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).

A New Line?

Mr. Modi’s unwillingness to face questions from the press invites speculation about his second-term intentions. Observers must read meanings from his public speeches as also from utterances by BJP MPs.

Many were delighted when Gautam Gambhir, the former Test cricketer who joined the BJP and won from East Delhi, denounced those who on May 25 roughed up a 25-year-old Muslim in Gurgaon (recently renamed as Gurugram) for wearing a skull-cap and refusing to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. ‘We are a secular nation,’ said the new MP, while demanding ‘exemplary action’ against the culprits.

Others, however, were not happy. Anupam Kher, well-known actor and vociferous Modi loyalist, cautioned Gambhir against falling into the ‘trap of getting popular with a section of the media’. 

Mr. Kher’s revelation that a section of the Indian media still existed that wished to praise secularists was a pleasant surprise.  

Even more interesting, however, wasa statement by Manoj Tiwari, the Delhi BJP chief who was re-elected to the Lok Sabha from North-East Delhi. A popular singer-actor as well as a politician, Mr. Tiwari declared that Gambhir has ‘not done anything wrong’.

‘He has condemned a tragic incident as a pure-hearted, empathetic person. Not just this incident in Gurugram, any such incident anywhere across the world needs to be condemned in clear terms, just like he has done,’ Mr. Tiwari told The Hindu.

Have men like Tiwari and Gambhir suddenly found a frankness that was missing from BJP personalities for the last five years? Or are they speaking to a new line?

I certainly don’t know, but the statements are welcome anyhow. With luck, such statements may encourage policemen in India to act against attacks on the innocent, even when the victim is vulnerable. Even if he or she is a Muslim, Christian, Dalit or Adivasi.

Was a suggestion of ‘a new line’ conveyed by Mr. Modi’s speech on the night of May 25 to newly-elected MPs belonging to the NDA? Though Mr. Modi does not need coalition partners to rule (there are 303 BJP MPs in a house of 543), on May 25 he was not only respectful towards allies, he tried to enlist new ones.

Ishtiaq Ahmed, a Pakistani-origin political analyst and historian living in Sweden, has on occasion appeared on this blog. He was impressed by Modi’s speech of May 25. In a Pakistani newspaper, Ishtiaq Ahmed writes:

Narendra Modi made a marathon speech in which his rhetorical skills and competence was at its best. In a most dramatic and unexpected manner, in complete break with the RSS approach on history, he talked about all Indian communities having participated in the 1857 uprising as patriots against the British. That was a reference to the Muslims being equal partners in that struggle and then he referred to the Quit India movement as well. In the light of that legacy he pledged that his new five-year term would revive that tradition of bringing all Indians in one-fold. He invoked the contribution of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar in fine words of praise and graciously mentioned Nehru though just in passing in one sentence. 

Sitting in Stockholm, I listened to Modi with great interest. He no doubt is a damn good speaker with a charisma which is irresistible.

Does Mr. Modi want to show a new face? Has he realized that he must persuade at least a decent portion of India’s 180 million Muslims? Does he want Muslim votes in coming state assembly elections, including in West Bengal?

It will take MUCH more than one speech from him. Modi will have to explain why he and Amit Shah, the BJP president, gave party tickets in the latest election to a dozen or more individuals who have spoken of Muslims in brutally offensive terms. And why a ticket was given to Pragya Thakur, the woman who has been charged with terrorism, who has boasted that on December 6, 1992 she was atop the Babri Masjid, assisting with its demolition, and who hails Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin as a patriot.

Modi will have to explain his silence when Amit Shah said in the recent campaign that Muslim migrants from Bangladesh or Myanmar were ‘termites’ and that all immigrants would be expelled except those who were Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh.

And he will have to explain why only two days before his May 25 speech, once the results were out, he attacked India’s secularists as deceivers exposed by the results.

In theory, and at times in practice, a victory, a defeat, a change in the national or global scene, or one’s reading of such a scene, can alter an individual’s stance. Or even his or her mind. If such a change occurs in Mr. Modi, a great many would be both astonished and relieved.

In the absence of credible evidence of change, however, many will continue to oppose him, even while welcoming statements, whether from him or others in the establishment, that afford even a faint hope of succour to victims of intimidation.

For a penetrating discussion of trust and fear and for another take on Modi’s May 25 speech, this article inThe Wire by Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee should be read: https://thewire.in/communalism/narendra-modi-hindutva-muslim-trust

What next in India?

The Indignant State