National Register of Citizens; vigilante “gaurakshak” groups to monitor cow slaughter; and many others. In every one of these instances, we have appeased the aggressors. Just as the Nazis had the support of a majority of Germans, the Hindu right has the support of a majority of Indians in these actions. But even those who do not support the Hindutva agenda do not oppose it lest it makes the Hindu right more agitated. I read an anecdote just the other day where someone said that they were travelling in an autorickshaw when a right-wing gang on motorbikes shouted “Jai Shri Ram” at them. The auto driver said “Jai Shri Ram” in return and counseled the lady passenger travelling with him that it is better to say what these gangs want than be dead or in the hospital. Violence works.
|Time Magazine's Cover in 1938. Adolf Hitler was Chosen "Man of the Year" for the Munich Agreement|
Just as Munich only encouraged Hitler to further invade Czechoslovakia and Poland, eventually leading to WWII, Ayodhya will only encourage the Hindu right to repeat its Ayodhya formula — in Kashi, Mathura, and hundreds more places where the Hindu Right believes mosques were built after destroying temples. And it will encourage the Hindu Right to continue its anti-minority agenda in other ways as well. The Citizenship Amendment bill and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) bill are slated for the next legislative session of Parliament, and it will not be long before the BJP will bring in a Uniform Civil Code. The idea behind these bills is the same: the reduction of the Muslim to a second-class citizen.
You can delay the inevitable, but you cannot stop it by appeasement.
It took a six-year destructive war that killed millions, a complete and humiliating defeat for Germans, and the total destruction of Germany, to change Germans from their virulent racism to the liberal democracy that they are today. One can only hope that it will take far less than that to change India from where it is now. Otherwise the future looks bleak.
We are staring into a bottomless abyss as a nation. We are clearly not the nation of Nehru, Gandhi, Patel, and Rajaji and, in fact, I would not be surprised if, in the near future, we formally become a “Hindu rashtra.” I have already written about my expectations of the future and the disaster such a step will bring to India. A Hindu India will be the mirror image of a Muslim Pakistan, and we all know what has happened with our neighbour in this aspect. This is a country that was unable to respect one of its own citizens, a Nobel Laureate, Dr. Abdus Salam, for the only reason that he belonged to the Ahmaddiya sect, which is a persecuted sect of Islam in Pakistan. Because of this, Dr. Salam was forced to leave Pakistan for England, and died in Oxford. Is this the sort of country we aspire to be?
Supporters of this regime might question the parallel with WWII Germany: after all, we are not engaged in a military life-or-death war of global domination, they might say. Why or how might we be utterly destroyed as Germany was in 1945? But destruction of a nation need not be physical or political. It can also be economic and moral. We are already seeing many signs of the decay of this country in the last five years.
One look at the trajectory of the economy in the last three years should be proof enough. You may wonder what this has to do with the right-wing policies of the government. There are two connections. One is that people of talent stay away from reactionary governments such as these. It is a well-known and oft-commented fact that the Modi administration seems to have an obvious lack of talent and ability. Its ministers seem to have been chosen not because of any exceptional ability demonstrated in the past but because of their servile disposition and their singular ability to carry out their master’s orders without question.
The other is the supreme leader’s own distaste for any feedback that might be even remotely critical of his government or policies. The last five years have seen highly qualified people in the finance ministry, such as Drs. Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Subramanian, Viral Acharya, and Urjit Patel leave the administration because the government could not handle constructive criticism from them. People of ability cannot function under such constraints. A policy is either right or it is wrong; a wrong policy cannot be certified as right simply because the supreme leader thinks it is right or cannot handle criticism. But in the current political climate, such disagreements are not tolerated.
The net result is disastrous policies such as demonetization and GST, which are the primary causes of the tailspin the Indian economy is currently in. After stoutly denying any crisis in the economy, the government has finally at least admitted that there is a crisis today. But the crisis is far deeper than the government dares to admit. The real GDP growth rate might be far lower than the 5% or so that is currently estimated to be the current annual growth rate. Unemployment is at its highest level in decades. Things are so bad that the government is refusing to release its own reports, be they of unemployment or consumer spending. Even the measures the government is implementing are flawed, as the government is focusing on supply-side measures, whereas the problem is one of demand. This is again indicative of the incompetence in the government and the inability of this government and its leaders to listen to contrarian positions even at a time of crisis.
Another reason why economic performance must suffer under this government is that the very raison d'etre of the government has changed. In 2014, the Modi Sarkar was ostensibly elected to bring in “vikas” (development). By 2019, that promise lay in tatters, and yet the Modi Sarkar was voted to power with a stronger mandate. Clearly the vote was a vote of confidence in the government's majoritarian policies, and in turn, Mr. Modi has rewarded his constituency, the Hindu right, by instituting the most hard-line Hindutva policies to date, with promises of further upping the ante.
When a government is going to be judged on its majoritarian policies, it is obvious that economic policies and performance on economic metrics will take a backseat. So, if anything, we should expect the economy to slide even further.
This is just the beginning of a snowballing crisis. The ghosts of those who died waiting in the demonetization queues in November and December 2016 have come to haunt the Indian economy, and they will take down those who did not die along with them. This story does not have a happy ending.
So, utter destruction of a country need not be by war. It can also be the complete economic destruction of a country, the hollowing out of its productive capacity, the resulting virtual slavery, and the selling out of the country to foreign powers. It is this reality that is staring us in the face.
And when all of it finally happens, it will be because we appeased Hindu majoritarianism for the last five years and continue to do so.