A new phenomenon has emerged in recent times. Attempts are being made to target vegetable vendors who demonstrate their Hindu identity while they are going about their daily business. They are, of course, doing nothing wrong or breaking any law of the country, for the choice to display one’s faith publicly is one that has been granted by the Indian Constitution. Prior to this, an organized attempt was launched to target Hindus living in the Gulf. These two events came after the termination of the Shaheen Bagh protests in the wake of the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic. The end of these Islamist protests were preceded by a cycle of violence that began after the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act and culminated with the anti-Hindu riots in Delhi. These might come across as a disjointed set of events but in reality, they are not. These are symptoms of a disease that has gripped the heart of the country. The core of the Secular Republic of India is coming apart and the ideas of a certain German Jurist are becoming relevant again.
The targeted attempts at harassing Hindu vegetable vendors are only the latest in a series of attempts to target Hindus. While the Delhi Police and security personnel were able to ensure that the riots in Delhi did not spell absolute carnage, although far too many lives were lost, they were not in a position to do much when Hindus living in the Middle East were targeted and frankly, in the attempt to harass Hindu vegetable vendors, they have been complicit. If we are to be honest, we cannot blame the conduct of the Police on the novelty of the situation, the blame for it lies squarely on the manner in which political parties and Indian institutions of all hues have adopted a harsher stance towards Hindus while observing lenience during their interactions with the Muslim community.
The prevailing notion about the reason behind the saffron flags is that it is to identify Hindu vegetable sellers so that their Muslim counterparts can be boycotted effectively. Without going into the ethics of it, one thing is perfectly clear, it is an individual’s personal right to decide the person with whom he conducts his business transactions. Similarly, it is perfectly natural for sellers to integrate features into the business that would give them a competitive advantage over others. In this particular instances, Hindu vegetable vendors raised the Bhagwa in their stalls in order to gain a competitive advantage. Punishing them for it is just foolishness of the highest order. They were only acting in the manner as any rational actor in the market would.
In any stable country, such things do not concern the state and does not as it is not something that concerns the integrity of the state in any manner. Coercing an individual to conduct his business transactions in pursuit of some state sanctioned ideology only goes on to show that things are not as well as they are presumed to be on the surface. In order to gain an adequate understanding of who is to blame in the whole affair, we need only look at the circumstances that might have prompted the vegetable vendors to believe that the Bhagwa gives them a competitive edge in the market.
Numerous instances have come forward where members of the Muslim community have contaminated materials such as cash in act of delusion and animosity fuelled by their religious beliefs. Furthermore, limited evidence in the public domain also indicates that the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus is disproportionately higher in Muslim localities. Members of the Tablighi Jamaat carried the virus wherever they went across the country and in most cases, they spread it in the near vicinity before being identified. Unfortunately, their near vicinity was a Muslim neighbourhood in almost all instances. In addition to all of this, the Muslim community has been greatly lax in taking the threat seriously and have often prioritised their religious faith over health concerns related to the virus. Individuals from the Muslim community could be observed making videos on Tiktok, the video sharing platform, where they hailed Namaz as the cure for the Coronavirus and hailed it as “Allah’s NRC”.
Thus, under these circumstances, in the age of a pandemic due to a virus that is highly contagious, people cannot be blamed for resorting to extreme measures in order to secure the health of themselves and their immediate family. Social Distancing is the only real solution to prevent the spread of the virus and it is only to be expected that individuals will distance themselves from a community that has proven to be more susceptible to the virus due to their religious faith. The life of one’s own and their families is infinitely more important than abstract morbid notions of secularism that fail to inspire any collective identity. The state coercing individuals to act against their instincts may very well be condemning them to their deaths.
As is clear, individuals are not to be blamed for trying to reduce interactions with a community whose members have made a mockery of social distancing norms. Consistent with this, Hindu vegetable vendors are not to be blamed for adopting marketing techniques that would give them a competitive edge in the market. Trying to criminalise either of these two groups only demonstrates the reluctance of the state machinery to address the root cause of the problem.
In normal circumstances, we would have witnessed prominent Muslim intellectuals and religious leaders and liberals and leftists come together to address the Muslim community and inspire them to conduct themselves responsibly. That, thus far, has not happened and the sociopolitical leaders of the Muslim community have been far more interested in playing the victim card. The Secular State of India, unable to address this fundamental issue, only demonstrates that it is far too over-willing to act out against the majority community and at the same time, become obsessively lenient while dealing with the Muslim community. It has been the feature of the Indian State since independence and not much has changed over the years despite the changes in government. Instead, the thought leaders of the Muslim community have lashed out against the Hindu community for prioritising their own life over abstract ideals.
That why thought leaders, who wield great political power, have chosen to attack the Hindu vegetable vendors instead of addressing the core issues within the Muslim community only further elucidates the split between the communities that has existed since eternity. The split was believed to have been repaired in 1947 after the partition of the country but when the Muslim Street Veto was crushed by the Hindu electorate, the wounds again have been opened. The attack on Hindu vegetable vendors ought not to be seen in isolation but as part of a cycle of events that began with the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act and indeed, has its origins in the abrogation of Article 370.
This, again, brings us to the fundamentals of politics as elucidated by the German jurist Carl Schmitt. It needs to be mentioned here that Carl Schmitt later joined the Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler, however, he is universally recognised as one of the most important critics of liberalism, parliamentary democracy and liberal cosmopolitanism. According to Jan-Werner Müller, professor of politics at Princeton University in the United States, he is “the [twentieth] century’s most brilliant enemy of liberalism.” As such, he has continued to influence scholar both on the left and ride side of the isle such as the famous postmodern philosopher Slavoj Žižek and others.
Thus, to avoid any scope of misinterpretation, accounting for the relevance of a brilliant political theorist is not justifying or endorsing the crimes he committed. To give readers a further understanding of the importance of Carl Schmitt, legal scholars at the Beijing University in China used his arguments to justify the control of the courts by the Chinese Communist Party. François Bougon, author of a study of President Xi Jinping, said, “In Schmitt, Chinese authors have found arguments against liberal conceptions of western democracy.” Similarly, Alexander Dugin, a renowned political theorist from Russia who is often referred to as “Putin’s Brain”, wrote an essay titled “Carl Schmitt’s Five Lessons for Russia”.
The core of Carl Schmitt’s theory was simple. The defining distinction in morality is between good and evil, that in aesthetics is beauty and ugliness and the same in economics is between profit and loss. When it comes to politics, he postulated, the defining distinction is between the friend and the enemy. “The specific distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy,” declared the jurist. “The friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing,” Schmitt wrote. Therefore, war was “an ever present possibility.”
The real relevance of Schmitt’s political theory is that it is applicable not only to international politics but also domestic politics. Consistent with his theory, the friend-enemy distinction exists in domestic politics as well and when these differences attain too much strength or exceed a critical mass of energy, then it could very well lead to civil war or the disintegration of the country itself. One such evidence of it is the partition of the country in 1947. And as we have observed in recent times, individuals inspired by Muhammad Ali Jinnah are once again casting their shadows over the country.
The ideology of Sharjeel Imam, who advocated what amounted to a war against the Indian State, was pivotal towards escalating this series of events that manifested itself with actual bloodshed in Delhi. The communal violence in Delhi was a consequence of the comrades’ desire to make the Indian State bend to their will with the threat of violence. Unfortunately for them, the effectiveness of the security personnel made it evident that the costs of such an attempt were too huge and all in all, it was a foolish endeavour. Consequently, tactics shifted to undermining the Indian State through other means which included the targeted campaign against Hindus living in the Gulf. Since then, comrades of Sharjeel Imam have moved in to openly declare propaganda warfare against India. Similarly, the recent attacks against Hindu vegetable vendors is, again, a manifestation of the friend/enemy distinction as elucidated by Carl Schmitt.
It is important for the Indian State to recognise that the relevance of the friend/enemy distinction in the current circumstances in India also mean that effective measures need to undertaken while there is still time to prevent the situation from escalating into conflict on a much greater scale. With the enormous capacities that the Indian State has at its disposal, preventive measures can be adopted to dissipate the escalating tensions. The recent riots in Delhi witnessed some of the most deprave crimes the Indian State has ever witnessed, such as the murder of Intelligence Bureau Constable Ankit Sharma. All of this will pale in comparison to the depravity that will be unleashed across the country should the state not take adequate measures to address the situation. However, it also needs to be borne in mind that pacifism never works. Therefore, some harsh measures might be in order. All things considered, India is experiencing a fundamental shift in the political landscape of the country. Thus, a smooth ride is not to be expected. Having said that, the Indian State needs to rise to meet the occasion if it is to come out at the other end without risking damage to its territorial integrity.