Can Modi win the minorities’ trust?
Narendra Modi is a prime minister who likes to surprise. He started his previous term in office with his surprising invitation to the Prime Minister of Pakistan to attend his swearing-in. After being elected on a Hindu nationalist ticket, his surprise for the beginning of this term has been his address to the newly elected National Democratic Alliance Member of Parliaments (MPs) in which he admitted that the minorities had “long been made to live in fear”. He blamed this on vote bank politics and called on his MPs “to puncture the myth of fear”. To underline his commitment to win the trust of minorities, he added the words sab ka vishwas (everyone’s trust) to the slogan he coined after the 2014 election, sabka sath, sab ka vikas (together with all, development for all).
Not surprisingly, I have come across plenty of cynical reaction to this commitment to vishwas. I have been told that Modi’s sudden concern for the minorities is just window dressing, designed by him to counter the international media’s hostile reaction to his campaign and victory, and, in particular, the cover on Time magazine describing him as “India’s divider in chief.” Mind you, Time magazine seems to have changed its view and now regards Modi as “the man who has united India”. I have argued that there should be reasoned criticism when there is more evidence available to judge Modi’s intentions rather than Pavlovian cynicism. But putting the blame for the minorities’ fear on the opposition’s vote bank politics is not an encouraging start. The minorities are particularly fearful now because of the hostility to them that marked this election campaign. In a rally in Saharanpur at the beginning of April, setting the tone for the campaign, Modi himself called on the crowd to remember the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and specifically “the atyachar (atrocities) committed on their daughters”. That was an obvious attempt to revive the allegations of the so called love jihad which provoked so much bitterness between Hindus and Muslims.
Now the minority affairs minister, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, has followed up on Modi’s statement by announcing a significant measure to win the trust of minorities by announcing that every year there will be one crore scholarships for them and new training opportunities in subjects like Hindi, English and Maths for madrassa teachers. This has been welcomed by several Muslim organisations.
But there is no sign yet of Modi abandoning a fundamental tactic of his electioneering: arousing fear of the Muslim minority with the aim of creating a Hindu vote. Modi is now so powerful he could bring about this sea change in Indian politics. It could also be argued that as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) man, he should bring it about. A member of RSS once gave me a copy of MS Golwalkar’s book, A Bunch of Thoughts, telling me, “It is one of our foundational texts.” Golwalker was the second head of the RSS . In one of his chapters, he spells out what a Hindu Rashtra means to him, and what the place of the minorities would be in it. He maintains that because Hindus recognise “the immanence of one supreme power”, Hindu Rashtra “can stand guarantee to the free and prosperous life of the so-called minorities here, sharing equal opportunities as the proud children of the motherland.” Golwalker also believed, “He can’t be a son of this soil at all who is intolerant of other faiths.”
In the end Modi will be judged by his words. A Muslim friend has asked me why, if he wants to establish trust, he has not condemned the attacks on Muslims that have taken place since the election results became known. Will Modi now condemn such incidents more frequently than he did during his last term in office? Will he now rein in his colleagues who are prone to hate speak? When he speaks from the Red Fort on August 15, will there be more welcome surprises for the minorities?
The views expressed are personal