BJP’s nemesis: The politics of paranoia

A friend of mine, a major writer, in his eighties, loves India in a way few of this generation can. For him, India is a memory, a history, a sensorium, a civilisation, and he would add that the nation-state as an idea is an arriviste, a latecomer not quite cosmopolitan as the other concepts. He is deeply worried about the language and cliché and often complains that the new forms of violence made language feel inert.

We were talking about the Narendra Modi government and Mr Modi’s trip to the United States, where he claimed that the BJP had a spotless record on corruption. My friend said: “It was a one-sided register because the BJP will be judged by the way it looks at violence”. One is talking not only of the 2002 riots, but also the vanities of violence surfacing today. My friend said each has a different grammar to which the regime contributes.

Take lynching, specially the poignant lynching of Junaid in a train in Haryana. Probably afraid of international condemnation, the BJP condemned it. Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad talked of compensation of Rs 10 lakhs offered to the victim’s family and Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khatter argued that it was a drunken brawl. One thinks compensation makes up for life; the other thinks casual violence is not quite violence. Between the two, they try to wish away the problem. In fact, the regime feels its symbol and its concept have nothing to do with violence. Yet, what is also frightening is the reaction. Think of the five kinds of violence taking place: lynchings, beef-ban murders, terrorism, farmers’ riots and finally the symbolic spaces that trigger these phenomena.

Think of lynching. It is misleading to say that it is primordial when it is contemporary. One has to understand the symbolic politics behind it. Lynching is a part of the paranoid art of politics in which one lives in a politics of anxiety, suspicion, and such a social condition needs a scapegoat to stabilise itself. Any label would do — cattle-stealer, child-lifter, spy — which feeds on the paranoia. The orgy that follows is relentless, the sadness is that the lynchers believe they represent the forces of law and order. They feel they are restoring the categories of thought and the law and order. There is a barbaric piety about it and the silence that follows it is significant.

The beef-killer is a more specific variant. He feels that beef violates the purity of society and he sees himself as a custodian of that purity. Beef and beef-eating thus become a stigma. Once again, in the politics of suspicion, a man at a mandi, a family in a train, people in a restaurant become targets. What follows is murder justified as a form of ethnic cleansing. There is no sense of proof. This is not the rule of law but crowds playing with law and order. The sequence of violence is suspicion/threat/reification. There is little remorse after such an act. Violence, in fact, eerily adds to the sense of normalcy. Both lynching and beef murders are seen as stabilising rituals, as informal executors of the State. There is little sense of consternation or violation after the act. Ironically, it is the killer who is seen as restoring the normative order of society. Beef becomes a ticket to murder in a society that allows policing of categories to anyone.

What is an informal hypothecation of the policing of categories, becomes more official with patriotism as a concept for the new security complex. One sees the State trying to control the body, bodily behaviour, dissent and even demanding a chorus of agreement on any project of the nation-state. Patriotism as symbolic violence comes in two parts. The first involves a rectification of history, a change of the syllabus, a range of censorship where voicing anything beyond the official is seen as an act of sedition. Security then ties it up to the dowdy official by contending that any act of dissent becomes a threat to the State. By tying the idea of sustainability to security, environmentalist groups become seditious by definition. From policing of categories to policing of individuals is a short step.

The State becomes a repository of terror, as the imposition of the Army in Kashmir and Manipur reveals. The rape and murder carried out by the Army with official immunity is worrying. Its tacit adjustments between the security complex and vigilante groups virtually challenge the normalcy, the idea of rights. Terror becomes a way of subjugating insurgencies, minority groups, tribal protests. Terror produces its own sequence of violence where surveillance leads to scrutiny and then harassment, brutality, rape, humiliation and murder. The backlash that follows is inevitable.

Yet, what few notice is that today one is building a cordon of security. Violence and surveillance are a symbolic panopticons in India. The older version of the panopticon visualised by Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian philosopher, was physical. It was vigilance through a central eye on a group of vagrants, prisoners and orphans. Here categories take over policing, creating grids of the mind. Any violation of classification leads to violence.

The symbolic panopticons of the BJP are becoming more frightening than the earlier industrial equivalents. Unlike in early regimes where forms of violence were fragmented, the BJP’s attempt to control civil society and merge internal security with external security has created a new securitarian complex where violence seeps into civil society and into the agencies of the State.

Accompanying all these varieties of violence is a theory of erasure, of indifference one sees at several levels. Farmers’ suicide and protests are greeted indifferently. The displacement at the Narmada dam proceeds blissfully.

The new development model that we have has become a way of life, part of the normalcy of the new political economy of the era. These forms of violence have almost no narratives, discourses, or storytellers who talk of the variety of retrenchments taking place in the IT and media industry. When unemployment becomes faceless, citizenship becomes meaningless.

My friend paused. He said the sadness of violence today is of two kinds. It strikes anonymous, yet has no ritual of closure or responsibility. Second, violence has no storyteller, no testimony or testament of witness. The storyteller has disappeared. As a result, the great circle of violence that the regime has constructed has no narrative. Unlike the Congress, if this government falls, it will not be because of corruption but the structures of violence it has created.

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