This piece written by Kuwar Singh is an observation on the relation between Islam and the Modi government.
The leftist intelligentsia had a prime job last election season: deModifying India. And it worked quite hard too, spreading its range from essays to TV shows to PILs to whatnot. But when the voting results got out, all detractors stood stumped as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi, won a majority in the Lok Sabha, making it evident that the coffee-circles frequented by Arundhati Roy and Rajdeep Sardesai had held- and would hold- little sway over the public mind and action. At least on “soft issues” like secularism and religious freedom, the new government was comfortably free to act as it pleased.
Now that BJP has been in power for more than a year, there have been enough signs and moves to attest (or contest) the fears of the Left about the imminent death of secularism in the nation. To establish the premise of these fears, let us talk first about BJP. A self-proclaimed Hindutva party from its manifesto to its mouthpiece1, BJP has preached, at multiple occasions, the idea of Hindu supremacy quite unabashedly.
Its ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are undeniable, just as undeniable is the analogy that can be drawn between the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and this Hindu-fetish group, of which Narendra Modi is a shining-star alumnus. Though Modi may have been able to acquit himself of charges regarding the 2002 Gujarat riots in the Supreme Court, it is an established belief that the Bajrang Dal and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), daughters of the RSS, were the orchestrators of the riots. And insofar as establishing it, the Left has succeeded; no matter what he does today, Narendra Modi will never go scot-free from the shadow of 2002. But how much is this blame worth? Was there really something that the Supreme Court missed, or had to miss, owing to political and legal bindings?
Firstly, let us put it out there: Mr Modi’s reaction right after the riots was abominable. When asked by New York Times reporter Celia Dugger what was it that he wished he had done differently about the riots in which thousands had lost their lives, he said his only regret was not handling the media better2. Constantly dodging the question of his involvement in the riots and even refusing to express grief for the victims3, Narendra Modi himself caused the pointed fingers to grow in number. But an argument could be made that he really was not as adept at handling the media as he is today, that he was just reeling out, like an angry teenager who when wrongfully accused of an infraction, goes forward and commits that infraction in defiance. Except, the Gujarat riots were not an infraction, and Mr Modi was not a teenager. But the Supreme Court did not find reason enough to convict him, and that should be reason enough to give him benefit of the doubt. For the Gujarat riots that is, and for nothing more.
Soon after being sworn in as the Prime Minister of India in 2014, Narendra Modi set out on a mission to rebuild the image of India in the eyes of the world. From one stamp on his passport to another, Mr Modi soon had seen much of all there was to see. He also signed a good number of deals, restored a good amount of faith in the stock market, started the Make In India campaign and so on. But secularism: what was up with secularism?
Things not good, if you notice the signs. And mind you, these are signs, not explosive events like the riots, but small flutters here and there. And yet, who was it that said small changes move mountains? The first sign of course, was the absence of any sign at all. For someone who speaks quite an awful lot, especially on India’s richie-rich cultural heritage, Mr Modi sure is conspicuously silent on the Islamic part of that heritage. Let’s study his Madison Square Garden speech for instance. He went on and on, benevolently amidst an audience filled with Hindus and Muslims alike, about India’s rich culture, founded in the practice of Yoga, the celebration of Dussehra and Diwali, and the sacrifices made by Sikh soldiers for their nation’s safety4. But sadly, for such a wonderful orator, he failed to throw his audience off balance, which he easily could have by slipping in a few words of praise about the Muslim art and architecture too.
Modi has been overtly vocal on how India’s past and future is related to Hinduism, calling us pioneers in the field of stem-cell research and plastic surgery, as is palpable – according to him- from the portrayal of Karna’s birth in Mahabharata and from Ganesha’s elephant head5. His administration in Gujarat even mandated the teaching of Dinanath Batra’s books, which preach Hindu supremacy quite idiotically, in government schools6.
So why this silence on the real questions? After the debacle he made of himself in the Gujarat riots, Narendra Modi persistently refused to comment on the issues surrounding religious freedom. But now, the absence of his comment is the comment. In fact, if one were to find faults, one could also take offence at implicit notes, like at the statement he made during his Madison Square Garden address that before independence, India had been in slavery for a thousand years4. Because help me out here: the British ruled the country for only two centuries, so were the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire also periods of national slavery? Mr Modi would certainly think so.
And while he was busy doing all that, his Ministry of Minority Affairs kept quite busy itself, asking Parsi men to not use a condom, in the national Jiyo Parsi campaign7. However, the sheer stupidity of discouraging safe sex in a country with the world’s fastest growing population is not so much the pertinent problem as this photo-ad that the Ministry put out-
It could be argued that supporting the cause of the Parsi community is secular too, but only fallibly; it is self-evident from this photo-ad that under the veil of Parsi advancement, the Ministry is fostering Islamophobia amongst masses. Equally thought-provoking is the policy shift on the Israel-Palestine issue. The new government has been keen on explaining that it is only intent on developing better relations with Israel, and not on changing its stance on Palestine, yet the BJP blockade of parliamentary votes to censure Israel over the ongoing onslaught in Gaza confirms that one is not achievable without forgoing the other. Later this year, Narendra Modi will become the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel, and it is all but impossible that the question of Palestine does not come up on the stay. Willingly or unwillingly, in supporting the Jewish cause, the government is quashing the Islamic one.
On the other hand, many BJP members have been berating Islam without the grace of a nobler excuse, all of whose actions are going unheard by Modi. But if Dr Manmohan Singh was held liable for the shortcomings of his party members, Mr Modi too needs to account for Amit Shah’s call to Hindu voters of Muzaffarnagar to vote for “revenge”8, or for Yogi Adityanath’s profane remarks about the need of Hindus to organise themselves in order to “fight back”9. And that he is mum is not as big a problem as the fact that we are not even asking him to speak. The majority of this country is so deeply Modified that the fate of secularism literally rests on the discretion of Mr Modi.
An intelligent man, Mr Modi knows that he needs peace and order to put the economy back on track, which is something he aspires to do. But would he bat an eyelid if Islam were to somehow go magically extinct, without causing any media outburst or international criticism? Probably not; that would just be a happy accident, for the Sangh, for BJP and for Mr Modi himself.
1- BJP Philosophy http://www.bjp.org/about-the-party/philosophy
2- India’s Next Prime Minister? http://www.nytimes.com/video/world/asia/100000002805547/narendra-modis-past.html
3- Narendra Modi runs away from an interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHS_eSoOBzg&spfreload=10
4- Narendra Modi Madison Square Garden Speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpYSOypGcJc
5- Narendra Modi relates stem cell research and plastic surgery to our age old science https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvFHvHNmfSM
6- ‘The car existed in Vedic times and stem cell technology started in the Mahabharata’: Gujarat’s bizarre school lessons revealed http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2707713/The-car-existed-Vedic-times-stem-cell-technology-started-Mahabharata-Gujarats-bizarre-school-lessons-revealed.html
7- Indian ads urge Parsi community to reproduce http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2014/11/indian-ads-urge-parsi-community-reproduce-2014111219554391826.html
8- Amit Shah calls for ‘revenge’ in Muzaffarnagar http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/bjp-president-amit-shah-chargesheeted-for-objectionable-speech-during-lok-sabha-polls/article6397604.ece
9- BJP’s Yogi Adityanath Says ‘Hindus Must Be Prepared to Organize Themselves’ http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/bjps-yogi-adityanath-says-hindus-must-be-prepared-to-organize-themselves-648804