Modi’s India:- The battle against secularism, facts and the Indian dream
In the 2014 Indian elections, after over a decade of running the government, the Congress led UPA coalition was finally defeated by the BJP led NDA. The tide had turned and one man in particular had captured the imagination of the nation. Narendra Modi successfully capitalized on the legitimate grievances of the masses of India. Riding high on a wave of populism, Modi sought to portray an image of himself which appealed to both the young and the old. Mr. Modi and the right wing movement understood the potential of social media much before social media gained traction. There was no questioning his energy and passion. He promised a transparent corruption free government. He talked about jobs and black money. There was scarcely any mention of Ram temple in his speeches. Communal rhetoric were rarely used. His principal opponent, on the other hand, was largely perceived to be a reluctant politician. The Congress sought to portray the 44 year old Rahul Gandhi as a youth leader. Mr. Gandhi’s few public interviews appeared immature and rehearsed. The final nail in the coffin came when he gave an interview to Arnab Goswami. This interview only amplified his image as a reluctant and immature politician. This was similar to the image the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had. Dr. Singh was also largely seen as a reluctant and “accidental” Prime Minister in his second term. The public wanted a stable and robust government. There was no competition. The verdict was clear.
Of holy cows and minorities
The narrative changed as soon as the Modi government came to power. In June 2014, a Muslim techie was beaten to death by members of a radical Hindu outfit on the suspicion of uploading derogatory images of Bal Thackeray on social media(1). This was perhaps the first of many communal incidents which occurred during the Modi regime.
Another particularly gruesome incident occurred in 2017 when a 15 year old Junaid Khan was stabbed to death for the crime of being a Muslim. As he was travelling on train, a group of men started making fun of him and his friends, whose attire made them look visibly Muslim. They called Junaid a beef eater and threw him out of the train. Junaid bled to death in the lap of his elder brother Hashim(2).
The union minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in 2018 claimed that no big communal riots has taken place in the last four years in India. However, according to the Home ministry’s annual reports, 3 major communal riots have taken place in the last four years(3). Over the last 4 years, ending in 2017, 2920 communal incidents were reported in which 389 people were killed and 8890 were injured(4).
India, in these last 4 years, has witnessed the rise of so-called “Gaurakshaks” or “cow protectors” who take the law into their hands and lynch Dalits and Muslims on the suspicion of eating beef or smuggling cattle. Thus in Gujurat, four dalits were stripped and beaten with iron rods for skinning the cow. No upper class Hindu would consider it decent to dispose of the cow carcass himself, a job that has traditionally been assigned to dalits. As a reaction to this, the dalits of Saurashtra dumped cow corpses in government offices, and refused to attend to their “traditional duty”.
The facts that these incidents have occurred in the past 4 years is not the only problem. The inability to restore law and order would only prove the inefficiency of the state. This government has rarely been accused of inefficiency in these matters. Critics point out that the problem actually lies in the state’s tacit support, which in turn, polarizes and encourages the goons. It is this claim that we need to examine.
The State’s Tacit support
In 2017, a muslim was lynched in broad daylight on the suspicion of carrying beef in his vehicle. He was beaten with sticks and his car was set on fire. The assailants were cruel enough to shoot the incident on camera. The video of the helpless man getting assaulted was circulated on social media and news circles. The Jharkhand high court convicted 11 of these assailants and sentenced them to life imprisonment. In 2018, Union Minister of civil Aviation Jayant Sinha garlanded eight of these convicts when they were granted bail(5). Earlier this year, Mr. Sinha also claimed that he and the BJP have provided financial aids for these convicts(6).
The BJP-led government in 2017 appointed Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of UP. Adityanath’s primary claim to notoriety is hate speeches against the Muslims. In one of these speeches he claims that Hindus and Muslims cannot co-exist together. In another, he says “If they take one hindu girl, we will take 100 muslim girls”(7). While opposing the Women’s Reservation bill, he claimed “women will become demons if they develop masculine traits”(8). Not to mention the fact that he has serious criminal cases pending against him(9)(10).
Union Minister Ananth Kumar Hegde went a step further and asserted that his party is here to “change the constitution”(11). Mr. Hegde claimed that those who proclaim themselves to secular have no identity. Lest we forget, his primary duty as an elected representative is to preserve, protect and defend the basic framework of the Indian constitution. His remarks were diametrically opposed to that of Mr. Modi, who proudly proclaimed that the constitution is the “holy book” of his government(12).
Mr. Modi’s proclamation remains mere rhetoric when we consider the fact that those who speak against the core values of the constitution continue to occupy the post of Union Minister. Neither Mr. Hegde nor Mr. Sinha were reprimanded openly by the Prime minister. In fact, Yogi Adityanath seems to have been rewarded for his hate speeches.
The Battle Against Science and History
One of the things that the Vajpayee-led NDA coalition shares with this one is the distaste of facts which don’t align with the right wing narrative. The Vajpayee government succeeded in changing the NCERT history books for the brief period that they were in power. These revised textbooks contained glaring factual errors, omissions and contradictory statements which were included in a deliberate effort to align the past with the official Hindutva ideology(13)*. In fact, science was so despised during the first term of BJP that the then HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi managed to successfully introduce astrology courses in universities!(14)
In the latest edition of Time magazine, novelist Aatish Taseer claimed that Modi is “ leading India down the road to a profound anti-intellectualism”. Mr. Modi, in these past 5 years, has personally avoided giving any communal statements. The battle against science and history, on the other hand, is led by the Prime Minister himself. The PM believes that genetics and plastic surgery were used in the Vedic era. For evidence, he cites stories about mythical heroes from ancient Indian epics(15).
Following his footsteps, the BJP Chief Minister of Tripura Biplab Dev claimed that Internet and satellite technology existed during the Mahabharata era. During his stint as the education minister of Rajasthan, Vasudev Devnani claimed that “cow is the only animal that inhale and exhale oxygen”(16).
That’s not all. The present Junior Education Minister Satyapal Singh has declared Darwin’s theory unscientific because “nobody has seen ape turn into a man”. This only exposes his ignorance when it comes to the theory of evolution.
Science and reason are the antithesis of the dogmatic ideology of Hindutva. The ideologically possessed authoritarians ,both on the left and right, have always sought to subjugate the masses by erasing history and rewriting facts. The incessant pursuit of this will no doubt produce an inevitable Orwellian nightmare.
The Indian dream
India is perhaps the world’s most successful and unlikely democratic experiment. In a Cambridge lecture, the English civil servant Sir John Strachey said “This is the first and most essential thing to learn about India — that there is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India, possessing, according to European ideas, any sort of unity, physical, political, social and religious; no Indian nation, no ‘people of India,’ of which we hear so much. We have never destroyed in India a national government, no national sentiment has been wounded, no national pride has been humiliated; and this not through any design or merit of our own, but because no Indian nationalities have existed.”(17)
The English were rarely right about India. This observation was only partially correct. India is not similar to any nation of the world. The culture, cuisine, custom, language and costume varies from one region to another. It is not common culture which is necessary for the unity of our country, as the Hindutva ideologues point out. An Indian Bengali shares more cultural commonalities with his counterpart in Bangladesh than he does with someone from Tamil Nadu.
It is a common dream which unites the people of India. A dream of a united country, striding forward, taking all its diverse citizens along with it. A dream of a country which learns from its mistakes. The Indian dream today also puts the individual at the helm. The Indian dream is the dream of a land united because of diversity, not in spite of it. For we know that India will not remain India if she loses her diversity.
It is this dream that’s at stake. A country united by a common culture or language is a western idea. For the Hindutva ideologues, this is a clash of civilization. A battle for the ideas of Godse(whom their candidate and terror accused Sadhvi Pragya calls a “patriot”) and against Gandhi. The BJP is likely to gain power again. Let’s hope(even if its futile) that they fight for the Indian dream and not against it.
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- I’d highly recommend Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s book The Argumentative Indian for anyone wishing to know more on this.
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17- Diana L. Eck, India: A sacred geography
Ramachandra Guha, India After Gandhi