Run for unity: Modi playing with fire

Narendra Modi continues to use Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel to promote his brand of politics. It is interesting that he has not chosen any of the Hindutva leaders from the past - Savarkar, Golwalkar, Hedgewar, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Atal Behari Vajpayee or anyone else- as an icon. By using Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel’s image of an iron man he wants to cast himself in the same mould, send a message that he is not just a BJP leader but a national leader and at the same time can embarrass Congress who have belittled the role of everybody except members of Nehru family.

On the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel, Narendra Modi organized a ‘Run for Unity.’ But the government advertisements made it very clear that people should share the spirit of unification of the country which was made possible by the vision and actions of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel.

This is a significant departure from the concept of ‘Unity in Diversity’ which the citizens are used to since the time of independence. Earlier the slogan of “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Eesaee, aapas mein hain bhai-bhai” was almost automatically raised whenever call for national unity was given. Narendra Modi has changed the meaning of “unity” in a very subtle manner. Now unity means that, if required, force should be used to keep people together. The earlier concept of unity was inspired by Gandhian philosophy and Modi’s concept of unity is inspired by Hindutva ideology but he is very smartly using not an RSS icon for this but Congress’ own leader Patel so that it doesn’t appear to be an overtly Hindutva project.

Modi’s concept of unity doesn’t include Muslims or anybody who doesn’t agree with his idea of nationalism. He is talking of unity of people who believe in Hindu nationalism. That is why he has to talk of the security of the nation along with concepts of unity and integrity. Gandhi’s concept of unity was to promote communal harmony. Modi’s concept of unity is meant to protect the country’s security. There is a basic difference in character of two concepts.

Celebrating Sardar Patel’s 139th birth anniversary as “Rashtriya Ekta Diwas,” Narendra Modi went a step further and expressed regret that on this day “our very own people” were killed in reference to the genocide of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination on this very day in 1984. According to him, this incident was not a wound on the hearts of people of one religion but a dagger into the heart of thousands of years of country’s heritage and culture. Narendra Modi must realize that today it is his day. Tomorrow when he’ll be no longer the PM, the same words can be used by somebody against him in the context of Gujarat genocide of people of a particular religion in 2002.

Narendra Modi has announced a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh to families of riot victims of 1984. Why should the families of victims of 2002 or families of victims of any of the riots which have taken place more recently in UP or Trilokpuri should not be compensated?

Although Narendra Modi is saying that the country should not be divided but his own actions are divisive. He is playing a very dangerous politics of communal polarisation. The nation and society will have to pay a heavy price for this.

Already some radical Sikh groups are planning to petition United Nations for  a resolution on 1984 genocide similar to that adopted by UNHRC against Sri Lanka for rights violations of the Tamil population. Although the genocide of Sikhs can’t be compared with those of Tamils because in the case of Tamils the government of Sri Lanka was fully involved which put the entire state machinery at work against the Tamils. In the case of Sikhs it was some members of a political party, not even the whole party.

Sikh groups like Damdami Taksal, Dal Khalsa and a faction of Akali Dal are joining hands with other religious minorities like Muslims, Christians, Kashmiris, Tamils and Nagas to submit a memorandum against the Indian government at UN. The aggrieved Sikh groups think justice has not been done to their community and they have decided to reject the monetary compensation announced by Modi. The injustice done to Muslims and Christians during umpteen communal riots is also being raised by them.

This is probably going to be the first jolt to Modi government. He has been trying to woo the followers of Sikh religion. Sikhism is not so much of an anathema to him as Islam because the Hindutva world view is that religions born in India can be subsumed under Hindutva. But followers of Sikhism or for that matter Buddhism will resist any attempt by Hindutva to coopt them. They consider their religions to be more progressive, and hence better, than Hinduism. Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism have tried to get rid of the oppressive Hindu caste system. Hence any idea welcoming them to the Hindutva fold will be unacceptable to them.

So far as human rights violations are concerned, Sikhs will prefer to make a common cause with other minorities mentioned above.  They know that they alone will not be able to mount pressure on the Indian government but together all these groups can make a difference.

Modi has probably underestimated the pro-Khalistan groups which are active outside India. While the movement has died in Indian Punjab, some of the pro-Khalistan groups continue to be active, especially in West and are in a position to influence opinion of people voting at UN. It’ll be difficult to counter this propaganda just through the Indian diplomats in US.

By stoking the communal sentiments of Sikhs, Modi has invited problem for himself. Now he’ll have to manage the debate at UN. He thought that he’ll be able to use Sikhs against the Congress party and probably make a permanent vote bank among them for his party. His strategy has backfired but his ultimate embarrassment is reserved for the day when similar questions will be raised regarding the 2002 Gujarat genocide and some government will compensate the families of victims of this riot.

The author is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (2002) and senior faculty at IIT-BHU. He may be contacted at