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There is solace for India’s Muslims as Hindutva forces suffer election setback

June 6, 2024 at 1:04 pm

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) is being garlanded by senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Rajnath Singh (L), party President JP Nadda (R) at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India on 4 June, 2024 [Imtiyaz Khan/Anadolu Agency]

While Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist allies have retained power in India’s general election, the strong showing by opposition parties will provide some degree of solace to the country’s large Muslim minority, which has faced decades of discrimination exacerbated under the Hindutva regime.

Official results from the Election Commission of India confirmed that Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which includes his right-wing Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won 294 seats, more than the 272 seats needed to secure a majority, but fewer than expected. For the first time since the BJP swept to power in 2014, it did not secure a majority on its own, winning 240 seats, far fewer than the record 303 it won in the 2019 election. The Congress Party-led opposition INDIA alliance, which has the full backing of Muslims, garnered 223 seats.

This suggests that Modi must rely on the support of his coalition partners, including the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in southern Andhra Pradesh state with 16 seats, and Janata Dal (United), which won 12 seats in eastern Bihar state, as well as smaller groups.

This is a stunning setback for the 73-year-old leader, who had anticipated a landslide victory.

During the election campaign, Modi predicted that his party would likely win 370 seats and cross the 400 mark with the support of his allies.

Throughout his last two terms as prime minister, Modi sought to change the secular fabric of India into a fascist Hindu nation, and yet India is a multi-religious country and is regarded as the largest secular democracy in the world. In order to stress the principle of secularism, India incorporated the word “secular” in the preamble of its constitution through the 42nd Amendment dated 18 December, 1976.

It stated clearly that all religions represented in the country — whether Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism or Buddhism — are respected equally. It also said that there is no state religion in India.

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However, India’s reputation as the world’s largest democracy and a country that upholds secular values has been eroded ever since the right-wing BJP swept into power in 2014. Several moves by the BJP government under Modi were clearly designed to change the secular and democratic nature of India into that of a purely right-wing Hindu nation. After the BJP received an even bigger mandate in 2019, its Hindutva agenda became even more visible. Moreover, a number of groups affiliated to the ruling party have started to threaten India’s Muslims and their institutions.

Communal hatred at its peak

During the election campaign, Modi employed anti-Muslim rhetoric in his speeches all over the country. No prime minister in India’s history has thus lowered the dignity of his office as much as Modi.

Seeking a third consecutive term in office, Modi first referred to Muslims as “infiltrators” who would take India’s wealth if his opponents gained power. He also spoke about people who have more children. This, again, was a trope trying to raise fears of demographic change in India, a stereotype that Muslims have more children than Hindus, and that this is part of their way of eroding the Hindu majority in the country.

His speeches were consistent with the way that Modi has campaigned over more than two decades, including in the western state of Gujarat, where he was chief minister from 2001 to 2014.

In another anti-Muslim tirade, Modi said that he would not allow positive discrimination — “reservations” — for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (OBC) to be given to the Muslims as long as he is alive. Speaking at election rallies in the southern state of Telangana and western state of Maharashtra, he accused the Congress Party of trying to create reservations for Muslims in government jobs and education by snatching away the rights of the marginalised sections of society. “As long as I am alive, I will not let reservations of Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs to be given to Muslims on the basis of religion,” he said in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar.

However, the Muslim community has been entitled to reservations under the OBC category in 14 Indian states and Union territories. Moreover, the seven-member High Level Committee chaired by Justice Rajindar Sachar which was constituted to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India, concluded that the conditions facing Indian Muslims is below that of scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Modi also claimed that the opposition Congress Party would confiscate the gold and jewellery of Hindu women and that its election manifesto calls for the distribution of the confiscated wealth to Muslims. The reality is that the Congress manifesto does not make any reference to Muslims or any other religious group.

Following that speech, the Congress Party and more than 17,000 people signed a petition to the Election Commission of India demanding action against Modi for hate speech against Muslims and for violating the commission’s moral code of conduct. That code prohibits politicians from engaging in any activity that may promote religious hatred: “There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, Churches, Temples or other places of worship shall not be used as a forum for election propaganda.”

Instagram removed Modi’s hate speech, but the Election Commission kept quiet.

Modi is a disciple of RSS

For those who have followed India’s politics and general elections over the past decade, Modi’s abuse of Muslims won’t be a surprise. He is a disciple of the militant Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) organisation. In his book We, or Our Nationhood Defined, published in 1936, M.S. Golwalker, the second and longest serving chief of RSS, wrote: “Foreign races must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights.”

About Muslims, he said: “It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they [Muslims] have turned patriots overnight after the creation of Pakistan. On the contrary, the Muslim menace has increased a hundred-fold by the creation of Pakistan which has become a springboard for all their future aggressive designs on our country.” In another book, Bunch of Thoughts, he called Muslims the enemy.

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It is no surprise that the far-right Hindutva outfit is still brandishing hatred against Muslims and questioning their loyalty to India. According to RSS national executive committee member Ram Madhav, the three Islamic conceptskafir (unbeliever), ummah (a supra-national community tied by religion) and jihad (“struggle”, often used in the sense of “holy war”) — are hindering the “assimilation of Muslims into Indian society at large”.

“Once Indian Muslims ‘accept’ that their roots predate the Islamic invasions of the country and forsake the ‘iconoclastic’ mediaeval history of Islam, Hindus will also stop talking about the ‘destruction’ that happened hundreds of years ago,” said Madhav.

The RSS official’s deep-rooted Islamophobia is evident.

Distorting history, Madhav called Muslims invaders and iconoclasts who attacked not only Hindus, but also Christians in Europe and Jews in Israel. In an interview with an Indian news portal, he said: “Islam came through invaders. Iconoclasm was an integral part of mediaeval Islam. They not only did that with the Hindus in India, but also with the Christians in Europe and with the Jews in Israel. The forefathers of Indian Muslims were probably not even Muslims. They might have converted later, but that part of Islamic history remained like an albatross around their neck. Indian Muslims need to understand that they don’t need to carry [this history].”

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said that his organisation regards the whole 1.4 billion population of India as Hindu society. “Irrespective of religion and culture, people who have the nationalistic spirit and respect the culture of Bharat and its heritage are Hindus,” he said in one speech.

Demonisation of Muslims

Overwhelming evidence of the direct involvement of Modi as the chief minister of Gujarat state in the anti-Muslim pogrom of February 2002 were revealed in Operation Kalank, conducted by Tehelka online portal, which was made public in October 2007. A BBC documentaryIndia: The Modi Question — accused him of being directly responsible for the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat. More than 2,000 Muslims were killed.

Even though he was accused of failing to stop the rioting, Modi was exonerated in 2012 following an inquiry by India’s top court. Another petition questioning his exoneration was dismissed last year.

Around 14 per cent of India’s 1.35 billion people are Muslims. They feel more marginalised than ever under Modi’s government. The laws introduced by the federal and many state governments controlled by Modi’s party, and some of the verdicts announced by the courts, are direct attacks on the personal laws that allow marriage, divorce and inheritance according to the terms of the Islamic Shariah.

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The latest election results indicate that Modi’s Hindutva forces cannot have a free hand in pursuing their anti-Muslim agenda, including the Uniform Civil Code. With his party lacking a majority, he must contend with a strong opposition in parliament, and will have to gain the trust and confidence of his allies before making crucial decisions. This might compel him to proceed with a more cautious and consultative approach to his decision-making. He also has to put his anti-Muslim agenda on the back burner.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.