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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India observer, TIO, NJ: The Indian diaspora in the US has been celebrating the Indian Independence Day stretched over various weekends in August, in different cities, for decades. Even include the Pakistanis in their celebrations, who celebrate their Independence day just a day before Indians, with Bollywood stars in attendance in the past.
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From 2014 onwards, however, when Narendra Modi, a Hindu supremacist leader took charge as prime minister in India, the celebration is fast losing its inclusive nature and is now geared towards pleasing a single religion, with several symbolisms, including the color saffron. Saffron, once a color associated with spirituality is now linked to Hindu right-wing terror. Statues of Hindu gods and goddesses are also part of this symbolism ensuring that the Indian minority whether Muslims or Christians, are wary enough to keep away from these celebrations.
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On August 14th however, the India Business Association (IBA), organizers of the Independence Day parade in Edison, New Jersey plummeted to the lowest of lows. A bulldozer, with huge posters of Modi and the saffron-clad chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Ajay Bisht, aka Yogi Adityanath, largely seen as a successor to Modi by the right-wing Hindu supremacists, was clamped onto the bulldozer, to ensure the symbolism of both the bulldozer and the virulent leaders is not missed.
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If this was not enough to rub salt into the wounds of hurt minorities, Sambit Patra, the official spokesperson of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was the chief guest at the parade. Patra is presently one of the most hated right-wing politicians in the country, for his vocal display of anti-minority sentiments on Indian national television every night.
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Meanwhile, the organizers of the parade here cover up their real agenda by including local officials in the celebrations, who are unaware of the symbolism of the bulldozer in the divisive politics back home.
When Edison locals demanded that Mayor Samip Joshi, who was trusted by all citizens of color to represent them, speak up on the use of the bulldozer in the parade, he was probably unaware of the significance of the bulldozer back home. TIO also reached out to Mayor Samip Joshi who promptly took the call and said, that Edison city does not tolerate hate of any kind. He is however yet to issue a formal statement denouncing the act.
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Independence Day celebrations in Orange County, California on August 14, turned ugly when supporters of Modi attacked a small group of demonstrators protesting against atrocities committed on the minorities in India with placards like “Stop Fascism in India” and “Who’s Independence ?” The ones celebrating rushed at the protestors, shouting “Vande Mataram”, uttering profanities in Hindi, pushing the protesting girls, and tearing the protest signs, a totally unheard thing in the US. This gives a glimpse of what lies ahead for the Indian diaspora in the US, now split in two if the US authorities do not intervene and put a stop to any kind of hate on US soil.
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Adityanath, an avid practitioner of caste politics in UP first used the bulldozer, to regain lost mileage due to gross mismanagement of Covid, which had made international headlines, towards the end of his term as chief minister early this year.
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He had claimed that the bulldozers would be used to crush the mafia, earning him the moniker “bulldozer baba” from the media and the opposition. One of the first bulldozer incidents happened in July 2020, when gangster Vikas Dubey was killed in a mysterious encounter, instead of being safeguarded by the police and made to reveal his connections. His house too was bulldozed. Taking such extreme measures, in total disregard to legal procedures, might be a setback for the targeted mafia, but hardly a viable solution to eliminate them.
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It is of course a matter of contention that besides Vikas Dubey who got targetted for being a brahmin, when Adityanath favors the Thakur community, UP police targeted only Muslim dons, Atiq Ahmad and Mukhtar Ansari.
He then went on to use the bulldozer, even in his campaigns as a run-up to his second term, causing a further rift between his critics and supporters. Bulldozer politics won and empowered the saffron baba to go berserk with these mean machines, with law enforcement agencies totally surrendering before this new instrument of terror.
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To terrorize the minority in UP, no advance notice is given to those targeted for illegal encroachment, to clear their illegal constructions within a given time frame, before brutally bringing down the structures, which for many is a lifetime’s worth of hard work and savings. For fans of this kind of governance model, without being aware of the far-reaching consequences of it, bulldozers have become synonymous with a firm, no-nonsense administration, supposedly to enhance the confidence of the public and improve the morale of the administration, while terrorizing the ones targeted.
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The UP government claimed that property worth Rs 1,800 crores were recovered this way, which is ridiculous considering that all previous governments in UP, including the BJP government, have allowed encroachments in every district to reach mammoth proportions. And it can be safely concluded that the ones in power would have maximum control of the land, like the BJP leaders seizing land in and around Ayodhya now, either for a pittance or by scaring away the locals, or illegally in anticipation of land prices rising once the Ram temple comes up.
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It is a well-established fact that the ruling party members and its minions would not be touched by the bulldozer. Is bulldozing properties then the only measure to reclaim encroached properties? A liberal, sensible educated government would use digitized maps, drones, and CCTV surveillance to collect real-time data to identify attempted encroachments, besides data found in government files, and then proceed legally to reclaim them.
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This is exactly what the chief minister of Punjab Bhagwant Maan did, within days of coming to power in March this year. Starting in May, within three months, they reclaimed a total of 9053 acres of land without trudging around in bulldozers and creating a scare. Without even targeting the minority or their political opponents only. In the past too, municipal officers like G R Khairnar in Mumbai, have earned notoriety for going after illegal structures with a bulldozer, but never in contravention of legal processes.
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Adityanath claimed that the ultimate objective of this bulldozer politics is to provide an environment where investors feel totally safe and they progress towards achieving a one trillion economy. But bringing down structures at the drop of a hat only increases fears, and does not build trust. Besides, building sound economies require visionary ideas, not just targeting the minority and the opposition. This only reveals the incompetence and lack of ideas.
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Bulldozers continue to be used against the minority in India, despite India’s highest court warning that demolitions “can’t be retaliatory”. India’s Supreme Court was forced to step in when the UP government went about the controversial practice of demolishing the homes of Muslim protesters accused of instigating violence amid nationwide protests in June this year.
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The Muslims were protesting against derogatory comments made by the BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma against Prophet Mohammed, on national television, which caused international outrage. Several Gulf countries even rebuked the Indian government, threatening to cut business ties. While the world watched how the protestors were brutalized by the police, Nupur Sharma went into hiding, with the police refusing to trace her.
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The court however declined to order a halt to the demolitions, leaving minorities vulnerable to continued bulldozer abuses.
One of the demolished homes was that of Afreen Fatima, a prominent student activist, which again gained sympathy around the world. Her father, the local politician Javed Mohammad, has been on the radar since his protests against the even more controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Both these acts threatened to strip Muslims of their citizenship.
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Javed was accused of planning the protests, some of which turned violent. Even if these accusations were true, in a democracy one would assume that a country’s legal system is well equipped to deal with it, without having to resort to barbaric ways to crush protests.
Adiyanath further used the bulldozer jibe as a campaigning tool, claiming it was a sign of how his government had cracked down on the mafia and was a symbol of development in the state, much to the delight of his supporters in India and the US. An efficient cover than to actually hide the lack of good and effective governance.
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India today is burdened with the twin ills, authoritarianism, and intolerance, even as it entered the 76th year of Independence, given credence by the prime minister himself, followed by the chief ministers of all the BJP-ruled states. The Indian diaspora which fled the country for a better life refuses to accept the perils of a rising saffron terror, while yelling “Vande Mataram” as war cries against Muslims, despite being US citizens.
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There are an estimated 55,000 Indian citizens living illegally in New Jersey alone. If the US officials crack the whip on these illegal immigrants, who were probably part of the parade, feeling the exciting rush of the bulldozer, what would their state be?
Calls & Text messages left for the president of the Indian Business Association (IBA) Mr. Dhiren Shah were not returned.
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