Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has voiced what the majority of her countrymen believe — that only the prime minister can resolve the Kashmir issue. This is because he is arguably the most charismatic and decisive leader this country has ever seen.
There was a period in the 1970s when the country resonated with the slogan, “Indira is India, India is Indira”. But her aura stemmed from the Emergency, whereas Narendra Modi has not required coercive state apparatus to invoke the adulation of millions. Whether his opponents admit it or not, today’s India is Modi and Modi is India. Hence this appeal from a deeply troubled Indian Muslim, who lives in mortal dread of what the future portends for us all.
The PM’s slogan “sabka saath, sabka vikas” captures the essence of this nation’s foremost mission of fostering social solidarity premised on the doctrine that every human being matters. It was a message lapped up by the minorities. As was the PM’s emphatic assertion in Kerala in 2015 that the freedom to have, to retain, and to adopt a religion or belief is the personal choice of a citizen: “My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly”. On more than one occasion, he has made appeals for preserving our core values of diversity, tolerance and plurality, calling Hindus and Muslims to work together to fight poverty instead of fighting one another.
And yet, there is a deep sense of disquiet bordering on despair within the Muslim community. A massive communalisation of society is taking place, no longer subterranean or secretive, but in your face. While it is undeniable that social media has revolutionised communication and universalised access to information, its anonymity is being used to devastating effect. The other day, I received on Whatsapp a morphed picture of a cow spread-eagled on our national flag and youths with skull caps and beards poised to slaughter it, the Pakistani flag fluttering in the background. In a charged atmosphere of neo-nationalism, love jihad and cow vigilantism, the most awful Muslim-bashing has become a prominent social media sport.
According to the latest All India Pratinidhi Sabha (AIPS) report, there are over 57,000 shakhas operating at 36,729 places with a daily attendance of lakhs. In the capital, the war-like khaki trouser drills have become more intense and regular, and havans and elaborate rituals are now being organised even in public parks. Against whom are these intense preparations of martial intent being made? I fear that the masculine demonstrations of power and desh bhakti are obliquely directed at the Muslim, who has always been demonised in shakhas. Soon after the UP elections, posters signed by “Hindus” appeared in a Bareilly village, ordering Muslims to leave by the end of the year. Is this a portent of things to come?
An irresistible, self-aggrandising Hindu majoritarian wave, which is not just dismissive of, but positively hostile to minority concerns is sweeping the land. A recent study by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) across four states in which people were asked questions on the beef ban, the “Bharat mata ki jai” slogan, love jihad, etc, showed that 72 per cent of them had clear majoritarian views. Only 13 per cent considered Muslims to be patriotic. Is it any wonder then that Muslims are running scared?
Just as worrisome as the physical manifestation of hostility toward the Muslim is the ideological assault on his patriotism, beliefs and way of life. In our post-truth world of “alternative facts” and “truthful hyperbole”, a professor and right-wing ideologue makes the outrageous assertion that Indian Muslims vote en bloc as they are unable to overcome their “religious-community identity” and judge issues as Indian citizens. Rajnath Singh views history through an antagonistic Hindu-Muslim binary when he recently posed the rhetorical question on why Akbar is known as “the Great” whereas the same appellation is denied to Maharana Pratap.
History is being vandalised with ancient texts like the Manusmriti being amended to correct “distortions”, and the incomparable Yogi endorses the VHP demand for a Surya temple where the revered Ghazi Baba dargah exists in Bahraich. In today’s India, the Muslim is clearly “the other”.
The rhetoric of Muslim “appeasement” has finally triumphed. The Sachar Committee Report (2006) laid bare the dismal plight of Muslims in every Human Development Index and recommended affirmative action and other interventions. So poisoned is the environment that any benefit targeting minorities, however justified, is socially divisive. Amidst such widespread apathy, the Muslim now wants nothing other than to be treated like any ordinary citizen, entitled to fundamental human rights. Tragically, even this basic expectation is far from guaranteed.
There is a volcano seething below the surface. The nation cannot achieve social harmony or development on the basis of a hierarchy of citizenship that condemns 180 million Indians to second-class status. The creeping despair and extinguishing of hope is frightening because then one becomes nihilistic and destructive, heedless of the consequences.
Is the recent lynching of six Muslims near Jamshedpur, and the subsequent clashes of Muslim protesters with the police, an ominous forecast? At this critical tipping point, I believe that only our PM has the power to pull us back from the precipice.
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