Vandalism in states threaten to plunge the country into a new low

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 09, 2018 15:52 hrs
Members of Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) hold banners and placards as they protest against the recent demolishing of the statue of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, known as Lenin, in Ahmedabad

A dangerous series of events have show what could be the roots of more sinister things to come as various groups on the left and right have resorted to vandalizing statues and hooliganism across several states. It started after the BJP’s victory in Tripura.

It might be a small state with a small population, but the Prime Minister isn’t taking his party’s victory in Tripura as a small one. Stating the victory as historic and asking his party not to undermine it “just because our opponents are saying it is a small state in a distant part of the country” as he said to BJP lawmakers in a party meeting.

After handing a defeat to the Left in the state, violence broke out across the state. Two statues of the Communist icon Vladimir Lenin were pulled down by mobs. On Tuesday, a Lenin statue was taken down in Sabroom situated at the southernmost tip of the state along with one at Belonia, allegedly by BJP and its ally the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT).

The toppling doesn’t seem to be rooted in ideology, but just as an act of vandalism. However, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy defended the acts of tearing down the statue; calling Lenin a terrorist and saying in part, “Lenin was a foreigner. He was, in a way, a terrorist because the number of people he killed there (in Russia) after imposing dictatorship there.”

Then there was the latest incident of a Periyar statue being defaced in Tamil Nadu by a few BJP members; in the wake of a now deleted Facebook message from BJP leader H Raja, there may or not be some relation or similarities. This looks to be the start of a trend where hooliganism and vandalizing statues of leaders and thinkers is playing out as a form of catharsis and release of ideological anger.

Jyoti Malhotra, consulting editor for the Indian Express, in a column states that toppling the statue of a man who fought for workers does not seem in step with the BJP’s vision of being the party that claims to work for the common man –

“Much of the social media angst was about why Lenin, a “foreigner”, was being feted in India – its proponents forgetting very quickly that BJP leaders led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been travelling the world in an effort to bring FDI home”.

Lenin gave the world the phrase “Workers of the world, unite” and Mahatma Gandhi had praised the Russian Revolution as the “greatest event of the present century”. As the column points out, Lenin was very critical of the British when they ruled India stating that Indians were rising up against their colonizers stating in part, “There is no end to the acts of violence and plunder which goes under the name of the British system of government in India”.

Normally political rivals, the Trinamool and the CPM came together in criticizing the BJP over the demolition of the two Lenin statues. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury condemned the act of vandalism that was allegedly perpetrated by the BJP.

The election results seem to spark something that was brewing for a while. The CPM, which had a stronghold on West Bengal for a long time, lost power seven years ago. Now, they suffered another setback in Tripura. Srinivasan Ramani, in a column for the Hindu states that the Left needs to consider new tactics in this region for the purposes of building alliances –

“As things stand, the Left Front’s support base has eroded further and West Bengal is looking more and more an arena of direct political contestation between the Trinamool and the BJP”.

Even though the Prime Minister has condemned the incidents, it did not stop the cycle of incidents where statues were damaged. In Kolkata, members of a far left student outfit vandalized a statue of BJP ideologue Syama Prasad Mookerjee on Wednesday. In Meerut, a statue of India’s first Law Minister BR Ambedkar was vandalized. The Deccan Chronicle editorial called for the end of such uncivilized acts which have no place in a modern society –

“Iconoclasm may be an idea that’s still relevant in anyone’s thinking process, but acting to desecrate the memory of leaders of deep social thought is to disrespect history, and the clearest sign of growing intolerance of another’s viewpoint, that invariably leads to destructive behavior and challenges the basis of a peaceful society.”

From the right, the BJP and the fringe thrive on division based on caste and religion. From the left, it could be merely trying to root out the fringe/Hindutva ideology. Irrespective of the people involved or the message they’re trying to get across, violence will not solve anything and isn’t the answer.

“Long after contemporary personalities have passed on, the ideas of the historical thinkers will be valid for large sections of humanity, and minor issues like electoral victories can’t be the basis for irresponsible action”.

BJP national president Amit Shah expressed disapproval of the incidents including H Raja’s remarks and stated that the party was committed to openness and inclusivity in its politics which would benefit the country. The Statesman editorial criticized the BJP in the wake of the incidents –

“This is a zero sum game and the political class that has traditionally thrived on installing statues would collectively do well to eschew a tendency to pull them down. This intolerance is evident in the hooliganism of gau rakshaks in several parts of the country…”

More columns by Varun Sukumar