Narendra Modi managed to get an impressive re-election victory on 23 May 2019, winning a second five-year mandate. A declining economy, increasing unemployment, and deteriorating agricultural crisis did not matter in the end as his party won more than 300 parliamentary seats in the 17th Lok Sabha. In 2014, he had successfully sold the hope of ‘achhe din’. Coupled with the idea of making India stronger than China, Modi gained even more electoral success by selling the fear of minority Muslims and neighbouring Pakistan.
In his victory speech to the MPs of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, Modi again played the politics of duplicity and blamed the opposition for the growing fear amongst Muslims: “Vote bank politics created this imagined fear, this imagined atmosphere and an environment of dread was created.”
The promise of winning the trust of minorities was made with the usual theatrics – by bowing his head before the Constitution of India. This was enough for India’s mainstream media, which has virtually become Modi’s public relations manager, to project Modi as the new messiah of India’s Muslims.
However, since his re-election, a number of mob attacks against Muslims have been reported from all over India. After Modi’s spectacular victory, Hindutva mobs do not think there is any need to mask their attacks against Muslims under cow protection or love-jihad. Catching a Muslim and forcing him to chant Jai Shri Ram has become a new normal to target the minority community.
On 21 June 2019, a Muslim youth was brutally lynched to death by a Hindutva mob in BJP-ruled Jharkhand after being forced to chant Jai Shri Ram. India’s mainstream media has largely ignored this horrific news until yesterday when public outrage began to pour in. That’s perhaps because violence against Muslims in India is fast becoming an acceptable norm.
But, increasing atrocities against Muslims have already got the attention internationally. International media has been regularly highlighting the plight of Muslims and other minorities under Modi’s Hindutva regime. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its Annual Report, which was released last week, puts India again, as a country of concern for engaging and tolerating violation of religious freedom of minorities. The Report even names Modi personally for not doing enough to stop mob violence against Muslims and Dalits. The BJP and the Indian Foreign Ministry have, as expected, issued their customary denials.
You have to be really stupid to expect Modi to change his usual brand of politics after getting a massive victory as a result of it. Anyone who has followed Modi’s political career carefully knows very well that whatever mask he wears, it cannot hide his Islamophobic politics. His political talisman has always been Muslim bashing. He was virtually a nobody in BJP’s power politics in Delhi till he presided over a mass killing of Muslims as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002. No other leader in India’s history has used the killing of Muslims as a badge of honor to energize his base as Modi has.
It is thus important for those who are selling the hope of a new Modi to revisit the history of Modi in using Muslims to gaslight his fanbase. As the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he had done everything possible to create a Hindu-Muslim binary not only to gain electoral benefits in Gujarat but also to enlarge his image and stature as the Hindu Hridaya Samrat in India and abroad (amongst NRIs) to be able to overthrow Advani from the BJP’s leadership position in 2013.
Demonising Muslims has always been the go-to option for Modi at the time of elections and it has paid off abundantly well for him. In the 2002 election campaign in Gujarat, as if the killing of thousands of Muslims was not enough, Modi openly boasted of his refusal to run relief centers for riot-affected Muslims saying that it will lead to Hum paanch, humare pachees (We are five and we will have 25 offspring).
When he was criticised by the opposition (albeit for political purposes) for planning to transfer the Narmada water to the Sabarmati river in the Hindu religious month of Shravan, his reply to the opposition was that they were free to bring water to the Muslims during Ramzan when they came to power! Berating Muslims to strengthen his vote base has become a regular practice for Modi since then.
In the 2007 assembly elections, he made Islamic terror an issue after a number of ‘fake’ encounters by the Gujarat police. Also, in meeting after meeting, he started calling the then President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf miyan-Musharraf. In the 2012 elections, he made several speeches saying that the secret candidate of the Congress for the Chief Minister post is Ahmed-miyan (Ahmed Patel). By calling Pervez Musharraf as miyan-Musharraf and Ahmed Patel as Ahmed-miyan, Modi successfully mobilised his anti-Muslim support base to win the elections.
In the 2014 general elections, though Modi was projecting himself as a ‘Development Guru’, his Man Friday Amit Shah bragged about avenging the Muzaffarnagar riots, while Modi himself raised the issue of the flourishing beef industry and threatened to deport Bangladeshis (read Muslims).
Since Modi’s election as the Prime Minister of India in 2014, Modi’s ministers have often mocked India’s constitution. Hindutva foot soldiers have been regularly attacking places of worship of Muslims. State support has been provided to anti-Muslim initiatives like Ghar Wapsi and vigilantism against the so-called love-jihad. The Modi government is doing everything to pass the bill against Triple Talaq in spite of opposition from Muslims and a Citizenship (Amendment Bill), which is nothing but to discriminate Muslim migrants from neighbouring countries and more importantly the existing Muslims within the country.
As the Prime Minister of the country, Modi has failed in the last 5 years in respecting his constitutional obligations and to do whatever he can to protect all faiths in a ‘secular’ India. At the time of state elections like in Bihar and UP and also in the last general elections, he continued to make statements unnerving the Muslims of India. Modi keeps continuing this mantra of communal polarisation because it favours him electorally in the present Indian socio-political climate.
Not just political sloganeering and legislative changes, the mob in the name of vigilantism is being mobilised under the Hindutva agenda in taking law into its own hands and waging attacks against Muslims under the Modi government. The gau rakshak groups in the name of cow protection have been running amok in almost all parts of the country. The victims of this marauding gau rakshaks of Hindu upper caste men have been primarily Muslims. Since the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri on the night of 28 September 2015, the savagery of these vigilante groups on Muslims is taking place regularly all over the country, but mostly in BJP-ruled states.
The lynching of Muslims, as it has been on 21 June in Jharkhand, is not due to lawlessness in the country but because of the state-sanction behind it. It plays a key part in the strategy of Hindutva politics of social control. Lynching is not to punish crime, but to enforce inter-group hierarchy and to keep the political control with upper-caste Hindus. That has been the reason for Modi to maintain a strategic ambiguity on the lynching of Muslims.
Not only have Modi’s repeated barbs against Muslims strengthened Hindutva forces in the country but this anti-Muslim frenzy has also captured the majority community’s imagination, thereby becoming an electorally lucrative proposition for him.
Unlike the 2014 election, the 2019 election victory has given Modi the legitimacy to brazenly pursue an anti-Muslim position as he fought and won the election purely on the Hindutva agenda. While the country’s Prime Minister is Narendra Modi, Home Minister is Amit Shah and one of the members of the Parliament is an accused Hindutva terrorist, called Pragya Thakur, it will be simply foolish to expect that Modi’s second term will in any way be better for Muslims in India. It will be rather much worse and the world must remain prepared for it.
(The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden. Ashok Swain’s official Twitter account is @ashoswai)