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Too Late, Mr. Modi

The sightseeing at Ahmedabad’s famous Sidi Saiyyed mosque by Prime Minister Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was carefully choreographed. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife planned to visit India to attend the 11th Indo-Japan summit to be held in September.  Government officials had worked around the clock the previous month to ensure that the mosque was displayed to advantage to guests from a developed country.  It was important to ensure that the lighting was just right for a perfect shot of the visitors with the mosque in the background.  That was not all.  PM Modi’s office had contacted the board that ran the mosque for information on the history and architecture of the 16th century structure.  The PM internalized the information and himself served as tour guide when he accompanied his distinguished guest to the mosque.  This was no ordinary mosque.  The iconic edifice has been described as evidence of historical fruition of Gujarat’s multiculturalism, a testimony to Hindu and Muslim cultures coming together in the past to create structures of ever-lasting beauty and significance.

Doubtless PM Modi pulled off an excellent performance in his capacity of tour guide for an edifice that stands as visual evidence of the syncretic nature of India’s cultural heritage.  Presumably Prime Minister Abe was completely taken in.  Introduced by such an affable, articulate and appreciative guide to the exquisite stone lattice work of the mosque and the fabulous tree of life lattice window, the foreign dignitary must have remained unaware that PM Modi had not once visited the mosque as Chief Minister of Gujarat although he had ruled the state from 2002-2014.  The erstwhile Gujarat Chief Minister’s unwillingness to have anything to do with the Sidi Saiyyed mosque is unsurprising.  The trajectory which led to his coronation in 2014 as Prime Minister of India began with his becoming a member early in life of the Hindu supremacist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which was founded in the 1920’s and drew inspiration from the leaders of European fascism and their methods.

The RSS disseminates its own version of Indian history which is fixated on the Muslim invasions of the Indian subcontinent that took place early in the second millennium.  A second invasion in 1526 led to the establishment of the Mughal Empire.  The RSS perspective on Indian history generates unremitting hatred that is vented on Muslims of the present day.   In their blindness to the contours of world history through the centuries and entrapment in a narrow-minded time warp, the RSS and its adherents are unable to acknowledge that the erstwhile invaders settled in India and became an integral part of the population.    Hence the big surprise for observers of the anti-Muslim, Hindu chauvinist and supremacist PM Modi lies in his showcasing for the benefit of his distinguished guest a mosque built by the hated “invader.”  Therein lies the rub.

How does one explain this seeming turnaround on the part of PM Modi better known for the politics of polarization on the basis of religious identity, for disregarding the rights and sensitivities of India’s Muslim citizens and for fanning the majority Hindu community’s ordinarily dormant feelings of hatred toward a vulnerable minority?  The answer may lie in the single word lynchistan which has increasingly come to be used in relation to PM Modi’s India.  The term refers to the cold-blooded lynching of innocent and defenseless Muslims by murderous mobs of right-wing extremists.  The first of these killings took place in June 2014 soon after PM Modi was crowned in New Delhi.  At first the killings were few and far between—a lynching here and a lynching there.  For the most part the PM turned a blind eye to the crimes that were being perpetrated on his watch.  The ordinarily eloquent Prime Minister was evasive and less than convincing on the rare occasions when he gave in and condemned the lynchings.

By the time PM Modi had completed his third year in office in May 2017 the maniacal mobs were emboldened by the impunity extended to their hate crimes.  Their blood lust took on an uncontrollable momentum.  Finally the PM spoke in forceful language .  By then the rampaging mobs were familiar with the sadistic pleasures of killing helpless Muslims at will and could not be stopped.  The reputed data intensive web site IndiaSpend has documented that this year alone 34 anti-Muslim hate crimes have been committed so far.  “There were three incidents in 2014, the year Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party won India.  Nine months into 2017, such hate crimes have risen more than 10-fold.”  Not all hate crimes result in murder.  “Lesser” incidents may have such consequences as an old man living in fear, the bones in his hand crushed from a ruthless beating and his home burned to cinders.

India today is a country where Mohammed Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan, Junaid Khan and others too numerous to mention haunt the land and clamor with dumb mouths for a modicum of justice.  Seventeen year old Junaid Khan was stabbed to death in a commuter train as he was returning from Eid shopping in Delhi.  His offence was wearing traditional garb that proclaimed his Muslim identity.  As India is consumed by medieval hatreds, as the ground is stained by the blood of innocent Muslims, believers in Nehruvian and Gandhian India, leftist or liberal, broad-minded, tolerant, democratic, inclusive and justice loving watch in anguish and seek to stem the tide of hatred.  On September 12 they rallied in their thousands in Bengaluru to condemn the murder of the courageous, anti-RSS journalist Gauri Lankesh, the most recent victim of right wing extremism.  Some rushed to staunch the bleeding.  At this time karwan-e-mohabbat (karwanemohabbat.in) or caravan of love led by well-known rights activist and writer Harsh Mander has embarked on a journey that will cover the parts of India that are worst affected by lynchings.  “The major aim of the Karwan will be to visit families which have suffered from lynch attacks to offer our atonement and solidarity.  In each state, we will assess how the family is coping and what they need for livelihoods and the pursuit of justice.”

Saffron is the color of the ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP.  One can plausibly speculate that the tidal wave of saffron bigotry and saffron terror coursing headlong through India serves as the background against which PM Modi’s visit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Sidi Saiyyed Mosque can be best understood.  PM Modi’s mental make-up is one in which the quest for modernity co-exists with medieval hatreds and unscientific thinking.  In Israel he woos Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and seeks the latest water purification technology.  In Japan he pursues civil nuclear cooperation.  PM Modi’s “modern” side is also apparent in his attentiveness to his image particularly in the international media.  With the foreign media carrying a spate of stories on lynchings of Muslims and most recently the murder by suspected saffron extremists of Gauri Lankesh, the spunky, irrepressible journalist who had repeatedly condemned RSS ideology and the PM’s politics, India under Modi has become known internationally as a retrograde country where maniacal mobs hold sway and murder with impunity.  In other words the Prime Minister’s image has taken a beating.

With respect to India the PM is on safe ground.  As Assembly elections come up in state after state, the PM will swing into campaign mode and sway the electorate with his usual oratorial tricks.  The electoral dominance of the ruling party will continue to expand across former non-BJP ruled states.  On the domestic front the PM can get away with murder thanks to adroit spin and an ineffective Parliamentary Opposition.  He only has to await his second coronation in 2019.   On the international front on the other hand it is a different story.  Here the PM had best accept that the image battle has been lost.  The stories of mob lynchings have been carried by the leading news media including the BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian and others.  No power on earth will scrub the stories from the internet.  It’s too late for an image makeover PM Modi.  You can visit mosques and showcase India’s composite cultural heritage all you want but you cannot hoodwink the correspondents of the international media.  Best to stop trying.

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