on March 24, 2019
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Mohammad Alishan Jafri
On the 14th of February, a JeM terrorist radicalised by Pakistani extremists rammed a car full of explosives into a CRPF convoy at Pulwama causing the terror struck valley’s biggest terror attack in decades, killing over 44 CRPF jawans. A month later, in what could be called as the worst terror attack in the history of New Zealand, an islamophobic terrorist killed 51 Muslims offering Friday prayers at local mosques in Christ Church.
One would assume that India can empathize and relate to the agony of New Zealand because of the horrors wreaked in Pulwama, a month earlier but that is not true. New India is not like that. We have a shrinking space for mourning anything/anyone “non-nationalist”. Thus, what happened in New Zealand has nothing to do with New India. 7 out of these 51 killed were Indians making India psychologically more proximate to the event. However, we don’t have a word of mourning for them. Instead, a section of people mocked the dead, celebrated the massacre or remained indifferent to it.
The purpose of such attacks is to create civil unrest and religious discord. The perpetrators always claim to be the flag bearers of a particular community or nation-state or both. This is a clever trap. Any sentimental or so-called reactionary retaliation against that community or state, in turn, emboldens and somewhat legitimises the agenda of the perpetrators. For instance, the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was followed by the ugly 1984 program against Sikhs largely justified by stalwart politicians even the Prime Minister then. The genie of 2002 is out of the bottle again. Therefore, it is very important for both the people and the government to react to such attacks with extreme caution and empathy. The duty of the government and its leader is superior to the people.
At such times, the masses become morally orphaned. They need a leader who can fill them with love, hope and courage. The lack of leadership at such a moment can be dangerous for the nation-state. What happened in India and New Zealand is right there before the entire world. The response of the PM of New Zealand and the Prime Minister of New India is also there before us. We must study these reactions to understand what kind of a leader democracies need.
New India and its leadership are obsessed with male Jingoism. So much so that every time we want to tell the world that we have a strong leader we use phrases like “ 56 inch ka seena”. One channel was so obsessed with the Mr. Modi’s measurements that it ran the following news: “Chappan nahi sirf 50 inch ka seena hai Modi ji ka”. Photoshopped images of “Modi the lion”, can be easily found on the internet and social media. Our leader often celebrates festivals with the army in uniform. These are important symbols. 56 inch refers to the chest size of an invincible wrestler, the army is a symbol of valour and we all know lions are very ferocious! Referring to the airstrikes by IAF in Pakistan in one of his political engagements the PM said, “Modi aakar maar gaya”. The naive but common conclusion is- Modi is Army; army is Modi. New India just loves all this.
On the other hand, we can also find the reverse representation of leaders of the opposition as less masculine wolves or jackals(read: cunning, coward, weak opportunists). They are shown hiding behind their mothers and sisters for support. For us, new Indians, the idea of one man working alone with no emotional, moral and technical support is an ideal leader. He must be independent enough to declare demonetization without the approval of the RBI governor!
Jacinda Ardern has nothing to do with appearing powerful. Googling “Jacinda the lioness” will not give any likeable results. She doesn’t use any such symbol to appear ferocious. She is a family woman and not a self-declared hermit. She delivered a historic speech at the UN carrying her child with her. Unlike New India, maybe the people of New Zealand do not have a problem with that.
Coming back to the role of leadership after the two attacks:
As we all know Mr. Modi remained quiet for a good long period of time just like he did after episodes of gruesome lynchings, Kathua and Unnao rapes, attacks on Kashmiris following the Pulwama attack and even during the recent tussle with Pakistan. India desperately wanted PM Modi to speak(read roar), like always. The atmosphere was intense. On the other hand, we saw Ardern mourn her fellow Muslims in hijab to make them comfortable and send an anti-islamophobic message simultaneously. Her response was spontaneous.
The next fourteen days were intense. There was anger all over the country. This anger, particularly of the jingoists, was mostly fake. For instance, a photoshopped image of the Congress president Rahul Gandhi was mass circulated over the Internet where he could be seen in skull cap with the terrorist who executed the Pulwama attack. One must think what kind of a sorrowful nation lover was he, who did this in that extreme moment of national grief.
Fake videos, photos, hate speech spread on the internet seeking retaliation against Kashmiris. These miscreants used this public anger to organise violence and ‘reactionary’ attacks against Kashmiris in other parts of the country. Even the governor of a state made a call for a boycott of Kashmiri Muslims outside the valley. Modi finally broke his silence. He said in his trademark rhetorical fashion, ‘Our fight is for Kashmir but not against Kashmir. What happened with the Kashmiri youths is deplorable. It’s not the issue’. If it’s not the issue then why did he even come out to condemn it? Despite his half-hearted call, which was cheered at 9 PM in newsrooms, we all saw how Kashmiri dry fruit sellers were assaulted in Lucknow.
Back to NZ:
The Prime Minister of New Zealand cancelled all her events and immediately addressed the nation. In India, the political rallies continued. Had Modi addressed the nation, instead of making his booth sabse mazboot, India would have emerged the winner of the perceptual war with Pakistan.
A minister even went on to calculate the gains that the ruling party will make out of the deaths of soldiers in Pulwama! On the other hand, Jacinda’s speech had no hint of aggression. It felt like the word of a mother who’s just lost her child. A mother’s love is inclusive and really powerful. Mothers do not need muscles to do that but still can beat the worst of hate. Not only did she addressed the nation twice on the same day but also faced the press. No journalist who asked her a question was declared anti-national in New Zealand!
She referred to the immigrants/victims/Muslims as “her people” and rejected the attacker as anti-New Zealand. She didn’t even name him. Meanwhile, we must recall how India reacted to the attack on a mosque. The demolition of Babri Masjid was followed by large scale anti-Muslim violence. Justice is a long walk for them. Instead, they face the humiliation of Shaurya diwas every year! Many of the accused in the Mecca mosque blast, samjhauta express blast and the 2002 carnage are free. They will probably campaign for their leader in 2019 elections.
‘Love and empathise with Muslims’, was her response to Trump’s offer to help New Zealand. Democracy is a utopia for equality unless you have a leader like Jacinda Ardern. It is easy to have muscular political corporates who calculate the votes that they can derive out of fear and pain. Ardern has challenged the bigoted new world order that applies Newton’s third law of action and reaction to defend terror, rapes and massacres. She has, through her love reminded the world that the politics of Gandhi is still the only solution to challenge the politics of hate.
The author is a journalism student at the University of Delhi.