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Strategising for the Modi Era

Strategy is not an outcome of sulking. It emanates from pragmatism. Even as the regime strategises, Muslims too must reflect.

From their allowing Modi the benefit of doubt, it may appear that Hindus who have voted to propel him to power with an untrammelled majority have let their Muslim brethren down. This could prove disappointing for Muslims if taken to heart. However, it would be a travesty were Muslims to give up on the good sense of their Hindu counterparts. It is best therefore for Muslims to also give Hindu voters who backed Modi the benefit of doubt and give them a second chance at the next hustings.

Modi’s exceptional mandate can be taken as a chance for him to make good on his promise of development and good governance. His media and corporate backers convinced people to look towards him to replicate the so-called ‘Gujarat model’, in particular in UP and Bihar that have seen a relative decline in comparison to southern and western India. Clearly, Modi is on trial and will attempt to deliver with the expectation of another shot at the top in the next elections.

Since it would not do for Muslims, already among the deprived, to be left out of any advances that India may make, Muslims would need to reconcile with the majority verdict and participate to the extent feasible. The condition for such an engagement can only be on the footing of equality. This may be necessary since there may be a programme afoot to make any sops of development coming the way of Muslims conditional on their exhibition of either subordination or national loyalty. Since Muslims have no call to bow, they need to engage with the regime straight backed. This would deter any aggression in the regime even as it accepts Muslim offer of joining shoulders in the promise of national development as equals and partners.

Aware that secularists have been complacent in keeping Muslims backward, the new regime can be taken as an opportunity for conditional engagement to better the lot of common Muslims. Not doing so would lead to another five years of waste and, who knows, even a decade. Also, keeping an open mind will ensure that the regime does not get an excuse to lock Muslims out of any gains India may make. Concerted community action will also deter those in their own midst who may be out to sow discord. Instead, a positive outreach may assure the majority community of Muslims’ continuing faith in their judgment. After all, majority-minority relations remaining in good health is the best guarantor of minority security. It is also a sign of respect for Indian democracy that Muslims abide by the choice of the majority.

Clearly, this cannot be unconditional. Modi would require proving capable of reining in the Hindutva brigade. This is a tall order since their backing of Modi has been as consequential as corporate power and money to have taken him to the top. Modi’s own personal predilections, evident in his adamant refusal to take responsibility for the Gujarat carnage and to reach out to Muslims as a leader with national aspirations, will perhaps be asking too much from him. However, respecting the people’s mandate must imply that Muslims allow Modi to make amends, perhaps not visibly, but in practice by ensuring Muslims their rightful share of any growth in the national pie. Therefore, the first stone must not be cast by Muslims. Modi must be allowed to fail on his own so that the majority community shows him the door next time round as resoundingly as it has ushered him in.

This is not impossible to visualise. Rajiv Gandhi squandered his mandate of greater proportions by getting into a communal quagmire by opening the locks of the Babri Masjid. His twist towards neo-liberalism in the mid-eighties led up eventually to India having to send out gold by air to UK banks lest it default on loan repayments. Since Modi has promised a decisive turn to neo-liberalism under a second generation reform package, that it would create an army of ‘have nots’ can well be imagined. Authoritarianism is the expectation of his corporate backers to push through these reforms. It is not a coincidence that the Gujarat model in which Modi ran a fearful administration has been chosen by them for India. The outcome cannot but be in expanding the foothold of Maoists from their rimlands in central India into the Indian heartland of towns and cities.

Also, there is the Hindutva dividend that his RSS mentors will demand. Modi may have to at a minimum give them sops whereby they can stay out of his developmental agenda with their swadeshi ideology and confine themselves to a cultural reset of India. This may lead to a confrontation with Muslims since in the main the RSS fixation is to take ‘revenge’, in the words of Modi’s UP campaign manager, Amit Shah, on Muslims for what they consider has been a millennium of subjugation. Therefore, it is possible that despite Muslims putting their best foot forward, if not their right hand itself, they may find the pitch queered for them. The steps that Muslims may then take in safeguarding themselves will then be used against them for invective and hatred. 

In case Muslims were to rethink their strategy, depending on the nature of the Modi regime as it unfolds, it is quite clear that they would not be alone. There would be India’s expanding army of disaffected, those imposed on by the economic ‘reforms’ which in reality will be an oligarchic loot of India’s treasures with Modi as national security and corruption minder. There is little doubt that ethnic minorities such as Kashmiris and Bengalis will feel put upon by Modi’s impending policies on the Article 370 and illegal migration respectively. Pockets of India by voting for regional parties have already demonstrated that they are not enamoured of the so-called Modi ‘wave’. Also, liberals will likely stage a comeback with the majority itself revolted by the initiatives and innovations on the cultural front that Modi’s ideological storm troopers will seek. In particular, the fillip that Brahmanism hopes to receive will prompt its own backlash.

Modi will of course try to avert this inevitability. He will employ media hype to keep the counter narratives under wraps. He will use the suppressive might of the India state for his ends. He will seek time to create the rising tide economically to see him through to another term. This will give majoritarian extremists the time they need to reshape India in their image. Therefore, it is not unlikely that it may take till end of the decade for the cracks to begin to show. Once this happens the regime will seek scapegoats. Muslims are their traditional scapegoats and therefore need to have a prevention and responsive strategy in place by then. There being no call to invite such retribution, Muslims must take care to ensure the regime lacks a justificatory narrative for scapegoating. Consequently, Muslims need to wait out the Modi regime, without backsliding in the interim. At the opportune time, perhaps in the elections after next, they can make their move to, in conjunction with the majority, displace Modi democratically. This will finally and emphatically expose him to justice for 2002. 

Strategy is not an outcome of sulking. It emanates from pragmatism. Even as the regime strategises, Muslims too must reflect. It is not a time either for provocation or hot-headed response to motivated provocation. A time shall come as it must when Muslims, in step with the very majority that has temporarily disregarded Muslim sentiment, will show Modi the door. Awaiting that time is necessary to have India’s majority exhaust any attraction for Hindutva.

The writer blogs at subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.in

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