(Photo: Creative Commons)
Soon after taking over as India’s Prime Minister in May 2014, Narendra Modi promised India a new era with, “good days” ahead and “Everybody on board; development for all”. It is possible that Modi has learnt a lesson from the long-standing notoriety he has been steeped in due to the part he played in the 2002 Gujarat riots that claimed over a thousand lives. Despite his links with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary organisation in India that is widely regarded as the parent organisation of the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), many outside and inside India, especially religious minorities and marginalised communities, want to be hopeful. As a populist leader, he has a way of rallying support for seemingly ludicrous policies. When his Government withdrew most Indian currency from circulation last November, he survived the ensuing chaos because he sold the move as a strike against corruption, and people bought it.
Communal violence continues in India under his rule. Attacks on Muslims and mob violence against low caste Hindus are still rife, whether they are ignited by disputes over cow protection or the so-called phenomenon of “Love-Jihad”, an alleged campaign by Muslim men to seduce Hindu girls in order to convert them.
The Prime Minister, who has become very social media savvy, has never tweeted in condemnation of these ongoing atrocities, even though communal violence under his rule has prompted leading literary figures in the country to come out in protest. More than 40 novelists, essayists, playwrights and poets gave back awards from the country’s most prestigious literary institution, the Sahitya Akademi, in 2015.
This month, his party won an overwhelming victory in India’s most populous and politically important state of Uttar Pradesh, where one-fifth of the population is Muslim. They are again talking of a government representing all Indians. Given Modi’s Government abysmal and disappointing failure in protecting minorities and marginalised communities, there is hardly any reason to be sanguine.
In 2014 Modi claimed that his Government would “ensure that there is complete freedom of faith… and not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others.” But the rhetoric coming from the ground is very different. Uttar Pradesh’s new Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, made the papers after he allowed one of his spokespeople to remark that Hindu youths should dig out the bodies of Muslim women from their graves and rape them.
Fatima Nafees, the mother of Najeeb Ahmed, an MSc student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, is still searching for her missing son 6 months on, without any help from the Government or the police. Ahmed was brutally attacked, injured and abducted from his hostel, a mere 4 km from the Prime Minister’s office. It has been alleged that Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members were responsible for the attack and kidnapping of Ahmed on October 15, 2016. ABVP have denied the accusations.
The BJP came to prominence in the 90s after it was involved in the demolition of the 16th-century Babri Mosque in Uttar Pradesh. Modi must realise that India cannot progress without its 172.2 million Muslims. They are as much Indian as anyone else. The influence and mark of Muslim civilisation on India for hundreds of years cannot be undone. From Bollywood to almost every walk of life they have made a huge contribution to the progress and development of the country. Even a secret wish to eliminate such a huge population could never work. To quote the Urdu poet Rahat Indori, “Hundreds of houses shall be affected should the fire spread; not only do I have my house here”.