Anniversary Appeal to PM Narendra Modi

An irresistible, self-aggrandizing Hindu majoritarian wave which is not just dismissive but positively hostile to minority concerns is sweeping the land. There is a volcano seething below the surface.

The J&K Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, has voiced what the majority of her countrymen believe -- that only the PM can resolve the Kashmir issue.  This is because he is arguably the most charismatic and decisive leader this country has ever seen. There was a period in the 1970s when the country resonated with the slogan “Indira is India, India is Indira.” But her aura stemmed from the infamous Emergency whereas Narendra Modi has not required the coercive apparatus of the State to invoke the adulation of millions. Whether his opponents admit it or not, he holds the key to the country’s trajectory in the foreseeable future. Yes, today’s India is Modi and Modi is India. Hence this appeal from a deeply troubled Indian Muslim who lives in mortal dread of what the future portends for us all, and who also knows that only the PM has the stature and the vision to quell those fears.

The PM’s slogan “Sabka saath sabka vikas” captures the essence of this nation’s foremost mission of fostering a social solidarity premised on the doctrine that every human being matters. It was a message lapped up by the minorities. As was the PM’s emphatic assertion in Kerala in 2015 that the freedom to have, to retain, and to adopt a religion or belief, is a personal choice of a citizen. “My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly,” he had said. On more than one occasion, he has appealed for preserving our core values of diversity, tolerance and plurality, appealing to Hindus and Muslims to work together to fight poverty instead of fighting one another.

Critics point to the PM’s allegedly divisive “kabristan-shamshanghat” statement by mischievously omitting his observation that “if there is electricity provided during Holi, then there should be electricity provided during Eid.”  They speak about his silence on vigilantism, though the PM has on at least two occasions condemned the self-styled cow protectors who have set up shop in the name of gau raksha with the evil intent of creating tensions in society. The PM’s invitation to Nawaz Sharif for his swearing in, his surprise visit to Lahore, the BJP’s tie-up with PDP in Kashmir sent out a clear message that the traditional right-wing world view of a relentless 1000-year irrevocable animosity toward Islam and its adherents, would not determine Government policy under his watch. On the contentious issue of triple talaq, his sage advice urging Muslims to work for reform from within has been heartily endorsed by Muslims.

And yet there is a deep sense of disquiet bordering on despair within the Muslim community. A massive communalization of society is taking place, no longer subterranean or secretive but in-your-face. While it is undeniable that the beguiling tools of social media have revolutionised communication and universalised access to information and knowledge, it has become a dominant and overpowering influence in our political and social worlds. The anonymity of social media is being used with devastating effect as a socially divisive weapon to fan prejudice, mischief and hate. Using “Goebbelsian” methods of iterating and reiterating dodgy beliefs and prejudices in the echo-chambers of social media without bothering about accuracy or correctness, the spin doctors of  right-wing outfits are having a field day. The other day I received on Whatsapp a morphed picture of a cow spread-eagled on our national flag and youth with skull caps and beards poised to slaughter it with the Pakistani flag fluttering in the background. In the surcharged atmosphere of neo-nationalism, love jihad and cow vigilantism, the most awful Muslim bashing has become a prominent social media sport.

According to the latest All India Pratinidhi Sabha (AIPS) Report, there are over 57,000 shakhas operating at 36,729 places with a daily attendance of lakhs. In the Capital, the war-like khaki trouser drills have become more intense and regular, and havans with open fire and elaborate rituals are now being organized even in public parks. Who is the enemy against whom these intense preparations of martial intent being made? I fear that the masculine demonstrations of power and Desh bhakti are obliquely directed at the Muslim who has always been  demonised in shakhas. Soon after the UP elections, posters signed by “Hindus” appeared in a Bareilly village ordering Muslims to leave the village by the end of the year. Is this a portent of things to come?

The assertion of overt, aggressive and exclusionary religiosity has to be seen in tandem with the narrative of majoriarian self-righteousness purveyed by opinion makers like Mohan Bhagwat who believe that in today’s “positive” environment, the Saffron brigade should go full steam ahead with its goal of a Hindu Rashtra that will lead to “ek bhasha, ek devta, ek sampradaya” (one language, one God and one religion) .What is being advocated is a nationalism that steamrollers society into monochromatic cultural sameness. In pursuance of this mission, the “ghar wapsi” movement has animated anti-Romeo squads, and gau raksha has galvanised murderous vigilante groups. At the heart of this narrative is an implacable distrust and hatred of the Muslim, an undeniable fact brought home in the Alwar lynching when the lone Hindu was let off, while the Muslims were mercilessly beaten up, resulting in Pehlu Khan’s death. Significantly, the pseudo-secular leaders avoided the customary visit to the victim’s home because in today’s deeply polarised atmosphere, it is not politically smart to commiserate with a Muslim.

An irresistible, self-aggrandizing Hindu majoritarian wave which is not just dismissive but positively hostile to minority concerns is sweeping the land. A recent study by the Centre for Study of Developing Studies (CSDS) across four states in which people were asked questions on beef ban, Bharat mata ki jai slogan, religious conversions, love-jihad etc, showed that 72 percent of them had clear majoritarian views. Only 13 percent considered Muslims to be patriotic. Is it any wonder then that Muslims are running scared?

Just as worrisome as the physical manifestation of hostility toward the Muslim is the ideological assault on his patriotism, his beliefs and his way of life. In our dark post-truth world of “alternative facts” and “truthful hyperbole”, a professor and right-wing ideologue makes the outrageous assertion that the Indian Muslims vote en bloc as they are unable to overcome their “religious-community identity” and judge issues as Indian citizens and voters. In essence, he believes that the Muslims’ loyalty is to the community and not to the nation. A BJP Minister in UP publicly states that triple talaq is a device used by Muslims “to satiate their lust.” Rajnath Singh views history in terms of an antagonistic Hindu-Muslim binary when he recently posed the rhetorical question on why Akbar is known as ‘The Great” whereas the same effusive appellation is denied to Maharana Pratap.  History is being vandalized with ancient texts like the Manusmriti being amended to correct “distortions”; and the incomparable Yogi endorsing the VHP demand for a Surya temple where the revered Ghazi Baba dargah exists in Bahraich. In today’s India, the Muslim is clearly “the other”.

The rhetoric of Muslim “appeasement” which has been the theme song of the adherents of Hindutva has finally triumphed. It will be recalled that the Sachar Committee Report (2006) had laid bare the dismal plight of the Muslims in every Human Development Index and recommended affirmative action and other interventions to better their lives. The Report did prompt the governing class to perfunctorily devote attention to the issues highlighted, but today the Report is irretrievably in the dustbin. So poisoned is the social environment that any benefit targeting minorities, however justified, is actually socially divisive. In fact, the Telengana Government’s recent decision to raise the reservation quota for backward Muslims has been met with consternation even by pseudo-secularists who claim that it will inevitably exacerbate communal tensions, but more importantly, they now know that sponsoring minority issues is a certain recipe for electoral defeat. It is also telling that the Supreme Court’s order withdrawing the Haj subsidy in ten years has been accepted without demur.  Amidst such widespread apathy, the Muslim now wants nothing other than to be treated like any ordinary citizen entitled to fundamental human rights. Tragically, even this basic expectation is far from guaranteed, as testified by the daily reports of vigilantism.

There is a volcano seething below the surface. No nation can achieve social harmony or development on the basis of a hierarchy of citizenship that condemns 180 million Indians to second class status. The creeping despair and extinguishing of hope is frightening because then one becomes nihilistic and destructive, heedless of the consequences. At this critical tipping point, I believe that only our PM has the power to pull us back from the precipice.

(The writer, a former civil servant, is Secretary General Lol Janshakti Party.Views are personal. An edited and slightly abridged version of this article appeared yesterday in the Indian Express. This is the full version)