Political vendetta is not a nascent development. Mythological texts are replete with such instances, and many of them are a part of folklore; the colonial period saw an uptick in such vendetta with Indians demanding a seat at the power table, and various governments since 1947 have displayed a propensity to use it as an arsenal in political feuds. Even so, the current political dispensation, which is seeking to redefine the nation, has seen an increasingly brazen recourse to vendetta. Jignesh Mevani, the 42-year-old independent Gujarat MLA backed by Congress, is its latest victim. Mevani has long been the bete noire of the political establishment in Gujarat, calling it out on several occasions and exhibiting a brand of political machination that is causing concern to old-timers in the Bharatiya Janata Party. He was picked up by the Assam Police within 24 hours of a FIR being registered against him in Kokrajhar over an allegedly controversial tweet in which Mevani had mentioned the Prime Minister and Nathuram Godse in the same breath. The complainant happens to be a BJP leader in Assam. The tweet, less offensive than dozens of others that call for bodily harm to opponents and genocide of an entire community, was deleted by the social media site.
Yet, the Assam Police landed at Mevani's doorstep with alacrity, whisked him away to Kokrajhar via Guwahati, and got his remand for three days. This is a political vendetta by the PMO, Mevani shouted as he was led to the Kokrajhar courtroom. He openly declared what has been discussed in hushed tones since the regime began its second stint in 2019. From arrests of activists and intellectuals, getting central agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate to act against rival politicians and their family members, verbally abusing and physically obstructing challengers such as farmers, who took on the three farm laws, to letting the Narcotics Control Bureau go berserk over a section of Bollywood, as evidenced in the Mumbai drugs haul case last year, disallowing octogenarian priest Father Stan Swamy his water sipper in jail, keeping political activist Umar Khalid behind bars for an alleged hate speech while honouring those who screamed “…goli maaron saalon ko” and more, vendetta politics has come to define this government.
Not that it had never happened before, but the sheer viciousness and brutality – as also the utter brazenness – with which vendetta is unleashed in recent years brings politics to a toxic low in India. There is now a street-thug quality to it where abuse, vengeance, and strongarm tactics replace civilised ways of engaging with – even combating – political or ideological rivals. This does not augur well for the present or the future, as India’s young learn that such mendacious and underhand ways are par for the course. It’s particularly unfortunate that today’s BJP leaders, who claim to have been shaped by the excesses of the Emergency, including vendetta, think nothing of adopting those methods against their rivals. And we are not even in an Emergency situation, at least officially. The counter to political vendetta often lies in institutions such as the judiciary but knocking on the doors of a court has brought little relief to victims of vendetta in the recent past. Jignesh Mevani must have known only too well what lay in store for him when he decided on his political battle and hopefully carried the spark within himself to slug it out. Vendetta politics looks set to get worse before it meets its denouement for now.