On the day that protesters against the new citizenship law poured into the streets of cities across India, Home Minister Amit Shah posted a tweet that made me unsure whether to laugh or cry. The tweet had pictures that showed the Home Minister at a high table beside the President, the Prime Minister and the Vice-President at a meeting of the National Committee for Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Amit Shah clearly missed the irony of his tweet. The Mahatma must be a very new hero in his political journey or he would have known that if Gandhiji were alive, he would have been outside at the barricades and not in this splendid hall with its gilded ceiling and bright lights. As a man who was killed for trying to make Hindus and Muslims live in peace he would have certainly not approved of a law that specifically excludes Muslims.
Even I who believe that radical Islam is the Nazi ideology of our time find it impossible to support a law that singles out Muslims. As someone who has openly supported Modi, I was appalled to hear him make that comment about how he could tell clearly from the clothes of the protesters who they were. He seems to be locked in an echo chamber in which the only voices he hears are those that tell him that the people opposing his ugly amendment to the citizenship law are Lutyens liberals, pseudo-secularists, urban Naxals, anti-nationals and hated ‘intellectuals’. If he steps out of this echo chamber he will see that they are mostly young people. It was students who began the protests, and if political leaders, leftists and sundry activists have jumped into the fray, it is because the images of policemen throwing teargas canisters into the library of Jamia Millia and frog-marching students out of the university were very disturbing.
By last week students in Muslim universities across India had joined the protests. And, huge numbers of ordinary Muslims joined the protesters once the protests spilled out of campuses into the streets of major cities. This is no accident. In speeches that the Prime Minister and Home Minister have made, Muslims have been repeatedly targeted. Muslims who dared protest on social media have had the dreaded label ‘Pakistani’ pinned on them. A process of demonisation and ‘othering’ of our Muslim citizens has begun that is dangerous and truly anti-national. It is also against everything India has always stood for.
Ordinary Indian Muslims have got the message. They know that they are being singled out for special treatment with the purpose of showing them their place as India’s lesser citizens. As someone who has been quite close to many people in the RSS since the days when I was a junior reporter in Delhi, I have been privy to several conversations in which somehow every discussion has ended in the articulation of the fear that Muslims ‘breed so fast’ that they will one day reduce Hindus to a minority. When I first heard conversations of this kind it was from Punjabi refugees in the Seventies, when memories of Partition were fresh and painful. What is worrying is that these conversations continue to this day in RSS circles, and Muslims continue to be seen as not fully Indian.
The alma mater of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is the RSS. So they would have spent their lives believing this. After entering politics at a provincial level in Gujarat it may have been acceptable to continue hating Muslims. It is not acceptable when you become the two most important leaders in India. It is not just unacceptable within India but in the world as well, so Modi’s international image as the man who would finally take India into the 21st century has been shattered. The cracks began to show in his first term when Muslims were lynched and he seemed not to care enough to condemn the mobs who did the lynching. But, since his second term began, he and his Home Minister have pushed more aggressively than before an agenda that seeks to show them as Hindu (not Indian) leaders. Last week, the Prime Minister made an election speech that made the front page of this newspaper in which he implied that the Congress party would like to give every Pakistani Indian citizenship. He then taunted this damaged, diminished political party by asking if it would dare reverse the changed status of Kashmir or the law that bans triple talaq.
If he had stopped for a minute before making this speech and thought about the man whose 150th birth anniversary his government seeks to celebrate with pomp and pageantry, he may not have made the speech. Gandhiji would have disapproved totally. As he would have of both the new citizenship law and the proposed register of citizens.
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