In the recently held Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, where the ruling BJP was victorious, a bizarre phenomenon emerged. Chief minister Yogi Adityanath was repeatedly applauded as ‘Bulldozer Baba’ and he seemed to relish this strange description. There were campaign songs on bulldozers, models and cutouts of bulldozers circulated and in a rally real bulldozers were seen parked near the dais from where Yogi gestured at them, saying that they were ready for use.
The bulldozer, usually associated with construction work, or with urban demolitions, had been weaponised by the BJP in UP to indicate that it will be used against anti-social elements, criminals or protesters who damage property. This was code language for one particular community – the Muslims. The process of terrorising this minority community and stigmatising it as criminal or violent began in earnest in late 2019 when there were massive protests against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the accompanying move to make a National Register of Citizens (NRC). Both of these were rightly perceived as attempts to disenfranchise Muslims by making it difficult for them to prove their citizenship of India. The anti-CAA/NRC protestors clashed with police in dozens of places in UP and the police was ordered by Yogi to suppress the protests brutally. Later, hundreds of protestors – mostly Muslims – were arrested, their homes bulldozed and severe fines imposed on them under a newly passed law which provided for recovery of damages to public property from the accused. The process has since been stymied by the Supreme Court which asked the UP government to follow the due process of law. But the bulldozer as a weapon of hate had been born.
The bulldozer was officially sanctified as a weapon against Muslims, although formally it was always described as an enforcer of law and order. The repeated use of bulldozer symbols in the election campaign was thus code for anti-Muslim sentiments, veiled to escape legal repercussions but its real message understood by all.
Since then, the BJP has picked it up enthusiastically and its state governments have been using demolition of homes as a ready form of street justice – see what happened recently in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere.
But the bulldozer is not just a machine or a weapon. The BJP and its RSS affiliates have a natural affinity for what it represents – use of force to impose its will on others. Emanating from its fascistic ideology, the ruthless suppression of all that stands in its way has long been the RSS thinking and with BJP in power (and several RSS swayamsevaks now adorning top government posts including the Prime Minister himself) India is witnessing the coming of age of this bulldozer politics.
Nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of their drive to build a New India which is just a screen for the real dream – the Hindu Rashtra. While society itself is being divided on religious lines and the minorities browbeaten, terrorised and made to live ‘like second class citizens,’ as envisaged by RSS ideologue M.S.Golwalkar, no institution, no law, no custom that preserves diversity, dissent or difference is safe from vandalism and damage.
The way this majoritarian bulldozer is being cunningly manipulated by the RSS/BJP with all its resources and the full might of political power behind it, is most visible in attacks on Muslim minority members.
Provoking Communal Clashes
In April, a spate of orchestrated incidents of communal violence erupted across nine states. Processions taken out on three religious occasions – the Hindu new year (nav samvatsar) on 2 April, Ramnavmi on 10 April, and Hanuman Jayanti on 16 April – were used to provoke and clash with minority community members. Insulting slogans, deafening music played on loudspeakers in front of mosques, and display of arms created immediate tension. In some cases, the mob entered mosques and tried to hoist saffron flags. In the ensuing clash, dozens were injured and at least two persons died. Wherever there was BJP state administration (or municipal body, in Delhi) there was a call for bringing out the bulldozers - in the area where clashes took place, houses mostly belonging to the minority community were targeted though some innocent majority community members’ houses or shops were also torn down in the rush.
Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, there have been 5,417 incidents of communal violence in the country, leaving behind about 9,078 casualties, including at least 494 deaths. These are till 2020, as recorded by police and reported by the National Crime Records Bureau. There are many lacunae in recording and reporting, and smaller incidents, in remote places often get ignored. Even then, it is shocking to note that there have been at least two communal incidents every day for the past seven years under Modi’s regime. Time and again, riots or attacks have been initiated through provocation by RSS affiliates as happened recently, or on earlier occasions, like in Bihar in 2018.
Attacks Using Different Pretexts
But the Hindutva bulldozer is not just relying on overt physical violence of this kind. Taking advantage of the impunity granted by the ruling BJP, a whole arsenal of Muslim (and Christian) baiting or provocation has come up. This started with the cow vigilantes (gau rakshaks) in the early days of Modi’s rule. There were 40 cases of mob lynching between 2014 and 2018 according to the home ministry, but other surveys have reported at least 80 recorded cases of mob attacks. In a majority of these cases the victims were either Muslims or Dalits/Adivasis.
Subsequently, the RSS has provided a bunch of more thoughts with which mobs can target Muslims – hijab, halal, Uniform Civil Code, namaz in public places, loudspeakers in mosques, etc. These issues have been raised by violence prone mobs with support from BJP leaders in states, often leading to restrictions. Earlier, the standard accusations of being anti-national, supporting Pakistan, consuming beef, etc. were periodically raised. The abrogation of Art.370 in J&K and the division of the state were portrayed as ‘muscular’ measures against Muslim hegemony, cloaked in ‘nationalist’ rhetoric.
Hindu Rashtra at what cost?
It must be remembered that this toxic offensive is creating conditions of strife and hatred across the country. While, for the RSS/BJP these are steps towards the conversion of India into a monolithic Hindu Rashtra, they are intensely divisive in nature and can only cause violence, bloodshed and anarchy in the future if not fought back. It also means a destruction of the Constitution and its pillars of democracy, secularism and federalism. The bulldozer will spare nothing.
For now, it is also serving the purpose of diverting the attention of people from the widespread economic distress and immiserisation of people being caused by the Modi government’s pro-corporate policies. The poor who are the most affected by sky high inflation and joblessness, are also the ones who are forced to save their lives and meagre possessions in the communal violence or subsequent administrative coercion.
All progressive and freedom loving people in the country must come out against the bulldozers of bigotry and coercion.