Modi and Muslims: How the BJP's hotheads make a difficult job even more thankless

The Modi government's record on minority schemes and outreach is also surprisingly better than that of UPA-2

Abhijit Majumder March 11, 2020 08:01:44 IST
Modi and Muslims: How the BJP's hotheads make a difficult job even more thankless
  • The Modi government's record on minority schemes and outreach is also surprisingly better than that of UPA-2

  • But the relationship between the Modi dispensation and Muslims only seems to get worse

  • It also makes Modi's largely difficult work for the minorities even more thankless

As the Indian Air Force's C-17 Globemaster touched down at the Hindon Airbase on Tuesday morning like a giant grey bird, Holi colours were beginning to fly. The nation got one more reason to celebrate. The first batch of 58 Shia pilgrims were flown back to safety from the world's third-worst coronavirus-hit country, Iran, where the virus has taken 237 lives already.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar posted on social media in relief:

When the nation saves its citizens' lives, it does not check for religion. But since a section of national and international media is busy portraying the Narendra Modi government as a 'genocidal' and 'anti-Muslim', this latest action again begs the question: Why would an anti-Muslim government rescue Muslim pilgrims from an epidemic-ravaged region?

This isn’t the only instance. In 2014, more than a hundred nurses from Kerala, many of them Muslim, were saved from the Islamic State in Iraq. In 2018, then foreign minister Sushma Swaraj got Hamid Ansari expeditiously brought back from a Pakistani jail. The lovelorn young man had crossed over with a fake Pakistani identity card to meet a woman and got thrown into prison.

Such instances abound. The Modi government's record on minority schemes and outreach is also surprisingly better than that of UPA-2.

But the relationship between the Modi dispensation and Muslims only seems to get worse.

Modi and Muslims How the BJPs hotheads make a difficult job even more thankless

File image of Anurag Thakur. PTI

This was never going to be an easy relationship. At the heart of the Modi hurricane of 2014 and 2019 was his anti-minority appeasement image. He remains unapologetically Hindu in his demeanour. His victories have signalled a profound groundshift in Indian politics towards the Right and underscored the fact that elections can be convincingly won without Muslim votes.

This has made a Muslim clergy fast losing influence and 'liberals' discredited for their Nehruvian secularism incite minorities with a sense of desperation.

They could not find a moral handle to lash out at the ban on instant triple talaq. Nor could they openly oppose the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir and the erstwhile state's integration by scrapping Article 370 without smelling like rabid separatists. They hissed through clenched teeth at the Ayodhya judgment meted out by the Supreme Court. It was judicial action, after all.

But the Citizenship Amendment Bill (and later, Act) brought out Islamist anger on to the streets on the pretext that it discriminates against one religion: Islam. That it was only about persecuted minorities of three neighbouring nations, that it doesn’t affect Indian Muslims at all, or that Muslims can still apply for naturalised Indian citizenship got swept away in the tide of carefully concocted perceptions.

However, adding to those perceptions were shrill, intemperate utterances of the BJP’s new firebrands like Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Verma and Kapil Mishra. Whether it was "desh ke gaddaron ko/goli maaro saalon ko" or loosely calling opponents terrorists, the backlash against the often-communal anti-CAA protests was acerbic dog-whistling.

One may argue that it was a tit-for-tat. Or that polarisation helps the BJP. But in the long run, the growing trust deficit between 200 million Muslim Indians and the State is deeply problematic and undesirable. It undermines the prime minister's slogan after the 2019 Lok Sabha win: "Sabka saath, sabka vishwas, sabka vikas".

It also makes Modi's largely difficult work for the minorities even more thankless.

His government secured 3.14 crore scholarships for minority students between 2014 and 2019, 20 lakh more than the Rs 2.94 crore grants during UPA-2. Muslims have been the largest beneficiary, with 2.37 crore students getting scholarships under the first Modi government compared with 2.33 crore under Manmohan Singh's.

The Modi government has spent Rs 22,000 crore in the past six years on minority welfare. More than 25 ongoing schemes like Hunar Haat benefit them.

The Sangh Parivar’s civilisational project is to see India as a Hindu nation and stop the demographic surge of a thousand years. Its vision of a Hindu Rashtra does not occlude minorities, but an expectation that all Indians acknowledge the ancient cultural glue that binds them.

While the Hindutva movement has remarkable patience, it does not shy from violence to counter violence.

The Modi establishment is caught between aggressively pushing the ideological agenda (which its core supporters expect and admire) and gaining trust of the minorities. One can quickly offset the other.

Its ideological mission is perhaps better served with a lot more nuance. A contentious Uniform Civil Code, two-child policy and a nationwide National Register of Citizens may soon be on the table.

It is an operation that needs to be done with a scalpel and extreme finesse. Even the peek of a hammer from the surgeon's coat can make things very, very messy.

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