It is one year since Narendra Modi became prime minister of India. His rise to power was accompanied by deep uneasiness among Muslims and Christians.
His role in the Gujarat tragedy of 2002 was well known. Rather his rise to national power was substantially aided by the belief within the RSS family that he was the only leader who brought Muslims to their knees. Christians were aware of his provocative role in the tribal-dominated Dangs area of Gujarat. The target was the tiny peaceful community, even though they were providing desperately needed quality education to the local people. Modi as chief minister could arouse strong passions against minorities. His rise to total power in the BJP was only possible because of his passionate hold on hardcore hindutva elements.
In his first year in power, Modi has tried to ride on two horses simultaneously— hindutva and development. But the growth plank appears weak. The economy is no better than under Manmohan Singh. The perception of strong corporate backing for Modi is deeply resented by the poor. Matters have worsened by a tendency for morbid self-projection, rather than actual policy content. The result is few believe in his development mantra. This has forced him to tilt towards hindutva. He relies more and more on Giriraj Singh, the Sadhvis and even a highly divisive figure like Subramanian Swamy. The strategy is to encourage these extremists to make the most outrageous attack on minorities. That protects Modi’s RSS/VHP base.
Modi maintains silence on these attacks, even though his own cabinet ministers are fuelling this hatred. The lowest point was when one of these worthies grandly declared that Allah does not live in a mosque or God in a church, and as such we can destroy mosques and churches. But this is not so in temples and therefore we cannot destroy temples. What a sick logic to encourage fanatics to destroy mosques and churches. No wonder the past few months have seen many attacks on churches, with insults heaped on the saintly Mother Teresa and the rape of an elderly nun. The result was panic among Christians. The pope, the cardinals and prominent Indian Catholics like Julio Ribeiro expressed their pain. Christians and Parsis are vital to Indian secularism. They are our window to the west. In reaction, this hate Christian madness made life tense for the saffron diaspora in the west. This only confirms that we live in a small world. An obnoxious development in Vadodara or Meerut does affect India’s image worldwide.
For Muslims, this past year has been tough, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. The struggle for justice for the 2002 Gujarat killings collapsed after Modi became prime minister. One by one the leading figures in the hall of shame were released by the courts, both CBI and state level. Conversely, those upright officers who had tried to defend the helpless minorities in Gujarat and elsewhere suffered. It just shows how rapidly the judiciary adapts to political change, making a mockery of impartiality and fairness. It was sickening to see Maya Kodnani, convicted of being involved in the killings of more than 100 women and children, being released from jail. The same is the case of Babu Bajrangi, perhaps the worst butcher of 2002. He, too, is out on bail. The chances are that Bajrangi and Kodnani will never see the inside of a jail again. But the case that shocks most is that of Amit Shah. This right-hand man of Modi was charged in the Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati killings. He spent three months in jail. But he found a saviour in [former chief justice of India] P. Sathasivam. He was released from jail by this learned judge. Soon, he retired and within days he was appointed as governor. Now, he wants to go to the National Human Rights Commission. Most probably he will get this post, and within two years Modi will pay the final price for releasing Shah by making Sathasivam our next president. The judiciary was one institution that was widely respected in our country. Senior judges were treated almost as demigods. After the Gujarat tragedy, there is a distinct feeling among minorities that the scales of justice are tilted away from them.
The remarkable angle is the Muslim reaction to Modi’s rise. There is no longer self-pity. The focus all over the country is empowerment through quality education, business, upholding the dignity of women and finally a positive assertion of our rights as citizens of India. There is a sharp rise in student enrolment in schools and colleges. The Vadodara-based Zidni Ilma Charitable Trust supports bright medical and engineering students from poor and lower middle class families from all over Gujarat. Last year, it distributed about Rs 50 lakh, collected mostly from zakat and lillah contributions. The beneficiaries were about 350 students, of whom 132 were girls. The sharp rise in Muslim women medical personnel is a revolutionary development. Note that this is purely on merit, without any form of reservation.
Modi has sought to counter this Muslim assertiveness through a focus on rich and ambitious Muslims, like Zafar Sareshwala. By appointing a few to high posts, he seeks to lure other Muslims towards him. He fails because the RSS/BJP hatred of Muslims is too deep. You can offer loaves to a few Sareshwalas, but how to bribe 140 million Muslims, especially when Modi’s own role in 2002 killings is etched deep in Muslim minds? In that sense, the rise of Modi may be the best remedy for Indian Muslims. For years they have felt the pain of being orphaned by partition and then by poverty. In response to the twin horrors of the Babri mosque demolition and the Gujarat 2002 killings, Indian Muslims have finally found their voice and their dignity. There is a widespread realisation that they can be good Muslims, and also good Indians. Rather there is a heavy responsibility on the Indian Muslim. The larger Muslim world is in violent ferment. It needs to adapt itself to a modern world, without losing its inner faith in Islam. Indian Muslims have a history, a culture and traditions that almost go back to the times of the Prophet Muhammad. With newfound confidence, wealth and an inclination towards science, they are rightly suited to guide the 1.6 billion Muslims the world over.
Bandukwala is a human rights activist.