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Hindus Will Have Their Martin Niemöller Moment

On the balmy Saturday night of June 30th, 1934, Ernst Roehm and his lieutenants of the notorious Nazi SA Sturmabteilung, better known as the brown shirts, were sleeping soundly at the Hanslbauer Hotel at Wiessee, on the shores of Lake Tegern. Roehm—an old friend of Adolf Hitler’s—was probably dreaming about his honeymoon in Madeira, which was to commence the following day, when the men were rudely awakened at the crack of dawn. Roehm’s deputy, Edmund Heins, was among the first to be dragged out of bed, marched outside the hotel and promptly shot in the nape at the Führer’s behest. Captain Roehm met a similar fate a few days later in a prison cell in Munich. The Nazis had no qualms about using violence against the others: the November criminals, the socialists and all those it considered traitors to the Fatherland. But the Night of the Long Knives was the first (of many) extrajudicial killings, in which the Nazis slaughtered their own.

Not long afterwards, another totalitarian megalomaniac in the East executed scores of senior comrades in his own party, including cabinet members and senior army officers, in what is now known as the Great Purge. In both cases, after the external threat to its totalitarian ideology had been neutralised, the behemoth turned inwards to eliminate perceived conspirators in its own ranks.

In her prescient book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt explains:

The disturbing factor in the success of totalitarianism is the true selflessness of its adherents: it may be understandable that a Nazi or a Bolshevik will not be shaken in his conviction by crimes against people who do not belong to the movement; but the amazing fact is that neither is he likely to waver when the monster begins to devour its own children and not even if he becomes a victim of persecution himself.

The greatest tragedy in human history is that we learn nothing from it. And the vast swaths of Hindus who cast their vote for the BJP in India’s Lok Sabha elections this May are likely to validate this adage. For when the fascist thugs of the incumbent far-right Bharatiya Janata Party and its numerous militant Hindutva outfits are done lynching hapless Muslim cattle herders, murdering freethinkers, demonising liberal leftists and expunging Christian missionaries, they will come knocking at the door of those who fail the purity test of what makes a true Hindu. The episode that played out on social media last month is a harbinger of things to come.

The BJP fielded Hindu extremist and terror-accused Pragya Thakur as its candidate for the constituency, and the people of Bhopal voted her into parliament. The Malegaon bomb blast case in which Thakur was implicated was investigated by ATS chief Hemant Karkare, a highly decorated IPS officer, who was slain on 26 November 2008, by Islamists during the Mumbai terror attacks. At a public meeting, Pragya Thakur is reported to have said that Karkare died from her curses. Prominent BJP supporters and rabble-rousers who style themselves flag-bearers of patriotism, and are quick to label anyone who questions the incumbent government or the armed forces as anti-national and subversive, quickly came to Thakur’s defence and launched a vile coordinated attack on the fallen police officer.

Hemant Karkare, an upper caste Hindu, was an archetype of the in-group individual who failed the purity test because he rejected the toxic identity politics of Hindutva, thereby becoming an enemy of the Hindu nationalists.

A Maharashtrian Brahmin officer going after Hindutva terrorists with a vengeance—an ideology that was founded, propounded and dominated by militant Maharashtrian Brahmin ideologues in the early twentieth century—is almost Shakespearean: a paradox the Hindu right simply cannot digest. That is why they despise this traitor to the cause even more than they loathe atheist leftists. So much that they would slander him even in death.

Privileged upper caste Hindus who choose to tolerate or tacitly endorse the incumbent BJP’s bigotry and divisive agenda in exchange for the promise of trains running on time (they aren’t), will do well to recall the words of this famous German pastor:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

By attacking the probity of a fallen police officer, the Hindu right is sending a portentous warning. Those who think they are immune to the virulence of Hindutva simply by virtue of being part of the majoritarian in-group will have their Martin Niemoller moment very soon.

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