India’s current Prime Minister Narender Singh Modi (or Modi Ji as some affectionately called him) has long possessed a deep-seated antipathy towards Muslims. He has whipped up Anti-Muslim fervour for his own (and his parties) political gain often resulting in vicious consequences for India’s Muslims. He is very much India’s Donald Trump or more precisely Trump is America’s Modi (as Modi was elected before him).
Modi joined the BJP (Bharatiya Janita Party) in 1987, In 1995 the party won a majority in Gujarat and Modi rose rapidly through its ranks becoming Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001. The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party which espouses a Hindutva ideology. The Hindutva worldview promotes Hindu supremacy. It is a variant of fascism. As the Indian Muslim writer Neyaz Faroquee says ‘Hinduvta needs an enemy to survive, hence, Muslims are their prime enemy’. The BJP’s parent organisation the RSS’s (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) most revered chief, Guru Golwalkar, wrote in a 1939 book that Nazi Germany had manifested “race pride at its highest” by purging itself of the “Semitic races”. It was an alleged member of the RSS who assassinated Mohamata Gandhi on the basis that he was a ‘Muslim lover’.
It was apparently members of the BJP who were behind Hindu nationalist mobs who attacked and tore down the medieval Babri Masjid (Mosque) in 1992 in the town of Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). The demolition of the Babri Masjid, which was built in the 16th century under the rule of the first Mughal Emperor Babar, triggered religious riots that continued for over a month. More than a 1,000 were killed in India’s worst religious riots since it gained independence from the British in 1947.
According to journalist Vidya Subrahmaniam, this event was a ‘watershed’ moment in India’s modern history it normalised hatred between the Hindu-Muslim communities and unleashed dark forces within the Hindu community. Encouraging, weaponizing and manipulating those said ‘dark forces’ has very much become the hallmark of the BJP and Modi.
Alas, in 2002 with Modi in charge, the state of Gujarat witnessed one of modern India’s biggest pogroms. The precise trigger for the incident is not clear but apparently in February 2002 as some Hindu pilgrims were passing through Gujarat from Aydoha an incident occurred on a train platform with local Muslims (some accounts say that some of the pilgrims attempted to rape a Muslim woman). Some local Muslims responded by burning one of the train carriages in which 58 Hindu’s died. This resulted in Hindu mobs rampaging across the state in revenge pillaging, murdering and raping Muslims over some weeks. In total approximately 2,000 were killed, Muslim businesses destroyed, and thousands rendered homeless. The pogrom was televised across India leaving many stunned at its sheer savagery where the murderers even killed children.
The pogrom, however, wasn’t entirely organic. A Human Rights Watch report stated that the state authorities and the local police were complicit in the carnage. According to some credible reports two cabinet ministers even sat in police control rooms. A senior police officer and minister, killed in 2003, claimed that Modi explicitly instructed civil servants and police not to stand in the killer’s way. Modi obviously denies this. He has never apologised for his government’s failure to protect a minority. Instead, he has described the reprisal killings of Muslims that year as “reaction” to an “action,” and said they were no different from him accidentally ‘running over a puppy’. In 2012, one of Modi’s former ministers, Maya Kodnani, was sentenced to 28 years in prison alongside 30 others for their role in the riots. Despite Modi’s denials, other’s felt differently. In 2005 the United States denied Modi a visa on the grounds of religious intolerance and the British authorities ordered a boycott (that lasted ten years). The EU also informally boycotted him.
Despite all this Modi has continued with his politics of hate. His Prime Ministerial campaign of 2014, for instance, reintroduced a proposal to build a Hindu temple at the site of the Babri Masjid (a deeply provocative and anti-Muslim proposal) and of the 449 candidates who ran for the lower house (the Lok Sabha) all but eight were Hindu. All of this has helped foster a genuinely hostile environment for minorities and especially Muslims since he became Prime Minister.
The lynching of Muslims for often the most minor of reasons-be it ‘love Jihad’ or Beef consumption- have become a common occurrence In Modi’s India. We have seen the emergence of ‘cow vigilantes’; killing cows (a sacred animal in Hinduism) and beef consumption is banned in most Indian states. A report by news organisation India Spend found that ‘Muslims were the target of 51% of violence centred on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) – and they comprised 84% of 25 Indians killed in 60 incidents. As many as 97% of these attacks were reported after Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014.’ As the Indian Journalist Burkha Dutt puts it:
“The debate has been falsely posited as one about eating beef…the reality is that rumour, hearsay, and prejudice are being used to assault Muslims, many of whom are cattle traders and shepherds or are linked to the diary or leather business.”
Once again as in Gujarat pogrom state institutions are often complicit. In a recent case, for example, a Muslim man was viciously attacked by a mob, the police then took three hours to get him to a hospital, stopping on the way to drop the cows off at a shelter. They then allegedly took a tea break whilst the man bled to death; some eyewitnesses suggested the police even beat him. The local BJP legislator defended the men who killed him, and a senior member of the RSS said, ‘stop eating beef, and the lynching’s will stop.’ A ministerial colleague of Modi’s further echoed his words. For some in India, the life of a cow is more important than the life of an Indian Muslim.
That the beef ban in many states is designed at least partially to vilify and target Muslims is reinforced by the fact that approximately 12.5 million Hindu’s are amongst the 80 million people who either eat beef or buffalo in India. As Burkha Dutt relates ‘the BJP displays its hypocrisy by not opposing the beef ban in the North East or in states such as Goa, where many of its constituents enjoy a good steak.’ To be fair, Modi has condemned such lynching’s on several occasions but given his strongman style of rule, it’s difficult to believe that he couldn’t do more to protect the victims should he so desire. Given his response to the Gujarat pogroms, it’s a safe assumption that he doesn’t care as the victims are Muslim. On July 17th of this year, the supreme court of India condemned the mob lynching epidemic and recommended that the Indian parliament draft legislation to prevent people from taking the law into their own hands.
More recently, the Indian government published a draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) in which about 4 million people in the state of Assam are not included. Most of these are Muslim refugees from the 1971 war in Bangladesh (in which India was involved). If they are not included in the final draft, they will effectively be rendered stateless. Human Rights activist Suhas Chakma calls the NRC list the ‘biggest exercise for disenfranchisement in human history’. Truth is it is ethnic cleansing by stealth.
What Modi and the BJP represent is precisely what the likes of Trump, Netanyahu and Hungary’s Orban represent; tribalism, division, sectarianism. Modi has empowered, weaponised and manipulated dark forces that he now finds difficult to control. Yes, he maybe competent and may deliver India success in many areas but he is also a fascist and an Islamophobe with an enormous amount of blood on his hands. Given the political environment that he has helped foster in India, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Modern India’s biggest anti-Muslim pogrom is still yet to come.
Faisal Khan works as a free-lance business consultant based in London (England). He has a Masters from the London School of Economics (LSE) and maintains a keen interest in the International Relations of the Middle East and South Asia. Twitter handle is @fkhan123