Fringe fundamentalists are now mainstream: Teesta Setalvad

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India is going through difficult times where the “once fringe” fundamentalist groups have now become mainstream and, with the complicity of “fascists in positions of power”, are running the show, says leading human rights activist Teesta Setalvad.

One of the country’s leading campaigners against communal violence, who has been fighting for ensuring justice for the 2002 Gujarat riot victims, Setalvad, however, sees the recent Bihar polls as a silver lining behind the “dark clouds of communalism and fascism” that have “engulfed the country since the Narendra Modi-led government came to power in 2014”.

“A chief characteristic of the Modi government is that the fringe has now become the mainstream. You have people in parliament, people as ministers and people in position of power, who are unabashedly promoting religious fundamentalism,” Setalvad told IANS in Kolkata.

“What we used to call as fringe are now actually running the show. The NDA is just a facade, it’s the RSS which is controlling the government and groups like the VHP and the likes of Bajrang Dals are running the show,” Setalvad added.

While there have been continuous criticism of the prime minister for remaining mum on incidents of intolerance, including the lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri over rumours of eating beef , Setalvad asserted that silence is actually Modi’s “unspoken consent”.

“The question is no more about the prime minister’s silence. It is his message to carry on the targeted violence and assurance that no action will be taken against the perpetrators,” Setalvad alleged.

She found the signs ominous.

“The Dadri lynching is just a manifestation of this hate-driven politics which the centre is pursuing. We may not yet have fascism in power, but we do have fascists in positions of power. Which is why there is a huge danger to the foundations of secular democratic republic,” the 53-year-old campaigner said.

“The country now is facing twin dangers under this government – one is the extreme right wing economic policies and two the extreme right wing and supremacist socio-political ideals. We yet may not have fascism in the government, but we do have fascists in position of power,” she maintained.

While there has been a growing debate on the issue of intolerance that has seen a large section of authors, filmmakers and even scientists and historians return their awards and honours in protest, Setalvad asserted there was no scope for a debate and expressed her contempt for the naysayers of the movement.

“Only those in power and a few of their beneficiaries are not willing to see this spontaneous protest, they don’t want to see this as a critical mass dissenting against the hate-driven politics. It reflects only their intolerance,” she asserted.

At the same time, Setalvad saw a ray of hope in the Bihar assembly elections that had old foes Nitish Kumar of the JD-U and Lalu Prasad of the RJD joining hands with the Congress to trump the BJP and allies and create ripples across the political spectrum.

“The Bihar results are not a mere election result, but are rather a movement. It’s a huge emancipator movement for the entire country. Its impact is not confined just to political circles or to a certain region. It has shown the way and it’s time the stakeholders take this movement forward in their battle against the communal and the fascists forces,” Seetalvad opined.

Talking about her crusade for justice to the Gujarat riots victims, Seetalvad said the going has become tough especially after Modi became the prime minister. But, she asserted, the fight will continue.

“Our crusade led to 126 people getting convicted. The government, both at the state and the centre, did everything to hound and victimize us. But the fact is these convictions have stayed despite all odds.”

“It has been the tremendous people’s support that enabled us to withstand this persecution. And the future of our fight depends upon this support as well as the support from the democratic and secular forces,” Setalvad added.

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