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January 23, 2021

Modi’s India

Coming on the heels of the busting of India’s biggest clandestine disinformation operation by the EU DisinfoLab barely a month ago, Goswami-gate has shown a fresh light on the dirty games that the Hindutva-inspired Modi government has been playing ever since he ascended the throne in New Delhi in 2014.

The exchange of explosive Whatsapp chats between the firebrand Republic TV anchor, Arnab Goswami, and BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta is replete with all manner of incriminating evidence.

The revelation that Goswami knew “something big will happen” three days ahead of the IAF warplanes flew into Pakistan and dropped their payload in Balakot must send shivers down the spine of all those who remain invested in peace and stability in one of the world’s highly volatile regions.

A plain reading of the texts makes it abundantly clear that the Modi government took the risk to upset the bilateral status quo with a keen eye on the potential electoral gains that such an act of brinkmanship was presumed to accrue.

As Pakistan mulled options to respond to the Indian aggression, the air was thick with a possibility of hostilities breaking out, an event that could have threatened the nuclear threshold.

While the mature handling of the crisis by Pakistan’s civil and military leadership did avert the worst-case scenario, the fact that the Modi government orchestrated the Pulwama false flag to gain domestic political advantage showcased the kind of jingoistic mindset that is ruling New Delhi.

The strategic restraint shown by Pakistan drew widespread appreciation from world capitals. The swift counteraction by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) restored the balance of aerial power and the return of the captured IAF pilot marked a diplomatic victory for Islamabad.

The events that happened in a span of weeks, following the Pulwama incident, presented a sharp contrast in the thinking of the Pakistani and Indian leadership as well as their respective approaches to regional peace and stability.

The second term of Narendra Modi as India’s prime minister has been marked by a series of actions that are ideologically driven with an express aim to rethink the idea of India in contravention of its founding-fathers’ ideals.

If the BJP possessed a little over 20 percent of votes in the early 1990s, today its hold on the Indian electorate is complete, a fact evidenced by its strongest ever showing in the polls in 2019 that gave Modi a landslide victory. Modi’s takeover of the party has also been complemented by a transformation of its internal political culture: from being a right of center party, the BJP has come a long way off -- becoming the mouthpiece and champion of the Hindutva ideology that seeks to reimagine India as a Hindu-only country.

Even from the standards of Indian politics of the right, the BJP’s old guard such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee appears to be towering personalities with a clear understanding of the world and the need for peaceful coexistence with neighbouring countries such as Pakistan.

Known for his role in the Gujarat pogrom in 2002, Modi’s political journey has witnessed tremendous growth from the periphery to the center of Indian politics. He successfully employed religious narrative wrapped in a jargon that harkened back to the mythical glorious past of the ‘great Hindu nation’, a status ‘denied’ to them firstly by Muslim invaders and then the imperialist British. He presented the BJP as the sole voice of the Hindus, working to make India a Hindu-only country. In the process, he was shrewd enough to cut all political rivals out of competition that could challenge his rising ascendancy in the party.

Narendra Modi has presided over the dismantling of Nehru’s India. Working the system from within, he and his cohorts in the BJP and RSS have made sure to undermine the foundations of democracy. He has carefully targeted all institutions that symbolise democracy; be it the judiciary, the media or political parties. His religiously-inspired policies have undone India’s secularism.

The BJP under PM Modi has fast transformed itself into a fascist party that is bent on killing dissent, and imposing its version of history on a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society with its ‘larger-than-life’ leader at its core, leading the nation into exploring its glorious past.

In a democracy, multifarious voices cannot only co-exist but also form a whole. The democratic system thrives on the notion of ‘diversity in a unity’, by giving disparate elements the freedom to articulate their concerns unreservedly. It respects dissent and allows for their representation at different tiers of decision-making. Democracy, thus, remains central to the functioning of a multi-faith society such as India’s.

PM Modi has brought about critical legislation that has usurped people’s fundamental rights. Be it the revocation of the special status of Indian-held Kashmir or the introduction of the Citizenship Act, his government has stripped its own citizens, mainly Muslims, of their fundamental human rights. He has used the coercive state machinery to crush dissent.

Nowhere has the transformation of India been more evident than in the way Indian political parties have been put on the defensive and effectively neutralized. The Indian National Congress that brought India into existence and held its secular fabric together appears to be a shadow of its past, unable to shed the stagnation. Under its present leadership, the party has lost the robustness of thought and lacks the inspiration to challenge the BJP’s juggernaut.

Pushed to the wall, people have risen against the oppressive policies of the BJP government, be it the massive protests against the controversial Citizenship Act or the recent historic farmers’ protest movement. However, Congress’ ecosystem has been fed by lethargy. The party leadership did not go beyond making a few statements and clearly failed to seize the moment.

Arnab Goswami’s relentless support of the BJP’s rightist agenda and his closeness with the powers-that-be shows a pattern that marks Indian media’s relationship with the Modi government. Barring a few exceptions, the media has either been browbeaten into submission through a stick or carrot policy or it chose to play a ball with the BJP by becoming the mouthpiece for its version of India.

The rise of Hindutva nationalism is so intense and its reach so expansive that external checks and balances that generally keep the system steady amid the tumult have failed to put a stop to the march of populism.

The kind of startling revelations made by the WhatsApp chat between Goswami and Dasgupta, which form part of a 3400-page charge-sheet submitted by the Mumbai police, should have opened the floodgates of criticism with demands of high-powered inquiry to fix responsibility. Nothing of the sort seems to be happening.

Arnab Goswami’s disclosures must ring the alarm bells in the international community. The key question to ask is: how long will the world continue to look the other way as Modi’s India tramples upon people’s rights such as in IOK, runs disinformation operations against its neighbours and orchestrates dangerous military games for domestic electoral gains?

While the US can still elect Joe Biden despite all the bruises inflicted on its polity and democracy, entertaining such a thought for Modi’s India will be a fallacy when an entire nation has been fed frenzy in the name of a ‘religiously inspired past’.

The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @Amanat222