Do Muslims matter in Modi’s India?

Taj Mahal - India

Since sweeping to power for the second time in May of 2019, Narendra Modi and his BJP government have delivered within six months what they have been promising to their chauvinistic Hindutvadi supporters. Kashmir’s special status as a state is gone with Article 370. The site for the historic Babri Masjid is now cleared for building a Hindu temple – the Ram Mandir.

On the negative side: Modi has failed in delivering the economic miracles that matter to most ordinary citizens. Unemployment, according to CMIE (Center for Monitoring Indian Economy), is at an all-time high in decades, reaching 8.50 percent in October 2019 from a record low of 3.53 percent in December of 2011. [Note:  Unemployment Rate in India averaged 5.16 percent from 1983 until 2019.] India’s third-quarter GDP came down to only 4.55%, the lowest in the last six years and a half. Export demand for Indian goods and services shrank for the first time since March 2016. But who cares!

Modi’s popularity has been on a meteoric trajectory until, of course, the latest anti-government protests that have flared up in many major cities against his highly discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its evil twin – the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Since December 2018, the BJP has lost power in five states: Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand.

As of Saturday (December 28, 2019), since December 11, at least twenty-seven civilians – almost all Muslims who were all unarmed (including bystanders) – have been killed by the trigger-happy Indian police with thousands of people arrested for protesting against Modi’s bigoted policies that have stabbed the Indian constitution. Activists have pointed out that while protests against the citizenship law have happened across the country, protesters have been killed only in states governed by the BJP.

Most of the deaths (19) have occurred in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), where 20% of the state’s 200 million people are Muslim. The state government is controlled by the BJP. Its chief minister is Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk (revered by many devotees as a reincarnation of Hindu gods) and a supremacist who in 2005 was involved in a ‘purification drive’ that involved the conversion of about 1,800 Christians to Hinduism in the town of Etah in UP. He said that he wouldn’t stop until he turns Uttar Pradesh and India into a Hindu state. After being elected the chief minister, he has changed the names of many Muslim-sounding names in UP to Hindu-sounding names. He even plans to change the name of Agra, where the Taj Mahal, is located.

In 2011, the documentary film Saffron War – Radicalization of Hinduism accused Adityanath of promoting communal disharmony in Uttar Pradesh through hate speeches.  In an undated video that surfaced on YouTube during August 2014, Adityanath was seen saying, during a public speech at Azamgarh, referring to the religious conversions due to inter-religious marriages, “wo agar 1 (ek) Hindu baalikaa ko le jaayenge to kam se kam 100 Muslim baalikaaon ko… [“if they [Muslims] take one Hindu girl, we will take 100 Muslims girls].” In the same video, he continues by saying, “if they kill one Hindu, there will be 100 that we” and pauses, as the gathered crowd shouts: “kill”. “We will return whatever they do 100 folds, with interest,” he was heard saying. In February 2015, while speaking at the Vishwa Hindu Patrishad‘s ‘Virat Hindu Sammelan’, Adityanath commented: “If given a chance, we will install statues of Goddess Gauri, Ganesh and Nandi” — Hindu deities — “in every mosque.”

As the chief minister of UP, Yogi has proven his evil intent. He has polarized the state along the religious line and is now behaving like a serial killer who is on the loose. It is no wonder why the police in UP feel empowered to behave like the Brown Shirts (SS) and the Gestapo of Hitler’s Germany. They have been criticized for using excessive force against peaceful protesting Muslims. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said Indian police have used “unnecessary, deadly force” in controlling the protests. Even Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress Party leader, was not spared and was manhandled by the cops in UP during her recent trip. If this be the behavior towards the leader of the opposition, what chances do ordinary Muslims have in being treated fairly in Modi and Yogi’s India? Nothing!

More than a thousand people have been arrested in UP where the government has sealed assets belonging to the protesters. This act of confiscation of properties reminds us of what the Government of Israel has been doing to Palestinian activists inside the Occupied Territories and what the Nazis had done against the Jews of Hitler’s Germany. Such resemblances in the evil methods employed by the Nazi fascists and Hindutvadi fascists should not surprise anyone!

Mindful of damage control, UP’s BJP administration has banned mobile Internet services in many parts of the state including its capital city of Lucknow. The news report from the BBC, aired on Friday, December 27, 2019, however, was enough to incriminate Yogi’s police force. It showed videos of police beating up elderly Muslim men mercilessly for no reason at all except that they are Muslims. Homes and properties belonging to Muslims have been vandalized and robbed by the very police that is supposed to be protecting the life and property of people. Residents said police broke several security cameras in the area before the violence began. Muslim women in UP were seen crying and asking, “Is it a crime to be born in India?”

A video circulating in the social media shows Akhilesh Narayan Singh, a police officer in Meerut district where five Muslims have been killed by police, telling a group of Muslims to ‘go to Pakistan’. The government officials in the state are also guilty of extortion of money.

“There is terror over there [Uttar Pradesh] … people in Muslim colonies are staying up all night to guard their houses. They are terrified of a police raid or a communal attack,” Kavita Krishnan, a member of a fact-finding team that visited the state, told reporters.

The Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Congress, and Rashtriya Lok Dal have demanded a judicial inquiry and compensation for families of all 19 people who died during the protests in UP. However, Yogi and his cabinet ministers continue to deny any liability for those deaths. UP’s power minister and cabinet spokesman Shrikant Sharma was heard saying, “There should be no sympathy for rioters and the opposition should not paint them in any religion.”

It is obvious that in Modi’s India Muslims don’t matter any longer.

The Modi cabinet, in its sixth year now, has only one Muslim: Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, in charge of minority affairs. None of the key constitutional positions, President, Vice-President, Speaker of Lok Sabha, heads of armed forces, security and intelligence agencies, Election Commission or the judiciary, feature any Muslims. That is not all in Modi’s India. There isn’t a single state with a Muslim chief minister and the one that might have needed to have one, Jammu and Kashmir, isn’t even a state anymore. None of the secretaries in the key ministries is a Muslim, nor any important regulator. While one in every seven Indian is a Muslim by faith, the percentage of Muslims in the government sector is less than 2 percent. Among India’s 37 states and union territories, there are just two Muslim governors: Najma Heptullah (Manipur) and Arif Mohammed Khan (Kerala). The latest Lok Sabha had only 27 Muslim MPs.

For too long, Modi and his Hindutvadi ilk have been drawing a very damning picture of the status of minority Hindus in the neighboring Muslim countries. His NRC, implemented in the state of Assam, and the CAA are being touted as responses to the so-called marginalization of the Hindu minorities in places like Bangladesh. Nothing could be further from the truth than this false claim, spread by the Hindutvadis to polarize Hindus against Muslims. A look at the list of high-ranking government officials – in all the branches of the government in Bangladesh – is sufficient to reveal that while Hindus in Bangladesh represent less than 10% of the population their share in the public sector is several folds their share in the population.

As to the disenfranchisement of Indian Muslims, Shekhar Gupta,  Editor-in-Chief and Chairman, ThePrint, recently notes, “You’ve seen this model elsewhere. The large Muslim minority in Israel is the only Arabic population anywhere to have a free and equal vote, safety, economic and social opportunity. But the political office they can rise to, a place in the governance structure, is limited. It’s a republic, but a Zionist republic. The new deal for Muslims in India also seems to be a similar one. Except, India was never imagined or designed to be a Hindu republic. That is where this argument fails.”

Well, whether we like it or not, under Modi and his Hindutvadi government, India is fast evolving into a Hinducracy. It may be a far cry from the visions of its founders, but there is little doubt that it is becoming a reality now.

In many years of my residency in the USA, I have been continuously preached by some of my old Hindu classmates from India that the emergence of Bangladesh and Pakistan was a grand mistake, and that we would have all prospered better had British India not been divided, and that our future lies in India. As to why my parents – who studied in Calcutta (Kolkata) during the waning days of the British Raj – did not opt for India but what had been rightly described by Muhammad Ali Jinnah (the Father of the Nation of Pakistan) as the ‘moth-eaten’ Pakistan, I thought they are better suited to answer the question. My father was a student activist in those days who worked closely with Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (the Premier of undivided Bengal in 1946-47) and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (who later became the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh). It is worth sharing here that the Baker Hostel in Calcutta (where my father lived for four years) was the seat of the pro-Pakistan student movement in undivided Bengal.

I had the opportunity of asking the question to my father many times – did he and his friends who were students of Calcutta University in the mid-1940’s make the ‘grand mistake’ in choosing Pakistan over undivided India when they campaigned for and voted in favor of the Muslim League of Jinnah in the crucial 1945/46 election that sealed the path for and fate of Pakistan? Every time his answer, including this November when I visited him again in Chittagong (Chattagram), has been an emphatic ‘no’, i.e., it was not a mistake to choose Pakistan (which ultimately gave birth to Bangladesh in the eastern wing). The choice was a clear and right one to progressive Muslim students like him who had survived the communal riots there. The growing Hindutvadi forces from the militant Hindu Mahasabha Party (the precursor to today’s BJP) had posed a greater threat to the very existence and identity of minority Muslim community not just in places like UP, Bihar and other parts of today’s India where they were a sizable minority but also in Muslim-majority Bengal. [It is worth pointing out here that had religion-driven identity been more important to Bengali Muslims in East Pakistan then Bangladesh would not be born in 1971 with its cultural and linguistic identity.]

The subsequent history of India and its treatment of Muslim and other religious minorities, esp. in the last four decades, have made it abundantly clear that my father’s generation was not wrong when they opted for a divided India. They don’t have to lament like the Muslim men and women in UP for being born in India.

In spite of all the temptations, to its credit, neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh has elected a single chauvinist to its highest position in power. But look at India today. It has murderous chauvinists like Modi elected by its citizens as its Prime Minister. Not once but twice in the last five years alone! What a shame for a country that refuses to evolve into a modern state where minorities feel secure and protected and diversity is valued as a strength and not a weakness! What is more ominous is that India today does not have one Modi, but several Modis – the likes of Yogi and Shah – all waiting in line to take the mantle of Hinducracy to the next level, only uglier and more murderous. It is scary, to say the least.

In 2015 Vice President of All India Hindu Mahasabha, Sadhvi Deva Thakur said, “The population of Muslims and Christians is growing day by day. To rein in this, Union will have to impose emergency, and Muslims and Christians will have to be forced to undergo sterilization so that they can’t increase their numbers”.

Are we surprised how the fear tactics are employed by the promoters of Hindutva to justify discriminatory policies like the CAA and NRC? They are for total marginalization and disenfranchisement of the minorities.

Probably, not everything is lost. That is why the latest anti-government protests all across India are rays of hope in the dark alleys of Modi-Yogi-Shah’s India. They are not expressions of ‘Muslim outrage’ but are an outburst of people of all faiths that are tired of the Hindutvadi agenda and its impact on the soul of India. As an eminent historian, Professor Irfan Habib said, “This struggle is about India and about the future of democracy”.

Only time would say how serious Indians are for their future: would they allow a usurper, albeit popularly elected twice, to hijack their democracy or restore sanity by respecting and protecting the lives and assets of minorities that feel threatened about their very existence today?