Why PM Modi’s Concern for Muslims Rings Hollow?
By: Aftab Alam
Like a true statesman, the PM Modi on 25 May, after being re-elected as the leader of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, claimed that “Minorities have been deceived in the country through an imaginary fear created for the purpose of vote bank politics. We have to pierce through this deception. We have to gain trust.”
The statement of the PM Modi assumes significance for two reasons: firstly this came from a leader who himself led one of the most communally charged election campaigns in the electoral history of India specially targeting Muslims – largest religious minority community of the country on one pretext or another and, secondly it was about a community which is generally known not only for not voting BJP but also voting strategically to a party or candidate who is in a position to defeat it.
Against this background it is an interesting academic exercise to understand as to whether Muslims are really feeling insecure and are genuinely aprehensive about their future in the country after Modi’s phenomanl victory or it is a myth or a political propaganda launched by so called secular parties intended to secure and perpetuate Muslim vote bank as claimed by Modi.
While a section Muslims has welcomed the PM Modi’s reassuring words on the contrary there are also enough reasons to suggest that as to why Modi’s concern for Muslims rigs hollow. It would be like burying one’s head in the sand if we simply refute the creeping sense of insecurity among Muslims merely as a ‘myth’ and not real or genuine. Is it not quite disturbing that even the very authenticity of Muslims’ fear is being questioned? If we refuse to acknowledge the problem itself how can we find its solution?
It is a grim reality that due to series of events such as ‘lynching’ ‘ghar wapsi’ ‘love jihad’ ‘forcing to chant Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, ‘forceful recital of Vande Mataram’, ‘preventing to offer Friday Prayer in public places’, ‘re-naming of cities with a Muslim association’ etc. that have occurred in the last five years or so a sense of fear has settled into Muslims of all classes across the country. The country has witnessed a steep rise in hate crimes against Muslims and other minorities. They have been brutally assaulted in and even lynched by cow vigilantes in public – in trains and on road. According to a news report out of 79 such fatal incidents recorded since 2009, 76 happened in the past five years.
Instead of sternly dealing with those involved in violence against Muslims or demonizing the community the Modi led BJP has kept everyday communalism simmering. It is true that no large scale communal violence have been reported in the last five years of Modi rule. But the impact of the low-key everyday communalism that continued unabated in the last five years and still continues to be, have been even more frightening for Muslims than the previous incidents of communal violence.
This shift in the pattern of communal violence from ‘episodic’ to ‘everyday’ has deepened the process of ‘othering’ of Muslims with more serious consequences. The PM Modi’s silence on violence against Muslims is taken as tacit support of ‘their’ government by the perpetrators. The lynch mobs are emboldened by a sense of impunity as they are not only applauded but offered all sorts of political and legal support by BJP’s ministers and law makers with no remorse. Surprisingly incidents of violence against Muslims continued with the same intensity and rapidity even after being condemned by PM Modi.
Over the last five years BJP has systematically and very aggressively pursued Hindu majoritarian politics. Fielding of a terror accused – extremely polarizing figure by BJP to contest Lok Labha elections was part of its divisive politics. This was defended by BJP as an answer to those who described Hindus as terrorist. A leader known for his infamous statement that all those opposed to Narendra Modi should go to Pakistan was elevated to cabinet rank. Another MP who had hit the headlines for communally charged remark of “ramzada aur haramzada” was retained in Modi’s council of ministers.
The political discourse in the country has been poisoned to the extent that anything to do with Muslim has become a bad word. An impression has been sought to be created that Muslims are responsible for every ill afflicting the country and even threat to its security. Systematically toxic lies are being invented and spread against Muslims to make ordinary Hindus to accept and even justify violence against them. Most dangerously attempts are being made to manipulate the Hindu psyche to cultivate Hindu vote bank.
It is true that political marginalization of Muslims has been a long-term phenomenon but it has increased further with BJP’s formidable rise. The BJP which won 303 out of 542 seats in the just concluded Lok Sabha elections has just one Muslim candidate. In the last five years the representation of Muslims in state assemblies has also fallen substantially. There is direct link between underrepresentation of Muslims in Parliament and state assemblies and the boom in Hindu majoritarianism in the country.
As a part of its majoritarian politics BJP has also been trying to change the secular basis of our citizenship. During election campaign BJP President Amit Shah had promised that if voted back to power, the BJP would expand Assam’s controversial National Register of Citizens in other parts of the country but would only test the citizenship of Muslim and Christian residents and would exclude Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh residents as they would automatically be assumed to be Indian citizens.
Going against our constitutional ethos BJP also brought the communally motivated Citizenship (Amendment) Bill , 2016 which provides that “persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan”, shall not be considered illegal migrants. The statement of BJP’s main strategist for the northeast Himanta Biswa Sarma explained the real objective behind the bill “if this Bill is not passed, then Hindus in Assam will become a minority in just next five years. That will be advantageous to those elements who want Assam to be another Kashmir”. This bill is considered as a part of BJP’s larger design to transform India into a “Hindu homeland”.
If BJP accuses Congress for cultivating “Muslim vote bank politics’ it has to also take the blame of nurturing ‘Hindu vote bank politics’ which is equally condemnable. If PM Modi is serious about winning the trust of Muslims first he will have to acknowledge that there exists a sense of real fear among Muslims and must take sincere and systematic efforts to address it and not outrightly refute it. He must realsie that certain developments in the last five years have heightened the process of alienation of Muslims. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. He must take the issue of violence against Muslims more seriously which is main cause of growing unease among the community. Cow vigilantes and hate mongers of his party should sternly be dealt with instead of occasional reprimand. Rcognising their educational needs the minority status of the Aligarh Muslim University and jamia Millia must be restored.
The writer is Professor of Political Science at Aligarh Muslim University.