‘Everything is Normal’: Interrogating the Idea of Normality in Political Discourse

What is understood to be “normal” is often decided by those with socio-economic and political power.


Since the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, the word “normal” has predominated mainstream political discourse. Despite internet shutdowns, added military personnel and the arrest of political leaders from other parties, several news channels and media outlets echoed the central government’s claim that the situation in Kashmir is “normal.”  However, the state of shutdown in Kashmir that has now lasted over a month. Internet shutdowns are increasingly growing common in areas of conflict. For instance, the Myanmar government shut down internet communication in Rakhine state for two months, following heavy militarisation while in August 2019, the Indonesian government blocked internet access in Papua to curb protests. 

There is therefore a need to reflect on the way the government has used the term “normal” with regard to Kashmir. When states use the word “normal” for situations that clearly are not, they create a new “normal.”

This has been done by several governments throughout history to glean over anomalous or abnormal situations and impose a superficial sense of normality which is justified in the name of public interest. 

In this reading list we examine a few instances in independent India’s history where the word “normal” played a significant role in shaping political discourse. 

1) The Aftermath of 1984

After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the rioting and bloodshed that broke out represented a rupture in the discourse of unity. A state of unity and agreement was the “normal” that the Congress had propagated since independence. This  “normality” was disturbed when one community turned against another, which led to a political upheaval. But after Rajiv Gandhi was appointed as the Prime Minister, the government held that the situation would soon return to return to normal. However, as Romesh Thapar wrote at the time, Rajiv Gandhi’s appointment hardly meant that normality would prevail in India’s political landscape once again, because Indian politics had been in turmoil for more than a decade, notions of normality having been upended during the Emergency. 

By the looks of it, we are on the edge of massive political turbulence. The moment the election date is announced, Rajiv Gandhi will have to announce his list of candidates. The first crack-up in the party will then become visible. After the election, winning or losing, the Congress(I) factions will assert again via the regions. It remains to be scon whether the Opposition' will be content to pick up the discards, or build its own alternative leaders. In the course of this political turmoil, it is expected that efforts will be made to revive the Congress 'culture', whatever that might mean. This, too, is a short-lived exercise in the India of today, changed in so many ways. We will probably move from coalition to coalition in our search for an effective, coherent collective leadership. The transition will certainly be messy and chaotic because the reign of Indira Gandhi destroyed the institutional infrastructure. It could not be otherwise.  

2)  Returning to “Normal” After Disharmony

It is evident that the need to return to normal is emphasised by governments after a crisis. This attempted return to normality may, in some instances, mean bringing dissenting voices into the mainstream fold. For example, as Sanjeevini Badigar wrote, after the 2002 riots in Godhra, a BJP spokesperson said, “Things have returned to normal in Gujarat for everyone save some sections of the media, academicians and activists who keep recalling it.” Badigar wrote about the urgency with which the state government enforced a sense of normality by using the rhetoric of progress. 

Increasingly, voices in mainstream media, some Muslim businessmen and even the head of a leading Islamic seminary have urged Muslims to move on from the violence that rocked the state in 2002 when more than a thousand Muslims lost their lives, and to participate in the economic progress facilitated by the administration of Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Modi was in power at the time of the violence and continues to be the elected chief minister to date. 

3) Creating a “New Normal”

After the BJP government was voted to power in 2014, India witnessed a rise in mob lynchings of minorities. Despite widespread protests, there were several cases of such lynchings where the perpetrators were not brought to justice. In this case, while the government has largely remained silent, choosing to treat each incident as isolated, members of civil society have recognised them as a disruption of what they consider normal. 

From the case of the Dimarpur lynchings in 2015, Anna Kurian has argued about the importance of remembering “dangerous memories,” such as lynchings because the tendency to forget normalises a culture of violence. If these incidents are forgotten in history, it also means that we lose the ability to learn from them.  

If all cultures are built around memories, then the memory of the lynching can be erased as it does not fi t into the memory of any community, the citizenship of the victim being questionable for the perpetrators and that of the perpetrators questionable for the large body of mainland Indians. If collective memory for India is to “accommodate a diversity of histories that resonate with each other instead of erasing each other” (Rothberg and Yildiz 2011: 33), then it has to be via “performances of memory [that] become acts of citizenship”

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