Strategy for the Modi era

The BJP government is set to release the census figures of 2011. The earlier government's hand had been stayed when these became available in the run-up to national elections. Their fear back then was perhaps that the BJP would take advantage by quoting and interpreting the figures selectively regarding “increase” in Muslim numbers and accuse Congress of “appeasement”. In the event, depriving the BJP of a vote-catching issue did not help the Congress much. The BJP is currently set to take the advantage of these numbers in the run-up to elections in Delhi and in the build-up already underway in Bihar. The Muzaffarnagar route to national elections of last year is being re-enacted: in Trilokpuri earlier, and now in Muzaffarpur. Census figures, deliberately leak, are to drive up communal frenzy: “Muslims are coming; BJP to the rescue!”

Apparently, Modi finds himself in a win-win position. In case, he keeps his distance from the communal mobilisation, a trick mastered by his ace strategist, Amit Shah, he can profit politically from the gains Hindutva makes electorally. Alongside, he gains in stature as the only one who can rein in the communal forces, since, by maintaining a distance, he appears as a neutral umpire. This will increase his appeal for the middle class, not so much impressed by the Hindutva plank as much as by his development plank. Even the minorities - Muslims and Christians - will look to him to restrain those who act in his name. Therefore, if he chooses not to act to rein in the Hindutva brigade, as he has currently done, he gains electorally, and if he does choose to act to rein them in at an opportune moment, he gains some brownie points with the middle class and breaks the ice with distrustful minorities. This strategy of acting in a Janus-like manner and speaking with a forked tongue has been perfected by the Sangh over the decades, well demonstrated in the Vajpayee-Advani duo, the former representing the Singh's “liberal face”, the latter its headline stance.  

As long as the goose delivers the golden egg - electoral dividend - Modi can afford inaction. His overt project currently is in the budget keeping his corporate backers and middle class supporters placated. The covert agenda of saffronising India is unfolding without any hitch since the sections that could critique this are in any case waiting with bated breath for the budget. Modi intends to usher in the long awaited second phase of economic reforms, something Manmohan was restrained from by a Congress high command mindful of social costs. Modi can afford to neglect this since he has the Hindutva potion to administer the masses.

In any case any backlash to these “reforms” will only mount when the underprevileged realise they are at the receiving end and get their act together, perhaps a decade on. Minorities, hoping to be in on the economic action, will also wait to see if they are included. He in any case has the machinery of the state to suppress on any protest.

Therefore, Modi is in great need to act to rein in the rabid Hindutva organisations. He can continue as their champion and they his symbiotic support base. The political animal in Modi knows, not to cut the branch he sits on. He would not risk alienating the Sangh even if he builds on the middle-class constituency by coming up with smart cities, bullet trains and a $500 billion bonhomie package with the US. The middle class needs him more than he does them. Modi's economic moves are set to take India, buoyed by international economic upturn brought about by the Obama-led US turn around and precipate fall in oil prices, past China's growth figures by next year. Therefore, Modi does not need to fear the middle class or its being embarrassed by his Hindutva-inspired reset of India. Modi can rely on the Hindutva brigade to deliver Bihar this year, and the twin cards, Hindutva and the economy, to wrest UP by 2017. Modi will then be set to capture Rajya Sabha and, thereby, take out a long-term lease on the political high ground.

Where does this leave India's largest minority that census numbers record as being 14.2 per cent or 172 million strong? This analysis of Mr. Modi's projected longevity shows that the minority requires settling in for the long haul under him. He can be expected to keep the lid on things, even if he does not rein in Hindutva zealots, since he needs stability for the economy to deliver. In any case, it is impossible to envisage an energetic counter by the minority to the spread of Hindutva, since the minority lacks the unity that can lend it a strategic base.

What are the contours of a strategy for the Modi era?  

Muslims are not going to confront the Sangh in government or outside, nor is the option of migrating to save other place available to them. There is no national leadership, leave alone a centralized one, for the Muslim community. Its various communities must per force rely on respective regional and neighbouring communities, including and principally the majority community.  The fact remains that the strategy of the MIM, of confrontation and stooping down to the level of Hindutva invective and provocation, is counter-productive.

A three-step strategic possibility consequently emerges. The first is at the local level. Muslims need expanding and intermeshing with their local neighbours across the country, especially those deprived as themselves. A common front for the have-not's will ensure that any economic trickle down does not bypass them. The government's health budget cut suggests that communities would require fending for themselves and not rely on the government.

Second is at the national level. The political opposition is in hibernation. It is awaiting policy missteps by the government to bounce back. Given India's economic prospects, this is unlikely in the middle term. Once the Modi charm wears off, Muslims can lend an electoral shoulder to displace him. At the national level, Muslim leaders must in the interim forge bonds between themselves so as to ensure that the relative physical isolation of Muslim communities is mitigated.  Else, India can end up with ghettos lke Juhapura nationwide. Another significant line of action is to ensure moderation so that the government cannot cite adverse security conditions in Muslim-inhabited areas to justify exclusionary politics. Invertent Muslim moves can trigger off Hindu contry-mobilisation.

Third is the international level which is marked by uncertainty with the demise of the Saudi king. The thrust for foreign policy activism on India's part to gain strategically, particularly from any discomfiture of Pakistan, would need watching.

More significantly, South Asian Muslims now number half a billion, clearly more than Indonesia and in the Arab world. The dividend from this in the form of a shift in the centre of gravity of the Muslim world away from the unstable Middle East to South Asia is not in evidence as yet. Towards this end Muslim Indians may need first to rebuild South Asian bonds by thinking of South Asia as the single civilisational entity that it has been through millennia. This will be to India's and the region's advantage, besides keeping ill winds from Middle Eastern wars away from India. It will counter India's strategic tutoring by the US and Israel through strategic partnerships with both states, overt and covert respectively.

The author is a security analyst who blogs at This article was written before the Delhi elections

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-28 February 2015 on page no. 11

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