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June 14, 2019

Can Modi walk the talk?

Opinion

June 14, 2019

It is amazing how little it takes for the emperor to restitute himself after all that happened in the just-concluded campaign for the most spectacular democracy on the planet.

A little sermon about “winning the trust” of the hapless sheep – before slaughtering them, I suppose – is all it takes for pundits to fall over themselves to hail the emperor’s non-existent clothes.

And we are supposed to happily forgive and forget all that has happened over the past five years to repeatedly show us our place in the blessed new republic – from lynching and rape to being beaten black and blue like wild animals in full view of the law in the name of holy absurdities – or for no reason at all.

Even if you were to imagine that 2002 never happened and how the carefully calibrated pogrom had been used to build the legend of Narendra Modi as ‘Hindu hriday samrat’ (the conqueror of Hindu hearts) and as someone who can teach a lesson or two to the ‘privileged minority’ and its imaginary extended self across the border.

Indeed, it is now clear as daylight that if Gujarat 2002 had not happened, 2014 and 2019 would never have come about and the BJP would not have ascended to power with the brute majority that it currently enjoys.

Even if you were to believe that all those lynchings and hate attacks against Muslims – beginning with the killing of 24-year-old Mohsin Sheikh in Pune in June 2014, less than a month after the BJP swept to power, more than hundred innocent people paid with their lives for the bovine honour – never happened, how would you account for the thousands of cases of hate speech, brazen lies and conspiracy theories that were routinely peddled every day by the party in power led by the Divider-in-Chief himself – as Time magazine aptly titled him in its recent cover story – targeting a powerless, hapless minority during the long-winded electoral campaign?

In Bengal alone, the BJP formed more than 50,000 Whatsapp groups to spread all that sweetness and light around, painting doomsday scenarios of Bangladeshi and Rohingya Muslims taking over the state and driving the Hindus out. No wonder the party won so handsomely in the state once known for its rich religious and cultural diversity and tolerance.

Let alone condemn or confront the merchants of hate, Dear Leader himself led from the front in this cynical game of dog whistle politics, perpetually talking about Pakistan and how he alone could hit the “terrorists and their masters” right in their home (ghar mein ghus ke mara hai!).

It is a different matter though that Pakistan continues to insist that the ‘surgical strikes’ did accomplish little except uproot a tree or two in Balakot! But his perceptive audience seems to see that these relentless daily attacks on Pakistan are indeed euphemism for and part of a grand design to show the Muslims and all those who seemingly sympathise with them their place.

It was as if in this election the BJP was not pitted against the Congress and assorted opposition parties but against Pakistan. It was as though somehow Pakistan was to blame if the Indian economy was in a mess, unemployment was at an historic high in 47 years and farmers were killing themselves in their thousands.

More remarkably, Muslims who constitute barely 15 percent of India’s population and who account for barely two percent in government jobs and administration and even less in security forces and police and who have all but disappeared from legislature and highest decision-making bodies of the country including parliament were somehow turned into a bogey and their so-called ‘appeasement’ by secular parties the biggest talking point of the 2019 polls.

What is even more incredible is that this strategy seems to have worked for the ruling party, if you go by the unprecedented mandate it has received in the 2019 elections – unless you accept the opposition claims of all those EVMs (electronic voting machines) being cleverly manipulated.

Whatever be the truth, it is as though the famously sagacious voters of the great democracy do not care a damn about all the suffering and financial losses they have endured over the past five years on account of the bizarre note ban and incredibly ineptly implemented GST (goods and services tax), as long as the BJP presents itself as the guardian of the national interest – or Hindu interests – and continues to hit Pakistan where it hurts the most.

In the end, the voters chose to go with the BJP’s Us-versus-Them politics of hate and intolerance, seemingly rejecting the Congress’ idea of an inclusive India. The people have spoken. So be it. After all, as H L Mencken put it, democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.

In the end, it is not the loss of the Congress or that of poor Rahul Gandhi, who tried really hard to present a better model of healthier and all-embracing, humane politics and gave it everything he had, even if he failed to rally a self-serving, fractious opposition behind him. The BJP may have won these elections but it is the people of India who have really lost.

As for those self-anointed ‘Muslim leaders’ and spokespersons rushing to embrace Modi for those disingenuous remarks on ‘religious minorities’ – he cannot even bring himself to say the M word! – that were essentially aimed at his global audience, they are not only brushing all that has happened on his watch under the carpet, they are also guilty of helping whitewash those crimes.

If the BJP leadership had indeed been sincere about winning the trust of Muslims and ‘sab ka vishwas’ (yet another clever, meaningless slogan by the great propagandist), it would not have elevated hatemongers such as Yogi Adityanath to the top job in India’s largest state or included fanatics like Giriraj Singh and Pratap Sarangi – someone with ties to the burning alive of Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his sons – in the federal cabinet.

The BJP even fielded Pragya Thakur, someone who has been behind bars for her role in the Malegaon terror attacks, for the parliamentary constituency of Bhopal and she has even won it. But then this government also features the redoubtable BJP President Amit Shah as the home minister. He faces (or faced until recently) murder charges for the staged killing of Sohabruddin Sheikh and his wife. Indeed, the Supreme Court had banned his entry into Gujarat. But all that is now water under the Sabarmati bridge, I guess. Apparently, once elected, you are magically cleansed of all your sins, as if you’ve taken a dip into the holy Ganges.

I am not suggesting we should not open channels of communication with the powers that be. Of course, dialogue is most welcome if it can help the BJP and its government mend its ways and its policies towards the minorities, especially Muslims. Indeed, given Modi’s unassailable leadership position in the larger Hindutva Parivar, he can easily put an end to the ongoing persecution of Muslims, if he wants to. The question is, does he want to?

After all, all said and done, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the prime minister indeed means what he says about winning over the minorities, shouldn’t he walk the talk and show us he means business through actions? Otherwise, it is all just empty talk and rhetoric and nothing else.

The writer is an independent writer and former editor.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AijazZaka

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