On 13 July 2018, India’s Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addressed a press conference at the BJP headquarters in Delhi and alleged that Congress Party is going to create a partition period type communal tension before 2019 polls. Her accusation was solely based on a newspaper report that Congress President Rahul Gandhi had described his party as a Muslim Party while meeting a group of Muslim intellectuals on 11 July.
This newspaper report has been denied by the Congress Party, and more importantly several people present in the meeting including a highly-respected historian like S. Irfan Habib.
Not only was the fake news of a nondescript newspaper enough for the defense minister to issue an open threat to the nation over looming communal violence, even the Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeated that imputation in a public meeting on 14 July at UP’s Azamgarh.
Not only did Modi attack Rahul Gandhi on the basis of a baseless news report, he also dragged his illustrious predecessor Dr. Manmohan Singh into this mud by referring to his 2006 statement over giving priority to Muslim community in the allocation of resources. It was another matter that Dr. Singh had said that in 2006 to emphasise the need to empower economically deprived Muslims to be able to equitably share the advantages of nation’s economic development. But, Modi is as always fishing for ways to communalise India’s political landscape.
Modi is what he is, not because of the so-called Gujarat development model whose bubble has already burst, but because of 2002 riots. No one knows it better than Modi. For the 2014 election, he was wearing the mask of Vikas (development) to give excuses to some non-BJP voters to support him without any fear of being branded as a communal.
His 2014 slogans of Achhe Din (good times) and promise to bring back black money have already been declared as election-time Jumlas by none other than his man Friday, Amit Shah. India’s economy is still struggling to recover from his dictatorial decision of demonetisation and clueless implementation of GST. The rise of crude oil prices in recent months has led to severe economic crisis for the country.
The way the US President Donald Trump has forced further political uncertainties in the Middle East, it is almost certain that global crude oil price will go up much further. With the rise of oil price, the value of Indian rupee is going down rapidly. The election promise of his party in 2014 to make the value of the rupee stronger has turned out to be a joke as the exchange rate is almost 70 rupees per one dollar now.
However, Modi’s main worry is his government’s abysmal failure to create jobs for country’s rapidly growing and highly aspiring youth population. On this backdrop, a politically cunning person like Modi can never adopt the strategy of going again to 2019 election on a development platform.
Whenever it became electorally tough, even in the state elections, Modi has always gone back to what he does the best, to do everything possible to instigate communal polarisation. In Bihar election, Amit Shah’s ‘if BJP loses in Bihar by mistake, crackers will be burst in Pakistan’ statement was not good enough, so Modi himself started ‘qabristan vs shamshaan’ debate to campaign in the UP election. In the recent election in his home state of Gujarat, when he sensed that Congress was posing a tough fight, Modi had no hesitation to wage a baseless attack against country’s former Prime Minister, former Vice President and former Army Chief of colluding with Pakistani officials to influence the election result. He did not even express regret for it.
Modi lacks the basic political decency and civility. He is overtly communal and uncouth while addressing public and use it to the hilt to enthuse his political support base. He has no hesitation to be un-Prime Ministerial in public if that fetches him votes. In that respect, he is like Trump. But, unlike Trump, Modi adheres to sharp ideological line and committed to RSS taught Hindutva politics.
He is power hungry, uncompromising, confrontational and to win the 2019 election, he will go to any extent to use his speeches and social media to communally polarise Indian electoral landscape. This possible strategy was a matter of speculation but Nirmala Sitharaman and Modi himself by shamelessly using a fake news to brand the grand-old party of the country as a communal party clearly shows what is there in store for the country on its way to 2019 general election. Modi-Shah duo will do everything to bring down the level of country’s political discourse as low as possible and BJP’s IT cell will continue the spread of communally sensitive fake news in a much larger scale.
The speeches and social media will not be sufficient enough to be successful in large-scale communal polarisation of the country. For that, as it looks particularly after Modi’s speech at Azamgarh, there will be an attempt to repeat 2002 Gujarat type experiment.
A politically suitable occasion for that communal disharmony will most likely be created by pushing for building the temple at Ayodhya. This has been already indicated by Ami Shah at Hyderabad on 13 July, though BJP has formally denied it. With that, there will be attempts towards pushing India’s relations with Pakistan to a brink.
Indications for that strategy are also getting clearer because of on-going attempts to bring BJP led government in Srinagar though political manipulation and at the same time giving in to China in order to avoid an immediate Chinese support to Pakistan in case of India’s limited attack. Modi, in the pursuit of his electoral victory, is giving all the indications of pushing India into a dangerously violent terrain. There is little doubt now that India’s internal and external security will come under serious strain prior to 2019 election.
(The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.)