Mob assault on bangle-seller, political silence in aftermath, challenge CM Chouhan’s record as administrator

The apparent silence and inaction of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is best placed to calm tensions and defuse provocative situations, is disturbing.

The attack on a Muslim bangle-seller in an Indore neighbourhood is another example of a Hindutva mob targeting a citizen for his religion, on the pretext of “protecting Hindu women”. The Madhya Pradesh government’s response to the violence has been to let the communal pot simmer. While the police arrested four men for abusing and thrashing Tasleem Ali for daring to step into a “Hindu area”, Home Minister Narottam Mishra appeared to condone the violence, alleging that Ali had used a “Hindu name” and owned two Aadhaar cards. Subsequently, Ali has been booked and arrested on charges, among others, of forgery and attempting to harass the minor daughter of one of the men accused of assault. Meanwhile, organisations that claim to “protect Hindu rights” have taken out rallies in the city, ratcheting up the divisive rhetoric. The attack on Ali follows a few communally sensitive incidents in Indore.

The apparent silence and inaction of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is best placed to calm tensions and defuse provocative situations, is, therefore, all the more disturbing. The communal belligerence on public display was, by and large, absent in his earlier three terms as chief minister. Within the BJP, Chouhan had earned himself a reputation for being a leader with an instinct for moderation and consensus. In his fourth term as chief minister — in which power has been wrested not by mandate, but by the fall of the Congress government — he appears to be on visibly unsure ground, as ministers more adept at rabble-rousing are increasingly seen and heard. Signs of him shedding a moderate persona came in January this year, when he threatened a law against “stone-pelters” as unrest in the Malwa region followed an aggressive fund collection drive for the Ram temple in Ayodhya. The state government also followed the UP example by endorsing the paranoia over “love jihad” with an anti-conversion bill against inter-faith marriage.

Chouhan’s record of providing a stable government, his recent stand against the real estate mafia, and Indore’s reputation as a city where civic governance has benefited ordinary people are all put at risk if communal antagonisms are allowed to play out unchecked. In many parts of the country, majoritarian mobilisation has licensed violence against ordinary Muslims, threatening to divide cities and villages into spaces for “us” and “them”, and reduce citizens to their religious identities. Down this road lie social disharmony and more violence. The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister must end this sense of drift, and arrest this politics of unreason.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 27, 2021 under the title ‘The Indore test’.

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