With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government under fire for not being able to create enough jobs and GDP growth at a three-year low of 5.7 percent, there are concerns in India and elsewhere that the ruling BJP might whip up religious sentiments for political gains.
“The fear is that, if the economy falters, Mr. Modi will try to maintain his popularity by stirring up communal tensions,” wrote The Economist in June. “That, after all, is how his Bharatiya Janata Party first propelled itself to government in the 1990s.”
Back in the 1990s, however, the Congress, India’s Grand Old Party that has ruled the country for 54 out of its 70 years of independence, was a formidable bulwark against the BJP. Today, as the principal opposition, it occupies just 44 seats in India’s parliament — the lowest ever in its history. The Left has only 10 members in the lower house. Contrast that with the BJP, which enjoys a majority in parliament and rules — directly and indirectly — 14 states.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014 with India’s first single-party majority in 30 years. In the Lok Sabha, the directly elected house of India’s parliament, there are just 22 Muslim legislators out of 543 –– the lowest ever since India’s independence, and much less than the community’s 14 percent strength in the country’s population.
Across India’s political and social life, patterns are emerging that seem to justify the fears Muslims are feeling. In 2014, Adityanath, then a fiery parliamentarian and now chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, coined the term “Love Jihad” to allege that Muslim men were duping non-Muslim women to marry them, with the aim of getting them to adopt Islam. In 2015, Manohar Lal Khattar, the BJP chief minister of Haryana state, asked Muslims to stop eating beef to live in India. That same year, a mob lynched 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq on the outskirts of the national capital New Delhi, on allegations that he had beef in his refrigerator. According to data journalism site IndiaSpend.org, 97 percent of the attacks on Muslims by cow vigilantes since 2010 have occurred after Modi assumed office in 2014. When Hamid Ansari, India’s former vice president, expressed unease among Indian Muslims in a TV interview, users on Twitter — one of them a member of the BJP –– insinuated that he was being an ungrateful Muslim.
Cow vigilantes, online trolls and mainstream political leaders are tearing India’s social fabric, one tweet and one lynching at a time.
What is, however, intriguing is the response of the Muslim world to this perpetration of atrocities against Indian Muslims which at times appear to be motivated by a desire on the part of the state and the majority community to completely wipe out Muslims from India. But influential Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE seem to have decided, perhaps in view of their commercial nterests, to look the other way and not take any notice at all of what is happening to Indian Muslims.
Of course, Turkey and Iran have spoken against these atrocities being meted out to Muslim minority in India by the majority community. But Modi’s government has dismissed their complaints perfunctorily.
What is even more intriguing is that the very India which cannot stand the handful of Indian Muslims is using as many as 700,000 Indian troops to forcibly stop the Muslims of Indian Held Kashmir from leaving the Indian state!
Indian journalist Aayush Soni while tracing these ups and downs in Indian Muslims’ fate (Will India soon Erupt into Religious-based Politics? Published in Daily Dose of Ozy Web-magazine on Nov. 12, 2017) since Dec. 6, 1992 when a mob of Hindu fanatics wearing saffron bandannas reduced a 16th-century mosque built by the Mughal emperor Babur in Ayodhya to rubble in six hours, arguing that the site was the birthplace of the deity Lord Rama said that with the mosque’s destruction, they also delivered secular India its biggest warning since independence.
“But now, Muslims of India fear that past is back in the shape of the present, threatening to determine India’s future.
“From beneath the debris of the demolished Babri Masjid had emerged ideas of Hindu majoritarianism, the use of religion for political gains and the conscious alienation of Muslims from the country’s sociopolitical mainstream. For over two decades, those ideas rose and fell in the wrestling pit of India’s multiparty democracy, gaining momentum at times only to be checked by more secular strains at others.
The politics of the mosque demolition received fresh life too. The Modi government is promising a museum to Lord Rama in Ayodhya. After he came to power in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, Adityanath visited the demolition site and offered prayers. Over the past two months, Adityanath’s government has announced that it will build a Rama temple at the site before 2019 and a 100-meter tall statue of Lord Rama in Ayodhya. “They have no love for the cow or the Rama Mandir. The aim is to send a message to Muslims that we can teach them a lesson,” says Kamal Faruqui, spokesman of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, an NGO that speaks for the community. To many, the fear and dejection are reminiscent of the late 1980s and early ’90s, when the country’s air stank of communal politics.
“In 1990, L. K. Advani, one of its founders and mentor to Prime Minister Modi, embarked on a Ratha Yatra –– a religious road trip –– to campaign for the construction of a Rama temple. He started in Somnath, Gujarat, and traveled 6,000 miles through central and northern India. Hindu fundamentalists and priests, sporting saffron robes and necklaces of prayer beads, greeted Advani during his numerous pit stops. “The march’s imagery was religious, allusive, militant, masculine and anti-Muslim,” wrote historian Ramachandra Guha in his book India After Gandhi. Advani’s speeches focused on Hindus being denied their “due” by political parties who indulged in “political appeasement” of Muslims. And a temple at Ayodhya, at the very spot of the mosque, would be the only way to rectify this mistake. “It was not a Masjid. It was a disputed structure,” insists Sinha. “Its demolition was not against any community. It was a show of anger.”
“Advani’s journey came to an abrupt end in Samastipur, Bihar, when he was arrested on Oct. 23, 1990. But by then, his religious road trip had lit the sparks of communal tension. His “chariot of fire,” wrote political scientist K. M. Pannikar, led to 116 communal riots across India in which 564 people died. The road trip and the demolition of the mosque two years later gave prominence to a younger set of BJP leaders, including Modi, who had organized the Gujarat leg of Advani’s journey. Twelve years later, in 2002, another journey of fire that started in Ayodhya would inflame communal passions in Gujarat and propel Modi –– then chief minister of the state and Advani’s protégé — to national prominence. In February that year, a mob torched a train carriage with 58 Hindu pilgrims from Ayodhya on board. It sparked riots in Gujarat that left over 1,000 Muslims dead.
“The BJP’s political fortunes improved dramatically with the movement to replace the Babri Masjid mosque with a Rama temple. Its two members in parliament in 1985 rose to 85 after the elections of 1989 and to 140 in 1996. Still, it wasn’t able to reach the 272 seats needed to form a federal government. Most other political parties still swore by secularism, and they treated the BJP as an untouchable. The BJP’s first national government — formed in May 1996 — collapsed within 13 days because it couldn’t muster political support to serve a full term. In 1999, when it won 181 seats in the Lok Sabha, it finally did come to power to complete a full five-year term at the head of a broad coalition government. But it had to drop the construction of the Rama temple — and two other controversial promises — from a common program it had drafted with other political outfits to get their support.
“With a majority of its own, the BJP now doesn’t need regional parties for the survival of its government. It has also turned the criticism it faces into an electoral magnet, discrediting the opposition and projecting itself as a development-oriented party. In 1992, Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a future prime minister, had felt the need to express regret. But in 2017, the BJP’s top leadership hasn’t expressly condemned the lynching of Muslims. Modi himself has never apologized for the riots of 2002 and has been slammed by critics for his “Delphic silence” over recent killings.
“The dramatis personae of the 1990s continue to occupy high political offices in India. Uma Bharti, who was at the Babri mosque site and was addressing the mob when the structure was demolished, is now a minister in Modi’s government. Kalyan Singh, then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, who described the demolition as “an act of God,” serves as governor of Rajasthan state. New champions of the Hindu nationalist movement have emerged too. BJP president Amit Shah, accused of orchestrating a fake killing, and Adityanath, accused of inciting Hindu-Muslim riots, are among the most powerful political figures in India today, after Modi.
“Unlike other democracies, such as the United States, where streaks of authoritarianism are often checked by the media, India’s record — and its present state — is less optimistic. Editors have lost their jobs after their publications carried articles critical of Modi and his regime. Those articles have been pulled down in some cases. With political opposition at its weakest, the press increasingly on a leash and such unbridled power under its belt, the route to Advani’s unfinished agenda from 1992 appears clearer than ever for Modi and his party.”