When you have been writing a column as long as I have, you learn to take criticism in your stride. You learn very quickly that there will always be as many people who hate what you write as those who appreciate your views. So, it is not usual for me to throw brickbats back at those who throw them my way. If I do this week, it is because I have been charged, lampooned and mocked for saying something I did not say. Some of the lampooners are nameless, two-bit hacks trying to gain some traction. But one of them is a famous website that survives on portraying itself as the arbiter of good journalism.
Anonymity is pointless, so I shall name Newslaundry. In its Hindi edition, it reviled me for declaring that the new temple in Ayodhya is the beginning of an Indian renaissance. This I did not say. What I did say in this column last week was that I hoped that the temple would become a symbol of a much-needed Indian renaissance. Instead of a symbol of Hindutva triumphalism. There is a difference. But a difference that the journalist censuring me in lengthy detail missed. I do not believe in journalists making themselves the story, so that is all I have to say. I needed to set the record straight.
Now to come to what I wanted to write about today. If there is one thing that shocks me every time it happens is bulldozer justice. This ugly substitution of courts of law with bulldozers and judges with municipal officials was started by Yogi Adityanath when he first became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. When he won a second term, other BJP chief ministers emulated him. The Home Minister of Madhya Pradesh said on record that people who threw stones at (Hindu) religious processions would have their homes turned to rubble. His words are important because it is almost the only time that a BJP official has admitted that demolitions are carried out to administer rough justice. Or, to put it more bluntly, to establish the law of the jungle.
Jungle justice came to Mumbai last week, when bulldozers arrived to demolish the homes of people suspected of having stoned a procession of Hindu devotees, shouting “Jai Shri Ram”. Municipal officials in charge of the bulldozers immediately said what is always said, that the homes demolished were illegal and had been up for demolition for a while. It was just a coincidence, they said, that the demolitions were carried out in the aftermath of the violence. Who are they trying to fool?
This kind of bulldozer justice has become the norm in states run by the BJP, and it is time to say loudly and clearly that this is wrong. Very wrong. It is bulldozer justice, along with other undemocratic practices, that have done the most damage to the image of the Prime Minister in the forums of the world. Democracy cannot survive without the rule of law and using bulldozers instead of due process to punish whole families demeans everything that the word democracy means. Narendra Modi has gone to great lengths to project himself as the Vishwaguru of our time and he has succeeded in the eyes of millions of Indians. But it is much harder to fool people who live in democratic countries in which the rule of law cannot be challenged by the politically powerful or the rich.
In India, we have had our difficulties with keeping democracy alive in the past, but not even in the “dark days of the Emergency” was it the norm to send bulldozers to smash down the homes of suspected offenders. Personally, I feel very strongly about this because I find it hard not to think of what it must be like to lose those memories stored in homes. Old photographs, irreplaceable old books and so many other things that can never be brought back. Bulldozer justice is usually used against people who are too poor to rebuild their broken homes or their broken lives which is what makes it so evil.
To return for a moment to Ram, may I remind the Prime Minister of the fine words he used to describe the perfection that Ram is believed to embody. “Ram is not fire, Ram is energy. Ram is not a dispute, he is the solution. Ram is not only ours, Ram is for everyone. Ram is not just the present, Ram is eternal.” These qualities are attributed to Ram because it is believed that he was the perfect king ruling the perfect kingdom. India’s idea of utopia is entwined with the story of Ram, which makes it most important to never forget that Ram Rajya was an embodiment of justice for all.
If the temple in Ayodhya is to begin an Indian renaissance, and it is my fervent hope that it does, then for bulldozer justice to happen in India’s commercial capital days after the consecration indicates that this is never going to happen. It also makes it brutally clear that it is not a renaissance that Hindutva triumphalists want, but revenge. Soon after bulldozer justice in Mumbai, came news of Christian prayer halls being vandalised by violent young men who planted saffron flags on their roofs. It is sad but true that we are a long way from a renaissance of any kind.