This was perhaps just a year before 2002. In an episode of the Big Fight on NDTV, there was a debate on terrorism in India. Part of that debate was a BJP General Secretary. The first time ever I heard an abhorring line in national discourse was espoused by this gentleman on this debate. He said, ‘while I agree not all Muslims are terrorists but why are all terrorists Muslims’. This line was so repulsive it got the better of my patience while watching that debate. And the man who espoused this thought was none other than Narendra Modi, Prime Minister elect in 2014. Indeed, this line has since been quoted by many right wing leaders to paint the entire Muslims community as that ’other’ of India, most recently by Giriraj Singh of Bihar, now himself a Member of Parliament.
That man of course, on that debate, went on to become the CM of Gujarat and presided over one of the worst communal riots in independent India which followed the Godhra incident. In the elections that followed soon after, the CM did nothing to end the polarization. Instead, with his choicest jibes, succeeded in deepening the divide. Sample this – Hum Paanch hamare Pachees. Post those elections an emboldened Narendra Modi, now the hero of Hindus, set on the task of unleashing terror on the minorities through a series of fake encounters. Each encounter involved Muslims that were targeted as Muslim terrorists out to kill him. Each encounter adding to his stature of a brave Hindu leader, the ‘Loh purush’ whom the jihadists were out to kill. In the elections that followed and when accusations were rife of extra-judicial killings, the man of ‘words’ was at it again, ‘aatankwadiyon ke saath kaarravayi na Karen to kya karna chahiye’.
The Hindu masses loved it. Here was a man standing up to Muslims and how. This election too was won with relative ease. But much like most ideas, they all come with a shelf life. And the cunning Modi, to continue being relevant to his vote bank and broad base his appeal thought of a new mantra – the Gujarat model of governance. There was an over-hyped pitch about his model, the notable benefits of which, in most analysis, seem to have missed the weakest sections of Gujarat society including Muslims. Most of the Indian media, with the exception of now defunct Tehelka, sought to downplay the worst instances of human rights abuses and instead played up the debate on Gujarat Model. An overactive and very effective PR machinery ensured that people started talking about the Gujarat model – even as far as villages in Bihar. People who had never set foot in Patna were talking of the Gujarat model and the development that was taking place there. Had any one seen it? Not even on TV, but they certainly seem to have heard it.
The relentless campaign of development and his model, without the details of what that would be, won Modi the elections of 2014. As you read this he would be taking oath to be the office of the highest executive of this great country. A man thoroughly misplaced for the most responsible and exalted political office. A man who has neither cared nor been considerate of his past. A man who has polarized national polity like no other (even his mentor Advani could not achieve this riding high on the Ram mandir issue). Cleverly shrouded by a thin veneer of development talk and aided in large measures by an inept Congress leadership, the elections were won with relative ease. Such are the pitfalls of new-age democracies that inspite of a relentless and expensive campaign, Modi garnered only 31% of the electorate and yet becomes the Prime Minister of this country. There are 69% who didn’t buy into his hard sell!
Post-election, unashamedly, Modi says that what he said during elections where in the heat of the moment. Things like Pakistan bashing were campaign rhetoric which he has sought to reverse with his recent move to invite the Pak PM. A well meaning Manmohan Singh was forced to adopt a hard line stand of not travelling to Pakistan nor invite their PM to India by an overtly ‘patriotic’ opposition and television media. Both these camps now herald the Modi move to invite the Pak PM as a master stroke, leaving his core voters confused and bewildered. And it seems to me that the talk of development, jobs and price rise may end up being just campaign rhetoric too.
Not to discount the UPA`s governing incoherence, there has been a great deal of development in the last two decades. What one would have liked to see, though, was a government that was keen to address it`s people in letting them know of it`s policies, achievements and it's challenges. This was absolutely missing in UPA 2. The Modi government will only have to SHOW they are governing and that alone could be a welcome change from the previous regime.
However, one does get a sense of the new regime`s hidden agenda and the new PM's well camouflaged views, in the apparent choice of contenders for key governing posts and the Cabinet.
The choice of Ajit Doval as a likely National Security Advisor may mean a very hardline agenda vis-à-vis Pakistan, save aside this current attempt of Modi at Statesmanship. The advisor to PM is a man who can`t differentiate between acts of terrorism originating from Pakistan and the Muslims of India. He is known to patronize ‘desh-bhakt’ gangsters like Chota Rajan (his aide Farid Tanasha was caught in his car by Mumbai police). Not so long ago, suspected Chota Rajan goons killed Shahid Azmi, a well known Mumbai based lawyer who was fighting on behalf of many Muslims falsely implicated in terror charges by the Intelligence Bureau, the secretive organisation Doval once headed.
Another high profile appointment that seems likely is of Mukul Rohatgi to the post of Solicitor General of India, a man who has represented the Gujarat government in the last decade against charges of state machinery involved in riots and state sponsored encounters.
And most importantly the cabinet itself. One hears of the likes of Subramaniam Swamy being part of the cabinet who not so long ago notoriously suggested that Muslims should be disenfranchised unless they accept their Hindu past. This is as ‘non-inclusive’ as it could have got for a rightwing government in India. In the face of a pliable media, I suspect, these men alongwith a supportive Prime Minister can go about their agendas with little or no disturbance.
The policy of this regime which was very successfully used during campaigning was ‘Appeasement of none’. Muslims should welcome this. The bogey of appeasement has been used against the community for far too long. This has greatly helped in polarizing and consolidating the Hindus, who are often made to believe that Muslim appeasement has lead to them having a first right on the nation`s resources and Hindus being relegated to being second class citizens. In practice, the exact opposite has been the truth. Across all social indices, Muslims are the worst, even below the scheduled castes who have been the worst sufferers of policy neglect and religious discrimination over centuries. The reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs were considered as affirmative actions to include them in the development and welfare of the state. Muslims, will have no such luck. And I strongly feel, they shouldn`t opt for this either or the parties that promise them this dole.
There should indeed be no appeasement and least of all whose basis is religious identity. Muslims should begin this process by denouncing the paltry Haj subsidy that is thrown at them. No one should perform their most important religious obligation by accepting a paltry few thousand rupees worth of benefit when most of them save through their lifetime a couple of lakhs of rupees to travel to Saudi Arab for 40 days and realizing their lifelong dream. Their perseverance and steadfastness is belittled by accepting a government dole in the name of Haj subsidy. Furthermore, it has been used as a stick to hit out at the Muslims for decades, notwithstanding the fact that the Haj pilgrimage accounts for the largest group of travel for an average performing national carrier. In a free economy, while there must be no subsidy, one must also leave the choice to Muslims, desirous of performing Haj, to choose their own airline.
However, the most important fact is discrimination which happens every day in every walk of live. Wrongful arrests that are made on account of religious identities, denial of jobs and opportunities on account of a glass ceiling, lack of representation in every democratic institution of India, most notably the current parliament that has seen the lowest representation of Muslims and none by the party of power. Mr. Modi, your slogan, APPEASEMENT of NONE’ reeks of your pre-conceived notion and that of your backers. Instead it should have been, DISCRIMINATION of NONE’ and an intent to mean it while in governance. Until then, you are NOT MY PRIME MINISTER!