Tribalism or racialism is the barely concealed impulse behind ‘Let’s take our country back,’ a slogan that seems in recent times to have worked politically in more than one or two countries.
Take it back from whom? The answer, again barely concealed but seldom directly spelt out: a minority or a group of minorities, racial or religious.
In India, the Modi-Shah duo leading the BJP have sent repeated signals that Hindu voters, who comprise a huge majority nationally, should put aside their disappointments with the government, and their differences with one another, to foil the ‘anti-Indian’ designs of Muslims, opposition parties and Pakistanis, who are all lumped together in the signals.
Comprising fourteen-and-a-half percent of the Indian population, Muslims make up 20 to 30 percent of voters in some constituencies, and 2 to 8 percent in many others.
The Feb 14 terror attack by a suicide-bomber that killed 40 Indian soldiers in Pulwama in Kashmir seems to have become a game-changer. Triggering an Indian air-strike on a perceived terrorist training camp in Balakot in Pakistani territory, and aerial clashes between fighter-planes of India and Pakistan, it simplified the BJP’s task.
After Pulwama and Balakot, it has become possible to collapse Muslims, Kashmiris, Pakistanis and opposition parties into a single picture called ‘the enemy’.
On March 29, Amit Shah opened his West Bengal election campaign in Alipurdwar by (a) linking the BJP’s biggest obstacle in the state, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, to Muslims and ‘infiltrators’, (b) promising that the BJP was ‘committed toprotecting the interest of Hindu refugees through the Citizenship Amendment Bill,’ and (c) adding:
‘We will bring the National Register of Citizens and oust every infiltrator from the State. I want to assure all the refugees that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is our commitment and Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh refugees will not be required to leave the country. They can live here with respect.’
Amit Shah’s plain pledge that non-Muslims from other lands will be welcomed but Muslim ‘infiltrators’ ousted may have been unconstitutional, but niceties don’t matter when polarization is the aim.
Lashing out at the Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in New Delhi on March 31 that ‘there were people who were supporting the Pakistan narrative in their effort to attack him.’ After claiming (will many believe him?) that ‘elections aren’t a priority for me, the country is,’ Modi added: ‘The sad part is, people who are against Modi are supporting the Pakistan narrative in their effort to speak against me.’
Opposing Modi equals supporting Pakistan!
Meanwhile Arun Jaitley, finance minister and loyal Modi-Shah supporter, has in his latest blog (March 28) asked, in respect of Kashmir, for ‘out of box thinking which is in consonance with ground reality’. Somewhat mysteriously, he has added that ‘the present government has decided that the rule of law in the interest of the people of Kashmir valley and the larger interest of India must equally apply to Jammu & Kashmir.’
The BJP has for long questioned Kashmir’s ‘special status’, but Jaitley’s latest remarks seem to hint that major steps (demographic? constitutional?) may be in the offing. Mehbooba Mufti, until recently Kashmir’s chief minister and someone with whom the BJP had an alliance, has reacted with great concern.
‘Because if you have given us a special position in the Constitution of India and you break that position, then we will have to rethink whether we would even want to stay with you without conditions,’ she said.
Other states like Arunachal Pradesh in the Northeast also enjoy a ‘special status’ in relation to New Delhi, but elements in the BJP have always had problems with Kashmir’s Muslim majority. Now they seem ready to toughen their policy vis-a-vis the troubled state. Any Indian opposition parties objecting to a new hard line on Kashmir would be subjected to fresh charges of being pro-Pakistan.
A day after his Kashmir blog, Arun Jaitley referred to the recent acquittal of all the accused in the trial over the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast that killed 70 persons, most of them Pakistani civilians. The accused were allegedly tied to Hindu extremist groups.
Jaitley said that ‘the Congress termed the Samjhauta Express blast as a terror act to defame the Hindu society.’ Pointing out that the court judgement stated that no evidence was provided, Jaitley added that ‘the Congress coined the phrase “Hindu terror” and filed cases based on fake evidence to create this theory.’
Was that 2007 blast not a terror act? One relative of the killed reacted to the wholesale acquittal by saying that although 70 were killed, it seems that no one killed them; they just died.
If the reputation of Hindu society has taken a hit in recent years, it is not because cases were instituted in 2007 following a horrific blast and resultant killings. It has taken a hit because, among other things, political leaders in India have hesitated to condemn the lynching of Muslims. And because they have been half-hearted in pursuing cases where the victims are Muslims.
The reputation of Hindu society and of India as a nation is in part in the hands of the Indian voter. For the rest, that reputation is in the hands of individual Hindus and other Indians who have to decide whether India belongs to all its residents, no matter their religion, caste or income-level, or to a handful claiming the right to direct the nation’s thinking along rigid lines.
As in some other parts of the world, the battle in India is likely to be hard. And it won’t be short.