TAWFEEQ IRSHAD MIR
Narendra Modi’s path to power started with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a volunteer right-wing Hindu-nationalist organization that was originally set up in 1925 to unite the Hindu community during the Indian independence movement. The RSS proclaims that its mission is to carry the nation to the pinnacle of glory and ensure the protection of Hindu Dharma. The organization promotes conservative Hindu-centric values and believes in the identity of India as a Hindu nation. Modi became involved with the RSS at a very young age, eventually rising to serve as a pracharak, or propagandist, someone who lives in austerity to spread Hindu religious teachings, and recruit for the cause of “Hindutva,” i.e., the philosophy of Hindu nationalism. He joined the political offshoot of the RSS, the BJP, in 1987 and rose through the ranks of the party in a manner that is, by all accounts, quite impressive and indicative of the greater things to come. In 2001, by showing great initiative in responding to a deadly earthquake that hit the Bhuj region of the Indian state of Gujarat, Modi was able to secure support to be the next chief minister, i.e., the de facto head of each state government in India, of that state.
Just a few short months into Modi’s term as the chief minister of Gujarat, in February 2002, deadly religious riots occurred in the state. A train full of Hindu pilgrims, on their way to help build a temple at the site of a former Mosque, caught on fire, resulting in the death of 58 people. A Muslim mob was blamed for the incident at the time, but later reports cast doubt on this claim. Hindu mobs turned on the state’s Muslims in retaliation, and months of devastating violence, particularly noted for the occurrence of horrid rapes and brutal killings, followed.
Official accounts put the number of dead Muslims at a 1000 people, with over 20,000 Muslim homes, businesses, and places of worship destroyed, and over 150,000 people displaced from their homes. Right from the start, there were suspicions over whether the state’s Narendra Modi-led BJP government somehow aided or otherwise encouraged the Hindu rioters. These suspicions worsened when police did nothing to control the thousands of angry Hindu mobsters on the day after the train fire. Senior officials in Modi’s administration spoke to the press and to investigators on the condition of anonymity and based on their testimony, it was alleged that Modi had met with members of his administration during the early days of the riots and instructed police officials to “allow Hindu rioters to vent their anger against Muslims. In a scathing report titled “We Have No Orders to Save You,” the Human Rights Watch group detailed the accusations against the Modi government, alleging that the state’s law enforcement officers were deliberately ordered to not stop the riots. Modi’s supporters and human rights groups have fought bitterly ever since to settle the truth or falsehood of these accusations. Eventually, a Special Investigations Team set up by the Supreme Court of India cleared Modi of any wrongdoing with regards to the riots in 2012. Modi himself has, since 2002, turned all of his focus on making Gujarat an economic powerhouse and maintained his distance from radical, or at least violent, Hindu nationalism.
He was re-elected as Gujarat’s chief minister for three successive terms, even carrying the vote of a significant portion of the state’s Muslims. His victories have mainly been attributed to his administration’s superior management of the state’s economy, which has made the state of Gujarat grow at a faster pace than the rest of the country and led to the coining of the term, “Modi-comics.”However, questions have remained regarding Modi’s ties to Hindu extremism, casting a shadow upon his eventual victory and rise to the office of Prime Minister in 2014. This addresses whether or not Hindu nationalist sentiment was the reason for Modi’s victory, and consequently, whether India is turning away from the strong secular tradition it has held ever since its Independence from the British Empire and Partition from the Islamic nation of Pakistan in 1947.
Modi was briefly an international pariah over his Gujarat state government’s alleged role in ignoring, and possibly abetting, deadly Hindu-Muslim riots in the state in 2002. But he assiduously reinvented his image in the decade before winning power in 2014, projecting himself as a pro-business, Apple Watch-sporting statesman obsessed with economic development. In power, Modi has been coy about his Hindu nationalist agenda, prioritising issues such as tax reform and corruption crackdowns over the national ban on cow slaughter his party championed on the campaign trail.
Although there is an absence of well-reasoned alternative views from the right, there is a general perception among Hindus that the brutal history of forced conversions, temple-demolitions, genocides and jizya (tax levied on non-Muslims, or dhimmis, in a state governed according to Sharia) have been swept under the carpet, and the glorious chapters of Hindu rulers like the Gupta Empire, the Vijayanagara Kingdom and the Maratha Empire have been played down. Similarly, one often comes across headlines like “Hindu kills Muslim” even if the reasons are purely non-religious and personal. On the other hand, when a non-Muslim is slain by a Muslim, even when the motivations are purely out of religious bigotry, liberal intellectuals in India hesitate before condemning it as a case of Islamism.
These sentiments are deeply entrenched among Hindus. Even if we discount the juggernaut of the Hindu right-wing propaganda machine, the fact remains that there is truth in such allegations. For some intellectuals, it is easy to reject love jihad as a figment of imagination or a political tool of Sangh Pariwar (a term used for all the Hindu right-wing organizations affiliated to RSS) but, for a large number of Hindus, it is a real threat. But left-liberal intellectuals and media outlets brush it aside as extremist propaganda, which upsets the common Hindus.
If the liberal forces continue to take it as a mockery, the people on the ground find themselves insulted and become further detached from the liberal forces. And when liberals are found defending a particular community and perpetrators (real or imagined), the vacuum is filled by Hindu extremists who immediately appeal to the wounded Hindu sentiments and leave no stone unturned in proving liberals to be hand-in-glove with Islamists. In this, they are assisted by their strong grassroots cadre and the technological edge of social media.
(POLITICAL COLUMNIST, PURSUING BSC HONS NURSING IN GMC SRINAGAR
CAN BE REACHED AT :firstname.lastname@example.org)