Updated: March 1, 2020 8:11:05 am
First, an ugly truth. Narendra Modi’s image as a world statesman has taken a battering since his second term began. His ministers and media managers scoff that they could not care less about the ‘liberal’ (hated word) western media, but their angry responses indicate that they do care. Modi himself would like very much to be seen, as he was in his first term, as the first real leader of India in a long while.
He took over from a prime minister whose mandate came from the Congress president and not the Indian people. So, Modi was seen by many, including your columnist, as the best man to lead India in the 21st century. That ordinary voters liked the respect Modi had garnered internationally was evident during the election campaign from the number of people who said that they liked that Modi had ‘raised India’s stature in the eyes of the world’. Modi knows this and likes to flaunt his friendships with world leaders.
This week should have been a moment of triumph. The mighty leader of the free world was in town and accorded a welcome the likes of which few world leaders have seen. The size of the crowd in that cricket stadium in Ahmedabad made Howdy Modi! seem like a genteel tea party. Donald Trump loves big crowds and was clearly delighted with his reception. Then the riots began in Delhi and suddenly all the hype and hoopla of the visit turned to dust and disgrace.
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There is a lesson in this for Modi. He can either be a world leader of real stature or one who is reviled as a ‘fascist’ and a ‘racist’. As an old fan of Pink Floyd, I was taken aback to hear Roger Waters use these words to describe the new citizenship law. He then recited a poem by an Indian poet called Aamir Aziz which was powerful even in translation. ‘Kill us, we will become ghosts, and write of your killings, with all the evidence. You write jokes in courts, we will write justice on the walls. We will speak so loudly that even the deaf will hear. We will write so clearly that even the blind will read. You write injustice on the earth, we will write revolution in the sky.’
Modi has himself to blame. Not just for the horrible violence in Delhi in which over 40 people lost their lives, but also for the hate speeches he allowed his senior ministers to make. It was hate speeches that caused the violence and hate speeches that have alienated most Indian Muslims. This campaign of hate began long before the discriminatory amendment to the citizenship law. It was during Modi’s first term that Muslims began to feel alienated. It began with the violent activities of cow vigilantes that led not just to the lynchings but to Muslim and Dalit communities losing jobs and businesses.
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So when that amendment was made to the citizenship law, Muslims were already deeply alienated. Home Minister Amit Shah then proceeded to repeat in speech after speech that the new law would be followed by a National Register of Citizens (NRC) and real panic set in. When the protests in Jamia Millia University were dealt with brutally by the Delhi Police, the women of Shaheen Bagh decided that it was time for them to take a stand. Not a single member of the Modi government bothered to ask them why they were risking their lives and the lives of their children to continue their protest through cold winter nights. If they had, they would have found that the women were genuinely concerned that the NRC would harm only Muslims if they did not have the documents to prove their Indian citizenship.
Instead of dialogue, a campaign of hate was unleashed in which they were called traitors, jihadists and Pakistanis. No action was taken against the BJP leaders who led the hate campaign and no action was taken against BJP spokesmen who continue to rant on television against Shaheen Bagh. At this point, it is important for me to mention that some private TV channels have been so obsequious in their loyalty to Modi that they have fortified the echo chamber around him. In doing this, they have done a disservice not just to Modi but to India. They have also provided a platform for people who paint all Muslims as jihadists and traitors. And, in doing this they have made the walls of the echo chamber impenetrable.
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If this had not happened, the Prime Minister would surely have noticed the rage building up in Delhi before it exploded into violence. It is possible that the violence will now die down. What will not die down is the hatred that caused the violence. Personally, I cannot remember a time when tensions between Hindus and Muslims have been as high as they are today. The reason is that in the ‘new India’, angry, hate-filled Hindu men and women believe they have sanction from the highest leaders in the land to treat Muslims as lesser citizens of India.
The Prime Minister, as their great hero, is the only person who can put a stop to the hate campaign that has so diminished his personal stature. It is important to do this also because it is not good for India if nearly 200 million of her citizens continue to remain alienated.
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 1, 2020 under the title “Hate always harms”.
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