The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is back to power all the more stronger and that’s a fact. In what the Prime Minister Narendra Modi called ‘the greatest electoral win since 1947,’ the people of the world’s largest democracy have voted for it in a historic Indian parliamentary election which registered the highest voter turnout of an overwhelming 67.11 percent. A sad reality for the people who wished otherwise from which they will not recover for a long time to come stands staring at them. The BJP will now be, in its entire history, more than convinced of its absolute right to rule over the nation.
In the last few years under the BJP regime, we saw the murder of journalists and intellectuals like Gauri Lankesh, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, the lynching of Muslims like Mohammad Akhlaq in UP’s Dadri, Majloom Ansari and Imtiyaz Khan in Latehar district of Jhankhand and Dalits in Una town in Somnath district of Gujarat. As BJP consolidates and assumes more power now, it will hardly be an overstatement to say that in the coming years journalists will be jailed, or killed for speaking out; sedition law will be applied like balm to every individual who has a seditious heart. Swayamsevaks and Karyakartas, the real foot soldiers of the Hindu ‘imagined community’ will roam around the streets with complete political impunity, a shadowy evil power lurking over every street. Overall, a gloomy future, a fact nevertheless. The brutal side of modern day Indian ‘democracy’ is at the door.
It is now a critical time to call back the very understanding of ‘freedom’ from its slumber. Freedom, that is Azadi, or Ningtamba in Manipuri, means differently to different people. The understanding of Azadi to a Kashmiri is entirely different from the understanding of the same in the left-liberal ‘mainstream’ political arena. The very divergent understanding of the word that exists between the Kashmiris and the ‘mainlanders’ has made the former chant ‘Azadi from appropriation.’ All the same, the question now is – what is Ningtamba to a Manipuri? Is it the freedom to live without military rule? Is it the freedom to live without Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 (AFSPA)? Is it the freedom to study in a university without a permanent military camp inside it? Or is it the freedom to protest without tear gas, mock bombs, rubber bullets used over your body, the freedom to live without curfew imposed over and over again on an entire set of population? Is it the freedom to outrightly reject policies like Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (CAB) without having to undergo state atrocities?
It is sad a spectacle that a society that has a long history of resistance against military rule and the constitutional act such as Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 (AFSPA) failed miserably this time to raise a collective voice against an act as National Security Act (NSA) when journalist Wangkhemcha Kishorechandra was arrested under the act on 27 November 2018 for a Facebook post where he expressed his anger and displeasure over the Manipur government’s celebration of the Indian freedom fighter Rani Jhansi. Surprisingly, Manipur has never had a struggle against NSA even when it was used widely at different occasions, especially during the mass uprising after the rape, torture and brutal murder of Thangjam Manorama on July 2004. The question, then, is, why so? The answer lies in the fact that for the people that live under the ‘exceptional,’ a people that have got used to living a life with no political value, acts like NSA seems not to bother them at all. After all, they are not something as horrifying and abhorrent as AFSPA that can get a body disappeared or killed or raped.
To diverge from this perspective it can also be said that there exists a different interpretation to the silence when it comes to NSA, as vividly portrayed in the Wangkhemcha Kishorechandra case who was jailed for 134 days. The amount of power the present government led by the BJP CM Nongthombam Biren has assumed, the repression and constant monitoring of social media and recurring arrests, have altogether made the people who have a history of living under conditioned fear and threat to life become a passive subject. They no longer are able to act according to their conscience, a conscience constantly beaten and battered by brutal use of force and coercion. The people, in one way, have not recovered from the fear psychosis they live in throughout their history post-1949, the year Manipur was forcefully merged into the Indian Union.
The general reaction to the arrest of Wangkhemcha Kishorechandra from the mainstream media was that of the rhetoric that the BJP government in Delhi is ‘Hindutva,’ or ‘fascist’ in nature. But historically speaking, if the Manipuris have to locate the functioning the Indian state in Manipur memories tell otherwise. The people have always been at the receiving end of that power that emanates from Delhi. If you look into the writings of Sanjib Baruah you will find that as late as 2001, that is after 50 years the British left India, retired Directors of RAW (Research And Analysis Wing) and IB (Intelligence Bureau), and Lieutenant Generals of the Indian Army were still administering as Governors of almost all the states of ‘Northeast.’
On 16 December 2018, students from Manipur organized a protest in Delhi against the arrest of Wangkhemcha Kishorechandra. There were around 200 policemen and CRP forces, water cannons and heavy barricades deployed to clamp down just 40-50 Manipuri students. Astonishingly, four police stations, Tughlkag, Mandir Marg, Chanakya Puri, Tilak Marg police stations coordinated in the entire one-day operation to stop the students – their cell-phones were seized, they were separated and detained at different police stations. Such was the desperate measures that the police waited outside the metro station to pick up anybody who looked like ‘Chinese,’ whom the police thought was there for the protest. The mere fact that someone has slanted eyes and snubbed nose was enough physical markers to get arrested. In one way, they got the punishment for wearing certain facial appearances that were not, are not and never will be ‘Indian.’ At the same time, it was a tragedy of being an ‘Indian.’
A while ago on September, Manipur University was raided at midnight, tear gas fired inside hostel rooms in the middle of the night, students terrorized with mock bombs, and university campus turned into a garrison for days in an already militarized university campus. This was a ruthless exercise of power by the Chief Minister of Manipur; and apparent enough from the act, he had to keep his masters in Delhi happy and satisfied. Paradoxically, the nation had freaked out during the JNU episode when lathi-wielding policemen entered the university campus. Even Noam Chomsky had spoken out against it. A few years down the line, police and paramilitary forces entered the Manipur University campus and the nation played dumb, or the nation failed, as it does habitually, to incorporate the people of the ‘periphery’ into its integral ‘imagined community.’ If it was a ‘surgical strike’ carried out by the military at the border, the mainstream media would have aired it round the clock.
In the middle of all this, on 19 December midnight, at around 2 am, an auto driver from the Pangal community was picked up from his house at Ushoipokpi Makha Tharok Leikai, Thoubal district in Manipur by a combined force of Manipur police and Assam Rifles. The next morning his lifeless body was dumped at JNIMS hospital. A couple of months later a school principal met with the same fate in Kashmir. Hand in hand, an increasing number of civilians counting more than a thousand have been blinded by the perpetual use of pellet guns. But will those blinded ever fail to see the inhumanity done upon their people? Nevertheless, ugly truth be told, more love letters in the form of military forces will be sent to Kashmir, an ‘integral part’ of this nation, a dreamland of India’s paradise, to shower upon the people a message of love. And stones that inextricably are entwined with the fundamental question of Kashmiris’ aspiration for Azadi will be flung in return.
This is the kind of democracy we live in the present. It ‘is’ a world’s largest democracy even when Kashmir is the most militarized zone on earth and Manipur one of the most militarized zones on earth. Are they the repository of a nation that is democratic? What could be worst? A country that calls itself a democratic, secular and socialist republic declares an open war at its ‘periphery’, sometimes calling it ‘counter-insurgency’ sometimes ‘law and order’ situation, and sometimes ‘national security,’ the list can go on. Language that provides legitimacy to the violence carried out in the name of the nation will be manufactured from time to time to serve tame the national collective conscience.
Recently, investigative journalism in Manipur brought out a story of how the Counter Intelligence And Surveillance Unit (CISU) of the Indian Army’s 3-corps based in Ranghapahar near Dimapur in Nagaland was involved in the killing of at least 6 Manipuri youths between 2010 and 2011. On March 2010 the CISU tortured and shot dead 3 youths, Phijam Naobi, RK Ranel and Th Prem, behind the Unit’s mess in Dimapur and dumped their bodies in the jungles of Karbi Anlong in Assam. The same year Thangjam Satish and a friend of his were abducted from Shillong and shot dead at Massimpur. The CISU also had demanded 1 crore in ransom from the family of Gurumayum Jiteswar aka Gypsy, the Assistant Publicity Secretary of the Revolutionary Peoples Front (RPF), the political wing of the armed militant group Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) fighting for liberation from India. He was killed after the ransom was paid, though not the full amount demanded. In another case, a woman and her child kidnapped from Dimapur were released after receiving a ransom of 1 crore. Later it was revealed that officers involved in these killings were awarded Sena Medal for gallantry. The point we need to stress is how the Indian military operates in the ‘Northeast’ through what is called ‘Counter Insurgency.’ Sometimes it is more about an economy and the possibilities of easy promotions. Freedom, human rights, freedom of speech and expression do not at all figure in the penetration of Indian democracy in Manipur.
The point to be made is the menacing conduct of an institution that goes on massacring people in Manipur and Kashmir. This is the same institution that even the left-liberals in universities across the country hold dear deep at their hearts. Furthermore, it seems as if it is the land that is an integral part of India but never the people that constitute that land. The rigid political belief of an integral nation which inevitably constitutes various ‘integral parts’ upon which the foundation of the rule over Kashmir, Manipur, and Nagaland is made is never to be questioned. When the nation was counting the number of votes for the parliamentary election, the nation was also at the same time counting the number of those killed or tortured or blinded in Kashmir. In the latter case, however, the people of the nation were kept shielded of that fact, as if the mere exposure to that fact will make ‘misguided’ souls out of the people.
The BJP had adorned its election manifesto with the promise to bring the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (CAB) if they were voted to power, and the people of this nation have made a choice. The nation that purports to shape its ideals on the basis of democracy and secularism lay immensely exposed of its self-contradiction when the vast majority of the indigenous yellow people are denied the fundamental civil and political right to decide on policies that immediately affect them. This kind of approach that is only satisfactory to the nation’s conscience reveals the racist characteristic of a fundamentally racist nation that does not have an iota of a healthy discourse on race and indigenity. The very existence of a set of population that differs widely in terms of culture, religion and history challenges the endeavor of the fulfillment of Hindu-Rashtra which is a political and religious belief to be loyally trusted, never to be questioned, in the journey towards a modern Hindu nation.
Given a historical frame to our understanding, the miseries we are enmeshed in today seem to be by no means a product of the so-called Hindutva forces we find at our disposal today. They, in particular, are designs and results of the clear wicked trickery of all the brown racist Brahmin and Upper Castes Indian political class who have snatched away all that is dignity and freedom from the people of Manipur, Kashmir and Nagaland in the last 60 – 70 years. We give a little bit of thought, scratch the surface and beneath we see what lay bare before us – the far-right BJP comes in their hideous ways and their daggers ready as if to get rid of you, while the Congress knocks your door with a smile, hugs you and stabs you from the back. Which regime will be held responsible for the numbers of massacres (1980, 1993, 1995, 2000) carried out in Manipur in the last many decades, for bombing Mizoram in 1966?
For the Manipuris, any Indian political party that is ‘national’ in character seems never to liberate them, they always have seemed to represent forces of subjugation and domination. If there is the democratic ‘choice’ of either the BJP or the Congress, that choice is available so far only as it means a form of trap peculiar of this ‘democracy,’ a choice peculiar and available to a society that is in a colonial condition in a post-colonial society.
In the times to come lynching, political assassination, massacre at the borders will be how lessons on Indian Hindu Nationalism will be taught. Everyone who writes, speaks and exposes the fascistic design of the far-right Hindu Nationalist camp will be vilified as terrorist, and demonized as anti-national. Military strikes at the border will be increasingly conducted, upon which the orgy of patriotism will be enacted persistently. The fate of Kashmir and Manipur will be decided around the conference tables in Delhi. People’s movement will not be televised, it will be curfewed and militarized. Parliament will become a shelter of hate-speech. The language of killing and lynching will enter the everyday execution of Hindu democracy, and words like freedom will disappear from our vocabulary. In the meanwhile more Burhan Wani, more Gauri Lankesh will meet the tragic bullet’s end.
To keep this vicious cycle healthy and fit, all those who hinder the path to this new order will be proclaimed as traitors and will be aptly dealt as one. And ‘ache din’ will be closer than ever and closest to anything.