On Wednesday, the Bharatiya Janata Party-controlled North Delhi Municipal Corporation began to demolish properties in Jahangirpuri that it claimed were illegally built, most of them owned by Muslims. This drive came four days after communal violence in the neighbourhood in the city’s northeastern section. It had been sparked when a Hindu religious procession armed with guns and swords passed a mosque.

The campaign followed a pattern that has been witnessed in other parts of the country in recent weeks. After incidents of religious clashes, BJP-ruled states have taken bulldozers to structures they claim are encroachments as a means of collective punishment against Muslims.

There is, of course, an incredible amount to be troubled about in this sequence of events: from hate-filled religious processions targeting Muslims to the state subjecting working-class Muslims to collective punishment. On Wednesday, what stood out was the celebratory mood among Hindutva sympathisers and, in fact, much of the media. The arbitrary destruction of Muslim property was seen as a joyful event.

Celebration of anti-Muslim violence

This was by design: the demolitions were carried out in full media glare, with the violence clearly meant to score political points for the BJP as a way to reinforce its muscular Hindutva credentials. Newswires carried blow-by-blow accounts of bulldozers moving towards victims’ homes. News anchors interviewed the workers operating the machines, asking them about what they had managed to demolish, almost in the manner of a post-match press conference. In some cases, journalists even rode in bulldozers.

Later, BJP IT cell accounts on Twitter coordinated to pat Amit Shah on the back for the demolitions.

BJP tweeting about demolishing homes as revenge for the rioting on Hanuman Jayanti.

The public celebration, even glee, over the destruction of the lives of so many working-class Muslims was maybe best captured by Times Now news anchor who joked that India was carrying out so many demolitions, it would need to import more bulldozers.

Established in the cauldron of Partition, modern India has a long history of communalism. However, what is new about this moment is the unapologetic nature of it. Muslim houses are demolished as collective punishment after they are targeted by hate-filled processions. In significant parts of the public sphere, targeted violence against Muslims is welcomed. In fact, as Kumar’s tweet showed, it is even celebrated.

In effect, Hindu nationalism is now well and truly the main pole of Indian politics.

Scary future

Reducing nationalism to ethnicity is not new. In India’s neighbourhood, the best example is Sri Lanka. After the British left the island, Buddhist Sinhala nationalism stormed the state, starting in the 1950s, committing extreme acts of violence on the largely Hindu, Tamil-speaking minority. The civil war that resulted from this open majoritarianism was one of the world’s most bitter internal conflicts. This is in spite of the fact that Sri Lanka is a relatively developed, small country, with a population less than 2% of India’s.

Any ethniciation of the Indian state is therefore inviting extreme danger. As is already happening, the arbitrary targeting of Muslims is now widespread. This, of course, includes mass violence like riots, lynchings and state-led demotions. But it could even be more arbitrary, like a Muslim man arrested in Madhya Pradesh simply for mimicking Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. In many cases, the judiciary joins the executive in this targeting.

For many Muslims, there is an increasing realisation that the Indian state will not protect them in the event of majoritarian violence. In fact, there’s a good chance it might support the violence. As happened in Delhi, large sections of society might even cheer on the destruction.

What makes this even more worrying is that there is no mainstream political force to stop this rapid descent into majoritarianism. The hold of Hindu nationalism and its merger with Indian nationalism is now so strong that Opposition parties demur from directly taking on the BJP.

During the Delhi demolition on Wednesday, for example, the Congress was absent from the ground and the Aam Aadmi Party even went so far as to describe the Muslims affected as “Bangladeshi” – a common Hindutva dog whistle for Indian Muslims that in one stroke reduces them to entities without rights.

There is, thus, no check – legal or political – on anti-Muslim violence. In effect, the communal anarchy that has taken root in India over the past few years can only get worse in the near future.