HIMMAT is starting off as a blog by Rajmohan Gandhi who has written on the Indian independence movement and its leaders, South Asian history, India-Pakistan relations, human rights and conflict resolution. His latest book is Modern South India: A History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (New Delhi: Aleph, forthcoming).

India and the US, again

America’s public servants have done it again. The team of Robert Mueller, the Justice Department’s special counsel, has obtained fresh admissions of felonies from Trump’s former campaign chief, Paul Manafort, as also a courtroom commitment from him to reveal all he knows.

There is talk of Trump using the presidential power he has to pardon Manafort and thereby terminate court proceedings, which would prevent testimonies that might incriminate Trump. Any gains for Trump from such a step will be more than offset by the disgrace of a president shielding himself from legal jeopardy.

The Mueller team’s latest success confirms a remarkable truth: in America’s legal system, prosecutions rope in the most powerful. The opposite is true in India, where prosecuting agencies are currently targeting a number of prominent opposition leaders for alleged irregularities. The Indian government’s intention appears to be to immobilize and silence these leaders.

A bigger strategy, common to Trump in the US and to India’s Modi-Shah duo, is to separate those assumed to be loyal by birth from groups seen as innately unreliable, irresponsible and trouble-causing, and potentially rebellious.  

Provided they are uncontaminated by liberalism and environmentalism, whites are automatically patriotic in the US. The Hindu high-castes are inherently loyal in India. The ranks of the potentially anti-national are led by blacks and Hispanics in America, by Muslims and Dalits in India.

Tavleen Singh, a well-known Indian columnist with a Sikh background, has been a vocal and consistent Modi defender for four years. On September 13, after a visit to Bishara, a UP village about 40 miles from Delhi, where 56-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched on a late September night in 2015, Singh wrote of her shock at the complete absence of remorse over the three-year-old lynching.

All of Aklhaq’s relatives had been obliged, Tavleen Singh found, to leave Bishara, where her questions about the incident invited angry denunciations of Akhlaq and his family. 

Amit Shah, the BJP president, has indicated more than once that the main if not the sole election issue in 2019 will be the alleged infiltration of anti-Indian Muslims from Bangladesh and that detecting and deporting alleged infiltrators will be the party’s priority if it is returned to power.

If what Tavleen Singh saw and heard in Bishara is representative of most of India, the BJP may indeed win the 2019 contest by merely signalling its anti-Muslim thrust, without any serious debate on the Modi government’s performance on urban jobs, rural distress, the economy or human rights, or on India’s foreign policy.

However, the Bishara encountered by Singh may not be typical of the rest of India. Whether or not widespread, dislike of Muslims raises important considerations for India, which may be pertinent elsewhere too.

One is that hatred never remains confined. Today it is Muslims you loathe. Tomorrow you will loathe Hindus who speak a different language or belong to another caste. This is the story from history, a law of human nature.

Two, hatred is inflammable, as is counter-hatred. When nuclear weapons lie close to those encouraging hatred, indescribable horror no longer remains unimaginable. 

Three, like it or not, Hindus and Muslims are neighbours in more than India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Thanks to large numbers of Indian expatriates, Hindus and Muslims are neighbours also in the Gulf, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. Fomenting dislike of Muslims in India will not make life easier for millions of Hindus now living in Muslim-majority lands.

Four, although Trump has some rich Hindu backers, dislike of Muslims offends important sections in America, and also in Europe and Africa. In the US, dislike of Muslims is lumped together with dislike of all immigrants, including those from India. Foster Islamophobia, and you lay seeds for an anti-Indian movement in the US and elsewhere.

These are not minor practical considerations. It will be interesting to discover the degree to which they influence the policies and rhetoric of Modi, Shah and company.

Questions for Mr. Bhagwat

Cambodian polls & ASEAN’s future