The official narrative describes them as ‘rumour-mongers’, ‘mischief-makers’ and ‘anti-nationals’. Call them these and much more but there is a hard truth that India must confront: that these vile creatures are boisterously celebrating the spectacular success of their mission.

Just look at the facts. On August 11, a mob of nearly 50,000 assembled in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan and went berserk. They torched vehicles, molested women policemen, smashed shop windows and even desecrated an Amar Jawan Jyoti while venting their anger at the persecution of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar. Within two days, following a few incidents of intimidation, a sinister message was mysteriously relayed to people from Assam and the North-east living in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune and Chennai to quit the cities by August 20 or face the consequences. From last Sunday evening, the mass exodus of people began and by all accounts nearly 20,000 people packed a small bag and left their homes, their studies and their places of work and caught the first available train to Guwahati. 

Even as the Government, Parliament and well-meaning citizens tried to reassure panic-stricken communities that they had nothing to fear, mobs assembled in Lucknow and Allahabad on August 17 and, like their counterparts in Mumbai, went on the rampage burning cars and smashing shop windows. In Lucknow, the mob—described by a quaint report in The Times of India (online) as consisting of 50 people “dressed as Muslims, wearing skull caps and scarves”  and “chewing paan and paan masala, which is prohibited during the fast in the month of Ramzan”—honed in on the Buddha Park and were photographed vandalising a statue of the Buddha. They too were protesting against the happenings in Myanmar and Assam. 

In just nine days, these “mischief-makers” and “anti-nationals” achieved three definite objectives. 

First, they demonstrated quite unambiguously that when it comes to Muslims, community prevails over geography. They made a mockery of the claim by the BJP and many Assamese leaders that the clashes in Kokrajhar were between Indians and foreigners. They flaunted, for the rest of India to see, their complete identification with the “outsiders” and “foreigners”.

Equally, they demonstrated that when it comes to Muslim interests, national boundaries are meaningless. In another age, the Caliphate in Turkey had briefly become an Indian issue. In more recent times, Palestine had become a symbol of victimhood. Now, the boundaries of rage have been extended to embrace the cause of the Rohingyas in Myanmar. 

Secondly, the unnamed “mischief-makers” struck a blow at the emotional integration of India. For some time, cities in India have faced problems centred on the harassment of citizens from the North-east, particularly women. The people of the North-east have nurtured legitimate grievances about Middle India’s disdain for its people. This profound sense of alienation is almost certain to be aggravated once the victims of the silent terror reach their homes in Assam and the North-east and narrate their ordeal. In time to come, what may be remembered is not that the local police, administration and voluntary groups tried their utmost to instil confidence but that ‘mainstream’ India has become unsafe for people of the North-east, that they are being targeted on account of their ethnicity and that they don’t ‘belong’. 

The emotional trauma of the 20,000 or so people who returned home in fear will take a long time to heal. Those who care to remember may ponder over the devastating impact that the profiling of Sikhs during the Asian Games of 1982 had on the psyche of that community. To avoid despondency from turning into bitterness, all steps must be taken to ensure that the majority of those who took the trains to Guwahati return to their adopted cities as soon as possible. 

Finally, the conspirators who instigated the troubles must be gloating over the fragility and helplessness of the Government and the political class. Far from reacting with outrage over what happened over the past nine days, there was a disgraceful show of squeamishness. The Mumbai Police Commissioner is reported to have warned against too many arrests, a Chief Minister is understood to have pressed the Ministry of External Affairs to summon the Myanmar Ambassador and issue a formal demarche, and the Minority Commission has chosen to be in denial over the illegal immigration to Assam. Politically, the Congress is in blue funk because it is fearful that firm action against the instigators of the mob violence and the creators of the morphed photographs could have dire electoral consequences.

Even the Fourth Estate, otherwise fearless in exposing perceived injustice, has held back its punches. Part of this is understandable because exposing the whole truth also ran the risk of adding to the climate of fear and nervousness. However, to the ‘mischief-makers’ this noble-hearted restraint is likely to be interpreted as evidence of the Establishment’s fear of their muscle power and electoral power. Having successfully bared their fangs and made their point effortlessly, the ‘mischief-makers’ now know their full potential.

Within the Muslim community too, the extremists have demonstrated their ability to be the real movers and shakers. Last week, during the debate in the Lok Sabha on Assam, the MP for Hyderabad warned against a ‘third wave’ of radicalisation if Muslim grievances were not speedily. After the events of the past nine days, it is worth considering whether he was ‘warning’ of an ominous trend or trumpeting its arrival.