Modi’s rise and Indian Muslims
S M Hali
The sixteenth Indian Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) elections have resulted in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) grabbing 282 of the 543 seats, enabling it to form the government without the encumbrance of coalition partners. BJP leader Narendra Modi took oath as Prime Minister (PM) on May 26 at the helm of the largest majority government since 1984.
Modi’s meteoric rise was based on the voters’ disenchantment with corruption and mismanagement by the outgoing Indian National Congress and its allies. The BJP ran a slick election campaign, making full use of social media, especially focusing on India’s 23 million first-time voters who just now came of age. On the campaign trail, Modi undertook the largest mass outreach in India’s electoral history by travelling about 300,000 kilometres for 437 public meetings in 25 states and 1,350 innovative 3-D rallies. An alarming outcome of these elections is that the representation of Muslims in this Lok Sabha will be the lowest since the first general election of 1952. The sixteenth Lok Sabha will have just 24 Muslim members, down from 30 in the fifteenth and not a single one from the BJP. That translates to just over four percent of the strength of the House in a country where Muslims comprise 14.3 percent of the total population. Muslims were alienated in the latest polls and now feel disenfranchised partly because the BJP shunned secularism, partly because of Modi’s baggage of anti-Muslim campaigns in the province of Gujarat, where the 2002 riots took a toll of over 2,000 Muslim lives under his custodianship as Chief Minister. The anti-Muslim election campaign speeches by Modi in some parts of India like Uttar Pradesh and Assam actually stoked anti-Muslim fires and led to riots and wanton killings. Another possible reason for the poor performance of the Muslims in the 2014 elections has been their inability to vote en bloc and their remaining divided.
Despite the fact that BJP tried to avoid the hardline Hindutva agenda and leveraged a record ‘good governance’ in the states where they ruled to promise the same in the country, many Muslims felt insecure when during his election campaigning, Modi responded to critics accusing him of discarding secularism by asking the counter-question: “Do you want progress or secularism?” It is small wonder then that Indian Muslims feel that Narendra Modi’s agenda is to reduce the Muslim community in India to second-class citizens. PM Nawaz Sharif had promised better trade relations with India if elected. His first act after being declared the winner in the 2013 elections was to invite the Indian PM to attend the inauguration ceremony for the new government — his request was spurned. Pakistan proposed better trade relations with India but that too fell on deaf ears. It goes to Narendra Modi’s credit that he extended an invitation to all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders to witness his swearing in ceremony. Opinion in Pakistan was divided about whether Nawaz Sharif should attend but ultimately the Pakistani PM graced the occasion. It provided him the opportunity to have an exclusive tête-à-tête with his Indian counterpart. Media reports regarding the actual talks were sketchy but indicated bonhomie while the Indian side disclosed that Nawaz Sharif promoted trade relations but Modi read out the Miranda Rights to Pakistan, insisting on bringing the alleged perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks to book and reigning in Pakistani ‘terrorism’ before resumption of dialogue.
These reports and Modi’s appointment of Pakistan-bashers — ex-spook Ajit Doval as National Security Adviser and controversial former Army chief V K Singh as Minister of State for External Affairs — have done little to boost the confidence of Indian Muslims or of Pakistan. In the run up to the elections, the Indian armed forces and secret services continued tongue lashing Pakistan. The Indian Express on May 9, 2014 published a report alleging that Tamil Nadu police had arrested a Pakistani intelligence agent sent to India to collect details of Indian establishment members that Pakistani intelligence wants to target. Amir Zubair Siddiqui, Counsellor at the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, was included as second accused in the case, with the report alleging that Pakistani-backed extremists were being trained in Sri Lanka. The article further surmised that the arrest of a Pakistani spy in India and a Counsellor in Sri Lanka could trigger a diplomatic wrangle between India and Pakistan. The situation was defused by the Sri Lankan authorities but provide a glimpse of what more is in store for Pakistan and Indian Muslims under BJP rule.