The BJP manifesto declaring India as ‘a natural home for persecuted Hindus’, has triggered an animated debate on the nature of the state a Narendra Modi-led government would create if elected to power. BJP supporters term it as an obvious step, but critics point out that this puts a Hindu country tag on India and goes against the principle of secularism.
Modi had floated this idea at a rally in Assam in February, making a distinction between Hindu and Muslim refugees from Bangladesh and arguing that the former should be accommodated.
“We have a responsibility towards Hindus who are harassed and suffer in other countries. India is the only place for them... we will have to accommodate them here,” Modi had said. He also claimed that the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee had devised measures to accommodate Hindu refugees from Pakistan.
“For all the talk about putting India first, this one line shows BJP continues to think of Hindus as primary constituents of India,” said Siddharth Varadarajan of Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory at Shiv Nadar University. “Why should a Fijian Indian who happened to be Muslim have any less claim over refuge in India than a Fijian Indian who happened to be Hindu?” he asked.
He said that the principle of ‘non-refoulment’ – it protects refugees from being returned or expelled to hostile places – does not allow the denial of refuge to a persecuted person on the basis of his religion. “BJP could have said all victims of religious, political, ethnic persecution are welcome.”
BJP supporters reject the criticism. Pro-Modi activist Madhu Kishwar tweeted: “If Hindus are being persecuted in Pakistan’s Sindh or in Bangladesh on account of being Hindu, where will they go if not come to India? They have nowhere to go but persecuted Muslims from Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan can and do go to many countries.”