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Kristallnacht in New Delhi?

  • Published at 11:25 pm January 9th, 2020
Photo: AFP

India’s current tactics eerily similar to those used in Nazi Germany

No serious student of history (I have two degrees in the subject) levels comparisons between eras lightly. 

But what’s happening in India is undeniably similar to the “The Night of Broken Glass” (Kristallnacht) in Germany in November 1938, when the Hitler Youth led an extended assault on Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools, and alerted the world to the Nazi regime’s implacable motivations. 

It’s rather chilling to read the international media reprise about India today precisely what The Times said back then: “No foreign propagandist … could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country.”

The poet/critic/curator Ranjit Hoskote first made the historical connection on Twitter, and elaborated on email: “I fear that it was indeed I who identified our current situation -- especially the destruction of Muslim-owned properties and the brutal assault on Muslims in public spaces by an unholy coalition of UP police and ‘police mitras’/right-wing hooligans -- as Kristallnacht. 

“Earlier, I had also identified the stage-managed visit of the right-wing EU MPs to Kashmir as a Theresienstadt move. Our homemade fascists are remarkably faithful to the 1925 textbook authored by the late unlamented Professor Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Hoskote told me: “The fascist playbook is remarkably consistent and universal. It is based on the key mechanisms of identifying a number of groups as the Enemy, and then proceeding to stigmatize, marginalize, persecute and annihilate them. 

“This method has an ideological dimension, disseminated via a complicit and pliant media, and aimed at splitting them apart from the ‘mainstream’ (thus Germans who happened to be of Jewish ancestry gradually became ‘German Jews,’ then ‘Jews,’ much as Indians of Muslim persuasion have increasingly been sought to be isolated by the regime as ‘Muslims’), and a material dimension, carried out through programmatic attacks on these groups’ places of gathering, their homes and workplaces, their neighbourhoods and forms of communication. 

“The terrible violence launched by Ajay Bhisht and his psychopathic thugs in Uttar Pradesh is patently an example of the Kristallnacht strategy.”

By now, the relevant details are widely known. 

On December 11, 2019, the Indian Parliament passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act to fast-track citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who fled persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan before 2015. 

It’s the first time religion was used as criterion for citizenship, and many Indians feared this would be utilized with the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) to disenfranchise the Muslim population. 

These suspicions deepened when Home Minister Amit Shah issued his notorious threat: “Aap chronology samajh liye -- understand the chronology, first we will bring Citizenship Amendment Bill and after that we will bring National Register of Citizens and not only for Bengal, but for the entire country.” 

Immediately afterwards, he was forced to backtrack and deny those intentions. That’s because no one could have predicted the astonishing nationwide eruption of fury after this latest assault on India’s longstanding constitutional values. 

Until now, the Modi-Shah duopoly has been largely unchallenged: Everyone grumbles, but generally behind closed doors. Even in the midst of an entrenched economic slowdown, the BJP increased its substantial majority in parliament in last year’s general elections. 

The new government promptly revoked Article 370 (which granted special status), reduced Jammu and Kashmir into two separate Union Territories, placed thousands of Kashmiris under arrest, and imposed a stunningly effective communications shutdown (it’s now the longest Internet blockade ever, in any democracy’s history.) Even that didn’t interrupt business as usual. 

But then came the fateful decision by Delhi Police to assault the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia university, which has directly led us to the present moment. 

As the veteran columnist (and Jamia faculty member) Mukul Kesavan wrote: “This government’s calculation was that the police could make an example of a ‘Muslim’ university without political consequences. It was wrong. 

“Since communalists are constitutionally incapable of empathy, they don’t allow for fellow feeling … the furious condemnation that crackled like electricity through Indian universities … lit a fuse against the furtive bigotry of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, that’s still burning. 

“As India stirs in unison against this latest bid to sneak in a Hindu rashtra through a legislative back door, this government might yet regret the day it tried to bludgeon into submission a university birthed by a real nationalist movement.”

Since then, resistance has only mushroomed. 

Last weekend, in another classic Kristallnacht move, the Delhi Police stood by while masked assailants rampaged into the blacked-out campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). 

But here’s where history doesn’t have to repeat itself, because innumerable young Indians are standing up in support of each other. In an incandescently meaningful moment, Bollywood icon Deepika Padukone showed up at JNU alongside victims of the most recent violence. 

From the government, there has only been silence. 

Vivek Menezes is a writer based in Goa, India.

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