Two years of the BJP government has seen a rise in attacks on minorities and growing intolerance. Indian civil rights activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad discusses how the PM’s silence is a tacit consent to the RSS, which is pushing its Hindutva agenda further.
Pranjal: Hello and welcome to this collaborative production between Real News and Newsclick. Today, we are going to discuss about two years of the Modi regime and the issue of communalism. To discuss the issue, we have with us human rights activist Teesta Setalvad. Welcome to Newsclick Teesta. In last two years we have seen there is a rise in attack on minority and growing intolerance. How do you see the role of government in it? Teesta Setalvad (Teesta): You see, what needs to be understood here is that we have a party and a force in power at the same time holding all the agencies under them. It is the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) of which Parliamentary wing is the BJP which won the elections. Now, RSS is a very unique political force in this country. It can not be equated with other political parties because it openly says–on it’s website even today–that it does not believe in the Indian constitution. So it does not believe in the rule of law, it does not believe in equality of citizenship, it does not believe in the principle of non-discrimination. So when you have a mindset of that kind, which militates against the republic, in power you will have utterances coming out of people who are ministers, who are legislators, members of Parliament that border on incitement to hatred or are actually incitement to it. So look at the speeches of Adityanath, look at Sangeet Som, look at Sanjeev Balyan, look at Mahesh Sharma, the culture minister, you have utterances which are directed at one community and which are not just hate speech but they are virtually incitement to a mob to commit violence. Look at the politics with cow and beef eating. You know, granted that the question of cow protection, the question, it is a religious issue for some section, a small section of Hindus, but to make it into a mob hysteria issue is just a way to target Dalits and Muslims. Pranjal: First of all, the issue of ministers. You see on one hand Modi talking of development, going into different countries while the key ministers, the key members of the ruling party, they are giving statements like Muslim should be not allowed to vote. So I mean, Modi’s silence (is it) a tacit consent to all these? Teesta: Absolutely. Now look at Modi’s silence on Kashmir issue. You have a person, you have the US President Obama cutting short his visit to the Dallas episode, and the policemen targeted there and you have our Prime Minister on a tour of Africa and he does not even bother to utter a word. When you have real discontentment among youth in Kashmir, it is a political issue, it has to be dealt with. So he believes that by keeping silent he is trying to elevate himself either apart from it, or like you said, a very sinister message to the large band of the lowers of the RSS, Bajrang Dal, VHP that actually you have immunity, impunity granted from the top. Pranjal: The government has been constantly trying to create this mob terror, mob hysteria., or mob is ready to lynch people on issue of beef, the issue of nationalism. It has become a common sentiment. Do you think in this fierce pushing of the Hindutva agenda, the real player is RSS–behind the government? Teesta: Absolutely. One of the most senior ideologues of the RSS is Govindacharya., a seasoned politician and a seasoned ideologue. He recently gave an interview to one of our newspapers, he said that we believe that we want to overturn the Indian constitution. So they are very clear and open about (it). And that is why I believe that as activist, as journalist, as a citizen of this country, who believes that the constitution is what this country stands on, the RSS should not be allowed to win state elections because today, they are majority party in the centre. If they get more state power, they will actually overturn the number in Rajya Sabha, which is upper house of the Indian parliament and then, there will be serious issues about trying to rewrite the constitution. They are openly saying it. Pranjal: Since past two years, there has been a constant attack on the secular fabric of the nation. The states like Maharashtra, Haryana are pushing cow slaughter issues, the issue of beef ban. Teesta: You are mentioning the Dadri killing which was on September 2015. Soon after, you had that killing of Dalit children in Phugana. Then you had the Latihar hangings this February, March. Then last year you had a lynching of a young Muslim boy in Kanpur on the street; this boy and just while he was being beaten, he is remembering his God, he is saying ‘Ya Allah, Ya Allah’ and they are saying he is a terrorist. So it is very dangerous what we have done. This happened in Gujarat by the way in 2002 that there was a mob waiting for the whistle, and the whistle came then from the state, and whistle is coming now from the persons who are in the state that you just give a signal and amorphous mob suddenly become visible. And that’s a very very scary situation for the society to be in wherein actually a threshold for a hate speech has risen. We are actually accepting as normal, something which is extremely abnormal and should be shunned. Pranjal: So when we look at this entire politics of beef ban and there is a move towards appropriating Ambedkar, do you think BJP is showing it’s double standard: the ruling party on one hand you are attacking the economy of Muslims and Dalits and on the other hand you are trying to appropriate their icon? Teesta: Yeah and add to that fact that who are the biggest beef exporters in the country. They are the vegetarian Jains who are Hindus. Pranjal: But apart from that the Rohith Vemula issue in Hyderabad Central University–. Teesta: Yeah, hypocrisy extends to various levels. Look at the BJP government in Goa or look at the BJP government in Assam or the BJP propaganda in Kerala, where they won now only one seat. In Goa, Kerala and Assam, even Amit Shah will not talk about beef (ban) because he knows that the demography, the population is a beef (eating one), there is a significance section of ‘Hindu majority’ which also eats beef. So it is an extremely malicious and also pernicious ideology at work here. Vote gathering and vote catching at any cost, principles aside. And coming to the question about Baba Saheb, you see it’s very important that the about 8-9 years ago the RSS Aitihasik Sangh, which is the history wing, they had actually declared Baba Saheb Ambedkar as one of their saints. This is something by the way that Ambedkar would have hated because in his speech to the Constituent Assembly he said, I have a greatest failing as a people and our nation, is that we either revere people without critical thinking or we revile them. Ambedkar did not wanted to be declared as a saint at all. So by declaring him a saint they actually want to de-radicalize him. Last February in this year, I am talking about the most prestigious book fair–the Delhi Book Fair, you know where people come from all over the country and the stalls are really visited. I have visited book fair two or three times and there is one store where I invariably go to, which sells the volume of Baba Saheb. And this year, Baba Saheb Ambedkar volume sold without 11 key volumes; and which were those volumes? Riddles in Hinduism, Annihilation of Caste, State and Minorities, Shudra and Counterrevolution. So the radical thinker Ambedkar is sought to be denied and he is sought to be appropriated as a Hindu icon, which is just impossible because Ambedkar converted in October 1956 to Buddhism as his ultimate state of revolt against caste and Hindu society. Pranjal: He said I was born a Hindu but I will not die a Hindu–. Teesta: You can’t do that to Ambedkar. But unfortunately (a section of ) the non-Chamar, non-Mahar, a certain sections of Dalits, who are not politically very radical, have been appropriated by the Bharatiya Janata Party and it’s backbone, the RSS. Out of 75 reserved seats in the last Lok Sabha over 43 are being won by the BJP. So it’s been a long process of social engineering–as they call it – because RSS realizes at some point that’s why Bajrang Dal was started to woo the Valmiki community, they realize that they can not win on only a purely Bhrahmanical agenda, with only having Brahmins in the leadership. So they have to appropriate OBCs and Dalits. But their entire politics is Brahminical and discriminatory. Pranjal: When you look today UP elections are near, there is a news of Hindu exodus in Kairana. I mean, BJP is trying to do this vote bank politics. It is again trying to invoke communal tensions in these areas. How do you see it? Teesta: Now, in fact it is quite shocking and I think this is the question that channels like Newsclick and Sabrang India all should be doing. Because the role of the media at a time like this is very critical. The Kairana exodus, actually the entire thing, was first flagged by Amit Shah, the BJP President, while the national executive of BJP was on in Allahabad. He flags it there without any proof, because the senior members of the party raised it there–Hukum Singh–and after that, after the first few days of the Zee news and other channels propagating it, the media actually plays a positive role and exposes the untruth behind the mass exodus theory, even day before yesterday, when he was in Uttar Pradesh — he is the President of the ascendant political party in the country–he has no qualms about saying regardless of the truth, I will misuse it. That’s essentially what Amit Shah is saying. So we are talking about amoral, extremely evil brand of politics, which will actually use the Goebbelsian lie of Muslim exodus in Kairana, repeated it thousand times and expects the RSS rumor wing to do the rest. So I think it is a challenge for all of us, for civil society, for activists, for organization and I think for every political activists to realize that there is a difference between RSS and other forces. They are not any other political force, they are an exclusivist, supremacist force that does not believe in the constitution. Pranjal: Teesta this would be my last question. There is a resistance building up against this divisive agenda. How do you see it? Teesta: At the social level, at cultural level. I think the time has come that we actually expresses ourselves very very creatively, sharply and openly and I personally believe this is the time to build the broadest possible political possible alliance. This is not the time to nitpick on our narrow differences. We have to draw a line to show which is a protofascist force and which–at least, other forces at least–believe in the fundamentals of Indian constitution. Pranjal: Thank you for giving us time. Teesta: Thank you so much for having me. Pranjal: Thank you for watching our programme.
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