Modi’s Silence & his Secular Mask!

Certainly, if Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not good at making speeches, he may not be heading the Indian government at present. However, politically he still seems fairly naive at losing the opportunity of retaining his secular credentials, an exercise which played a primary part in helping him win Lok Sabha elections. Till date, he has not commented on the controversy raised over meat ban in several states, particularly Maharashtra, and Rajasthan government’s decision cancelling the holiday on Eidul-Azha.

If Modi were not the prime minister of the country, his silence over these controversial issues would not have been questioned. It is but natural to deliberate on why has he refrained from making any comment? Does it imply that he entertains no objections on these controversial moves? Thus, rather than sound his views in their favour, Modi has chosen to remain silent.            

If Modi is under the assumption that he has played a “safe” political move then it is time that he delved on this aspect again. After all, each time Sangh Parivar and BJP activists take a move that can hurt religious sentiments of minority communities, it hasn’t taken much time for strong protests against the same from across the country. The issues hit headlines and other means of communication like facebook. The same may be said about a prejudiced statement made by Indian Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma on late President APJ Abdul Kalam being a nationalist and a humanist “despite being a Muslim.” To this day, Sharma is facing strong criticism for having questioned nationalist feelings of Indian Muslims. Non-Muslims have taken the lead on this issue too in criticising Sharma.

Recently, Rajasthan government clarified that it has not cancelled the Eid holiday on September 25. At the same time, the day has also been scheduled for blood donation drive to mark the birth anniversary of Jan Sangh leader Deendayal Upadhyay. Though the state government laid stress that participation in blood donation camps was “voluntary and not binding,” the message is clear. Rajasthan government has not backtracked from its decision to hold blood donation camps, despite the day clashing with Eid, which is supposed to be a gazetted holiday. It may be recalled that this is not the first time that BJP has tried playing with religious sentiments of minorities.

Last year, BJP decided to hold Good Governance Day on December 25. Initially, the government wanted schools and universities to remain open on this day and participate in programmes marking Good Governance Day. However, following strong criticism, describing governments’ decision as discriminatory and biased against Christians, for whom Christmas is an extremely important day, the government stated that participation in Good Governance Day was voluntary. Clearly, Rajasthan government has opted a similar strategy regarding its decision to hold blood donation camps on a day that clashes with a very important festival of Muslims.  And Modi till date has refrained from making any comment on this issue.

There has also been no comment from Modi regarding the controversial meat ban in Maharashtra and several other states. There is nothing surprising about meat being banned every year on certain occasions. However, it is the first time that so much political storm was raised over it, particularly in Maharashtra. What perhaps surprised Muslims in rest of the country was the decision of Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to strongly protest against the ban. Those opposing the ban raised questions such as why should religious sentiments of a community be targeted to uphold religious beliefs of another? Besides, Jains abstain from meat, eggs and quite a few other things throughout the year. From this angle, why was only mutton banned and similar stand not taken regarding ban of fish, chicken, eggs and bakery items which use eggs?  

Constitutionally, India is a secular and democratic country, with each person having the right and freedom to practise his religious beliefs. At the same time, it is also laid out that religious freedom does not allow abuse of any other community’s religious sentiments. As Prime Minister of India, it is Modi’s constitutional responsibility to ensure that secular, democratic and religious sentiments of Indians are not tampered with. Whatever be his personal inclinations regarding Sangh Parivar ideology, it cannot be forgotten that he won Lok Sabha polls by donning a secular mask. And in this context, his failure to even comment on controversial issues such as meat-ban, Eid-holiday and Sharma’s “despite being a Muslim” comment cannot be ignored.

Should it be interpreted that Modi cannot be assumed to be as “secular” as he claimed while campaigning for parliamentary polls? This may be true. It cannot be ignored that each of these controversial moves is suggestive of anti-Muslim communal bias entertained by members of Sangh Parivar and BJP. And those protesting against them have not refrained from loudly criticising these members for targeting religious sentiments of Muslims and other minorities. Clearly, Modi’s “secular” mask bears little relevance against the secular stand taken by Indians across the country.     

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2015 on page no. 11

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