Write angle Ziya Us Salam

The anatomy of a riot

Jacket of the book.   | Photo Credit: 05dmc writeangle2

Many years ago, I used to do some shadow shopping on the streets of Connaught Place. Back then, you could walk a few yards around the circle and not fail to come across one vendor selling posters which you could pick up for as little as Rs.5! There were the usual suspects – top heroines and heroes of Hindi cinema, cricket icons and a few of our political leaders where, for some incomprehensible reason, Indira Gandhi seemed to rule! Amidst all the luminaries were posters with quotations, those feel good words that one went back to in moments of dejection and despair. It was not unusual for me to stand near the poster-sellers on either side of Regal and read one poster from the bunch, all the time pretending to buy. It read, “Fight one more round”. I imbibed the message free of cost.

One other poster which came a poor second in my reckoning sent out a tad tame message: “Keep your words short and sweet…you never know from day to day which ones you will have to eat”. Later, as I grew up to be a journalist, I understood it better. Ask any journo worth his pen and Dictaphone, it is never a happy occasion to have a reader point out long sentences. This quote though came rushing back to my mind unannounced, almost with a mind and a will of its own. Soon after the Ballabhgarh violence earlier this year followed by the Dadri lynching tragedy, I went looking for a book I had bought many years ago. Called “Riot After Riot”, it was a scathing indictment of our administration and political bosses. M.J. Akbar, blessed with the most rare gift of easy yet profound expression, takes the lid off the usual claims of politicians of “things being tense but under control”.

Akbar has his own comments to make too. He writes frankly and fearlessly, “Law and order have two enemies: the Full Truth and the Complete Lie. When people realise the truth, they start revolutions. When they are fed lies they begin meaningless riots. Lies are the staple of every communal disturbance. They are spread by people who have a stake in this stupid violence, who have something to gain out of impoverished Hindus and Muslims fighting each other. Businessmen, traders, politicians, goondas, leaders of ‘cultural organizations’(like the Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — RSS) feed the people with lies, watch these lies become convictions in people’s hearts, watch the passions build up, and then these leaders actually set up the events which will provoke a conflagration. They simply stick a pin into the nerves of people, and it is only a matter of time before the people explode. Then, when the first round of violence is over, when the initial steam has been let oft the lies keep on circulating. The people must not realise that they have been fooled or they will tear down their false heroes. There is fuel already in the murky events that make up communal violence, and upon this more lies are heaped and spread. After all, if the Hindu and Muslim live in peace, how will the RSS find another convert? How will the trader sell arms? How will a shopkeeper have the pleasure of seeing a rival’s shop burn down? How will the goonda loot? How will the communalist kill a fellow human being? Keep the lies floating friends!”

I read the words again. And again. Was it Akbar writing this? Yes, it was indeed Akbar. Hang on. There is more. Writing about some of the worst riots that affected the nation till the Advani juggernaut in the late 80s, Akbar does not hold back at any place. In the chapter on Jamshedpur riots, his analysis is most perceptive. “The history of riots shows clear efforts by landlords or traders to use the conflagration as a camouflage to do what they couldn’t have achieved legally. Indeed, this is one of the principal reasons why businessmen feed communalists.” He could as well have said it about Muzaffarnagar.

Later in the chapter, he indicts the RSS for its role in the violence. “The RSS is not so much an organisation (cultural or political, take your pick as a state of mind. It is the physical form given to an attitude towards the minorities, particularly, the Muslims. It represents Hindu revivalism of the worst sort; in its heart it is still taking revenge against Aurangzeb….Its influence on the Hindu community varies with time and place but during communal tension its impact is wide, and RSS members become the most dangerous clandestine force, determined to provoke violence.”

He continues to use words like a hot knife through butter, demolishing many official viewpoints when talking of the Moradabad Idgah killings. It is, however, the last two pages of the book that would ring a bell with all those already aghast at the words and actions of the so-called fringe elements. Referring to the days around the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Akbar writes, ‘Lal Krishna Advani has touched a Hitler nerve in India, and the reaction is electric. Myths have become facts, and yesterday’s secret society is turning into today’s mass meeting. Revenge nursed in the privacy of the mind is now public doctrine….The soldiers of the armies of tomorrow’s Hindu Rashtra are in high fever….The parallel with the Germany of the 1920s and 1930s is simply too obvious. At the root is poverty and underdevelopment….Hitler had the Jews. Advani has the Muslims.”

But now that he is on the other side of the political divide – he joined the BJP in the run-up to General Elections last year – would he still repeat about the RSS what he wrote in “Riot After Riot”? Umm. Keep your words short and sweet…? But, oh, never mind. As reports of fresh violence in Palwal come in, Akbar’s words, irrespective of his political affiliation today, still strike a note of caution for a nation breathless in anticipation of achche din.

(The author is a seasoned literary critic)

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 8:41:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Ziya_Us_Salam/the-anatomy-of-a-riot/article7949445.ece

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