We heard two political dog whistles last week. Both ugly and both dangerous but the one from the Home Minister more so, because he has the capacity to do more harm than the former Chief Minister of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir. The first murmurings of political activity in Kashmir since the revocation of Article 370 have just begun with district-level elections. And, it is possible that this is what provoked the dog whistles.
The first came from Amit Shah who took to Twitter to declare that the ‘Gupkar Gang’ was trying to invite foreign powers to interfere in the Valley’s politics. What he said was wrong on several levels. It was wrong for the Home Minister to describe a coalition of Kashmiri political parties as a ‘gang’. It was wrong for him to diminish the high office he holds by speaking in the language of a streetfighter. And, it was wrong for him to indicate to his Hindutva base that in the view of the Government of India these Kashmiri political parties were all acting against the interests of India, thereby ‘anti-national’. Within hours of his tweets, the BJP’s more venomous spokesmen popped up on primetime talk shows to hurl invectives at the ‘Gupkar Gang’ and to charge them with that ultimate term of Hindutva abuse, ‘Pakistani, Pakistani’.
Mehbooba Mufti’s dog whistle came when she told the Kashmiri people about a plot to settle ‘outsiders’ on land that belonged to Kashmiri nomads. It was a signal that since her release she has thrown in her lot with the Islamic fundamentalists and the jihadi terrorists who have collaborated to bring ruinous, religious changes in the Valley in the past 30 years. Mehbooba seems to have forgotten that until just the other day she headed a government that was a coalition with the BJP. Her political statements are all dog whistles. After being released from 18 months of house arrest she said that the Indian flag would only be allowed in Kashmir when “we get our own flag back”. What she has not noticed is that it is exactly this kind of language that the BJP’s Hindutva base wants to hear so that they can make all political battles in India about ‘nationalism’.
Speaking of which, I recently read Shashi Tharoor’s new book, The Battle of Belonging, and found that the most interesting thing about it was the distinction he makes between patriotism and nationalism. And, how ‘nationalism’ is being used by the BJP and its Hindutva followers to make a distinction between those they consider India’s real citizens and those they consider lesser citizens because they do not meet their definition of ‘nationalism’. It is assumed that the decision to decide someone’s ‘nationalism’ remains in the hands of those who believe that aggressive Hindutva qualifies them instantly to win their nationalism badge.
So when Anurag Thakur, a minister in Modi’s government, uses an ugly slogan that says ‘traitors should be shot’, he passes his ‘nationalism’ test with flying colours. But when at the same time Muslim women, afraid of losing their right to be Indian, gather for days with the Constitution held high, to protest against the amendment to the citizenship law, they are labelled ‘traitors and Pakistanis’. This happened, please remember, after a dog whistle from the Home Minister. The minute he declared that (Hindu) voters should push the button so hard on the EVM (electronic voting machine) that the ‘current’ would be felt in Shaheen Bagh, his acolytes in the media and his party spokesmen wasted not a moment in declaring the women of Shaheen Bagh ‘Pakistanis’.
Is it any wonder that in Modi’s India dissidence is being seen as sedition? Is it any wonder that journalists writing against government policies are being labelled Congress party ‘durbaris’? Is it any wonder that in the eyes of the world India is now being seen as descending into illiberalism? Personally, I believe that we have not got there yet but as someone who remembers well the halcyon days when we were a truly liberal democracy, I can see how much things have changed, and the changes are worrying. It is time for Modi and his ‘gang’ to realise that it is the patriotic duty of those who love India to speak out when they see signs of illiberalism. It is the patriotic duty of judges who are brave enough to speak the truth to speak out about the pressures they increasingly endure. It is the patriotic duty of journalists to speak out against policies that they consider harmful to India. The Prime Minister and his Home Minister have recently declared that they believe in a ‘free press’, so we have sanction from the top.
True patriots always show the courage to speak out when they see something wrong. As someone who considers myself a true patriot, I would like to end by saying that I believe that our level of political discourse has descended to dog whistles that incite the worst emotions in the worst people in India. When it comes to dog whistles it is true to say that both Hindu and Muslim ‘leaders’ are guilty. But, it is those who hold high office in Modi’s government who have the highest platforms and the loudest whistles, so they need to show the highest responsibility. Sadly this is what we do not see yet.
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 22, 2020 under the title ‘Dangerous dog whistles’.
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