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Right-Wing Populism and Vigilante Violence in Asia

Abstract

Right-wing populism is threatening pluralist underpinnings of diverse democracies around the world by staking claims of privilege for dominant ethnic groups and undermining minority rights. Existing scholarship has evaluated these threats in terms of the majoritarian vision peddled by charismatic politicians seeking electoral victory and the enactment of discriminatory policies through the dismantling of institutional constraints by those already in power. This article looks beyond these macro consequences of right-wing populism and examines vigilante violence as the mechanism through which these movements articulate and enforce their vision at the grassroots level. It compares the experience of India and Indonesia to evaluate factors that have enabled right-wing populists to deploy vigilantism for dismantling democratic protections against majoritarianism. I argue that the intrinsic properties of vigilantism as an efficient and transformative form of violence make it a valuable tool for right-wing populists. However, its use for political ends in two of the world’s largest democracies is enabled by three factors. First, because pluralist constitutions make it difficult to curtail minority rights through top-down legislation in India and Indonesia, vigilantism has become an appealing extra-legal strategy for undermining these rights from the bottom up. Second, widespread social legitimacy associated with everyday forms of vigilantism allows right-wing populists to scale up local templates of violence for national goals. Third, similar pathologies of state-building in both countries enable right-wing vigilantes to act with impunity. I conclude by arguing that while vigilantism has long been thought of as a way in which disempowered citizens cope with dissatisfactory provision of order by the state, right-wing populists are transforming vigilante violence into means for engineering social dominance.

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Notes

  1. This definition is consistent with two leading conceptualization of vigilantism used in political science (Moncada 2017; Bateson 2020).

  2. While this data is useful for illustrating similar in-country trends, it cannot be used to compare the magnitude of vigilantism between India and Indonesia because of vastly different data collection methodologies used in each country. In India, this data has been collected by the FactCheker at IndiaSpend from national media reports and is limited to communal incidents. In Indonesia, the data is from 16 provinces that comprise half of Indonesia’s population and represent all its major ethnic groups. The data is from the National Violence Monitoring Database collected from local media reports that provide more granular coverage of a much broader definition of vigilantism. For a detailed description of the definition and methodology used to collect vigilantism data, see Jaffrey (2019). For a broader description of the NVMS dataset, see Barron et al. 2016: Dataset available at https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/2626

  3. IndiaSpend. “Every Third Indian Cop Thinks Mob Violence Over Cow Slaughter Is ‘Natural’: New Survey,” August 28, 2019, sec. Latest Reports. https://www.indiaspend.com/every-third-indian-cop-thinks-mob-violence-over-cow-slaughter-is-natural-new-survey/.

  4. “BJP Helped with Legal Fees of Jharkhand Lynching Accused: Jayant Sinha.” The Week. Accessed February 9, 2021. https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2019/05/03/bjp-helped-with-legal-fees-lynching-accused-minister-jayant-sinha.html.

  5. Gowen, Annie. “A Muslim and a Hindu Thought They Could Be a Couple. Then Came the ‘Love Jihad’ Hit List.” Washington Post, April 26, 2018, sec. Asia & Pacific. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/a-muslim-and-a-hindu-thought-they-could-be-a-couple-then-came-the-love-jihad-hit-list/2018/04/26/257010be-2d1b-11e8-8dc9-3b51e028b845_story.html.

  6. Author’s calculations based on the National Violence Monitoring System Dataset.

  7. Flock, Elizabeth. “The War on Valentine’s Day in India.” The Atlantic, February 14, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/02/protecting-valentines-day-in-india/553244/.

  8. “Police Watched As Anti-Romeo Squad Allegedly Shaved Man’s Head In UP’s Shahjahanpur.” HuffPost India, April 1, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.in/2017/04/01/police-watched-as-anti-romeo-squad-allegedly-shaved-mans-head-i_a_22021252/.

  9. Adam, Aulia. “Nasib LGBT di Indonesia: Target Kebencian, Razia, dan Penjara RKUHP.” tirto.id, July 11, 2018. https://tirto.id/nasib-lgbt-di-indonesia-target-kebencian-razia-dan-penjara-rkuhp-cNUQ.

  10. Bureau. “Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh: Meat Traders, Butchers Feel the Heat, Shut Slaughterhouses in Panic.” India Today, March 21, 2017. https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/uttar-pradesh-yogi-adityanath-meat-slaughterhouses-bjp-muslims-966683-2017-03-21.

  11. Sharma, Saurabh. “Indian State Uses Draconian Law to Detain Those Accused of Killing Cows.” Reuters, September 11, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-india-crime-idUKKBN2621GY.

  12. Apoorvanand. “India’s ‘Love Jihad’ Laws: Another Attempt to Subjugate Muslims.” Accessed February 9, 2021. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/1/15/indias-love-jihad-laws-another-attempt-to-subjugate-muslims.

  13. Knight, Kyle. “Criminalizing Indonesia’s LGBT People Won’t Protect Them.” Human Rights Watch, February 14, 2018. https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/14/criminalizing-indonesias-lgbt-people-wont-protect-them.

  14. Varma, Subodh. “Jharkhand’s 14th Lynching in Four Years, Country’s 266th.” NewsClick, June 25, 2019. https://www.newsclick.in/Mob-Lynching-India-Jharkhand-Hate-Crimes.

  15. Kunal Purohit, IndiaSpend. “What’s to Blame for Jharkhand’s ‘Witch-Hunting’ Problem? Poor Healthcare and Illiteracy.” Scroll.In. Accessed February 11, 2021. https://scroll.in/article/955045/whats-to-blame-for-jharkhands-witch-hunting-problem-poor-healthcare-and-illiteracy.

  16. “‘Free Pass for Mobs’: India Urged to Stem Vigilante Violence against Minorities.” The Guardian, February 19, 2019, sec. World news. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/19/a-free-pass-for-mobs-to-kill-india-urged-to-stem-cow-vigilante-violence.

  17. “Cow-Related Violence: 86% Dead Since 2010 Are Muslim; 97% Attacks Reported After 2014.” The Wire. Accessed February 13, 2021. https://thewire.in/government/cow-related-violence.

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Jaffrey, S. Right-Wing Populism and Vigilante Violence in Asia. St Comp Int Dev 56, 223–249 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12116-021-09336-7

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