Growing Intolerance

Growing Intolerance
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Soon after the electoral “triumph” of the BJP in Tripura and cobbling an alliance with an ethonationalist, nativist group there, serial vandalizing of figurines and statues of prominent (but deceased) historical figures has taken place in India. First, it was Lenin’s statue in Tripura, followed by the vandalism of Periyar’s statue, and then Ambedkar’s and now even Gandhi’s. While it is not clear whether these incidents of vandalism are occurring under patronage or are pure acts of freewheeling, vigilantism but what these acts of destruction appears to reflect is growing intolerance in India. Mere destruction of statues will neither dent the historical role nor prominence of the persons whose statues are being vandalized. But, the fact is that these acts of vandalism convey a deeper symbolism than the mere act of destruction. A nation’s icons and the iconography thereof are an important component of its historiography and historical memory. From this perspective, vandalism of the sort happening now, is a supremely political act, the one that rejects India’s past and the role and vision of its political figures like Gandhi or even Ambedkar. But, the question is, why is this happening now? The answer may lie in the overall political and ideological climate of and in India since the elevation of the far right nationalist party, the BJP, to power. The BJP seeks a different Idea of India, inconsonance with its ideological and political predilections. The BJP’s Idea of India aims at a different iconography and historiography for India which elevates political Hinduism to the forefront and obscures or trivialized other versions or even narratives. Overall, this approach has bred a certain chauvinism and machismo which appears to be now reflected in the streets, so to speak. By their very nature, ideologies and the processes of ideologization or reideologization occurring in India entail a change in the outlook of adherents and followers. This changed outlook can, at times, turn aggressive. The homogenizing agenda and narrative of the far right in India is not an exception to this general trend. At this point in time, the targets of the ire and anger of these adherents (whether patronized or of the free wheeling variety) appear to be past icons of India. Whether this anger remains confined to this or whether it assumes a uglier hue remains to be seen. What will determine the character, form and manifestation of this anger depends on the extent of its permissiveness and acceptance.

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