In the book Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right, edited by Wendy Doniger and Martha C Nassbaum, historian Mushirul Hasan talks about the first issue of the Encounter—a literary magazine founded by poet Stephen Spender and journalist Irving Kristol—that was published in 1953. Hasan cites an article with the following note: “Between a past reduced to practical impotence but offering a resistance to depth, and a future only skin–deep, India’s present seems to lack substance.” Sixty-two years later, set against the context of the hanging of Yakub Memon—who was convicted over the 1993 bombings in Mumbai— yesterday, the image that this grim pronouncement paints, bears a striking resemblance to the India of today.
Memon’s hanging came in the midst of unprecedented circumstances and several twists and turns that have played out over the past week. On Tuesday, 28 June 2015, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court delivered a split verdict on Memon’s plea against the death warrant he had been handed, following which a three-judge bench dismissed his plea and upheld the death sentence on Wednesday. Immediately after, a fourteen-page mercy petition written by Memon was delivered to Pranab Mukherjee, the president of India, who—during a two-hour long meeting—was advised by the home ministry to reject it. Memon’s petition was rejected at around 10.45pm. His lawyers along with Delhi-based lawyer and activist, Prashant Bhushan went to the residence of the Chief Justice of India, HL Dattu. Three judges agreed to convene in the Supreme Court to hear the review petition into the wee hours of the night, and ultimately rejecting it by early morning on Thursday. To say that these proceedings were unusual would perhaps be an understatement, and the effect of the subsequent pandemonium could be witnessed through the stir it caused on social media.
However, even as cacophony took over the public space at large, a sepulchral silence continued to rein over 7, Race Course Road. After all, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chooses to speak only on matters that would be better left to his junior colleagues in the cabinet. These are matters that are everyday, routine, and more importantly, “safe.” But while he refuses to comment on issues that are grabbing the headlines, his social media acolytes are more than willing to do so. They are happy to rant about what they consider the real issues of the moment—be it the recent controversy surrounding the External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje over their murky connection to Lalit Modi, the former commissioner of the Indian Premier League; the scores of mysterious deaths around the massive Vyapam scam; or now, the raging controversy over awarding the death sentence to Memon. These flag-bearers of Hindutva and vociferous supporters of Modi are also distinguished by their violent opposition to views that are contrary to their own. An attempt to engage with them, results at best, in being branded a “pseudosecular”, and at worst, in being threatened with acts such as murder or rape.