While I am not in the least anti-Muslim (have a look at this book of mine), I would assert that our fellow Indian citizens who are Muslim by faith have no reason to fear Narendra Modi becoming India’s prime minister.
In the last two national elections, the BJP could not come to power, in spite of otherwise standing very good chances, not in the least because of its not reining in Hindu communal forces. In 2004, the riots in Gujarat in 2002 were fresh in Indian public memory and prevented the BJP from coming back to power, in spite of its excellent performance in terms of economic growth and road connectivity. While the rural populace may have rejected the BJP for neglecting the issue of farmers’ suicides, the aversion for the BJP in the urban and semi-urban Indian middle class definitely stemmed primarily from the Gujarat riots.
Likewise, in 2009, while the rural populace may have been very pleased with the Congress over welfare schemes, the urban populace was very disgruntled with the Congress over its inability to check terrorism, given a series of Jihadist attacks (Jihadism is not to be equated with the true Islamic concept of Jihad, which has no room for killing innocent civilians) in 2008 by the Indian Mujahidin, a home-grown terror outfit, in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi, followed by the ghastly 26/11 Mumbai attacks (which also had some degree of local Muslim involvement), which could have evoked a strong Hindu rightist sentiment; nonetheless, very many Hindus felt disgusted by BJP member Varun Gandhi’s alleged anti-Muslim hate speech, and the BJP lost the elections yet again. For those who believe in conspiracy theories about terrorist attacks, I would like to tell them that there are conspiracy theories against Muslims too, like the Kaba being a Shiv temple. Believing in something without concrete evidence just because it sounds like music to one’s ears doesn’t help solve problems. A Rajasthani Muslim friend of mine told me how some terrorists had unsuccessfully tried to recruit his father in a terror outfit. Nonetheless, even for those who believe in conspiracy theories, they too would imagine that some non-Muslims carried out the above-mentioned terrorist attacks in 2008, including the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, to generate anti-Muslim hatred among non-Muslims; nonetheless, the electorate still voted for the Congress and not the BJP, which bears testimony to the secular character of the Indian electorate.
This time around, the BJP does seem to have read the writing on the wall that communal hate-mongering doesn’t augur well for national politics, for even many Hindus find the same highly objectionable, which is why Modi has adopted a tolerant tenor , leading to his gaining more acceptability at a time when many Indians are rightfully very disgruntled with the Congress for a variety of reasons, including a slowdown in economic growth, acting in an authoritarian fashion with anti-corruption crusaders and anti-rape protesters and not being seen as tough against hostile neighbours like Pakistan and China, and to make matters worse for the Congress, their undeclared prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi gave an interview to the reputed Indian television channel Times Now, which, to put it mildly, was undoubtedly very unimpressive. With all his flaws, it has to be admitted that Modi’s track record at industrial growth has undoubtedly been very impressive, and while his development model is not inclusive enough, the Congress too has failed to protect the poor from food inflation. While there is no denying that the BJP has much to account for in terms of deepening the communal divide in India, the point is that Hindu communalism is not the primary plank on which the BJP is fighting the current elections, a few stray remarks by leaders like Giriraj Singh and Amit Shah (the latter apologized for his remarks) notwithstanding, and the BJP has not lost any time in condemning these remarks and distancing itself from them, and by the way, some Muslim politicians in India like Azam Khan and Shazia Ilmi also passed some divisive remarks during these elections. In fact, ultra-rightist Hindu leader Pramod Muthalik was expelled from the BJP.
Indeed, it has to be accepted that Modi’s track record at industrial growth has undeniably been very remarkable, and while his development model may not cater to the economically weaker sections as much as it should, as many of his critics point out, the Congress too has failed to protect the poor from food inflation. Modi’s adopting a tolerant tenor in the context of religion, coupled with his charisma and better perception management than many of his opponents, won him a huge fan following, also including some Muslims, even those from Gujarat. The victory of a Hindu candidate from the BJP in Aligarh proves this.
Speaking of other alternatives, many Indians saw a coalition of regional parties as potentially very unstable given the past record, and a newly emerged political party, the AAP, as unlikely to get a requisite number of seats to form a national government, other than being perceived as not being experienced enough, besides many people being disappointed with them for resigning from the Delhi government after just 49 days. The average voter cannot be expected to only keep in mind what happened twelve years ago, in 2002, and simply turn a blind eye to all ongoing events in the tenure of the then ruling government (2009-2014). Indeed, a Hindu rightist agenda is certainly not the plank on which the Modi-led BJP fought these elections in 2014. A sensitive issue like constructing the Ram temple at Ayodhya has been put on the back-burner by the BJP, and has sought to be resolved by constitutional methods. Yes, Modi did talk of a uniform civil code, but that is a secular demand. Secularism is about separating the religion and state, and just as we have a uniform criminal law, tort law and contract law, we ought to have a uniform family law cutting across religious lines in conformity with international human rights law. Our secular constitution mentions having a uniform civil code as a directive under Article 44, and most developed countries of the West indeed have a uniform family law, while allowing everyone to practise their religion in the personal sphere. Likewise, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, though a contentious issue, cannot be said to be a communal demand, given that it was initially meant as a temporary measure, given that it is titled ‘Temporary provisions with respect to the State of Jammu and Kashmir’ with ‘temporary’ in its name. Nor does Modi talking of putting a stop to the entry of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, but allowing Bangladeshi Hindus, many of whom are genuine refugees, amount to being communal.
So, what are the steps Modi has taken to demonstrate his commitment to religious pluralism? He, in a speech, asserted that his “idea of India” is “Ahinsa Parmo Dharma” (non-violence is the highest virtue) and “Sarva Dharma Sambhava” (coexistence of all religions). He has expressed pride in the fact that very many Muslims from Gujarat have managed to avail of the Haj subsidy, asserting that secularism is an article of faith for him. In another interview, Modi clearly stated that he does not want to talk in terms of Hindus or Muslims but only wishes to talk in terms of Indians. In an election rally in Patna, he appealed to Hindus and Muslims to fight poverty together rather than fight with each other. He organized the ‘sadbhavana’ fast for communal harmony in 2011. That Modi takes such steps to fulfill his prime ministerial ambitions (though whether or not he becomes prime minister remains to be seen) in itself bears testimony to Indian secularism. Refusing to wear a skull cap, as Modi did, does not amount to communalism; it is indeed a personal choice and most Muslims would also not be comfortable sporting a ’tilak’ on their foreheads.
Thus, it would be totally wrong to ascribe Modi’s popularity among the urban educated Hindu youth to Hindu communalism, and in fact, other than industrial growth, Modi has emerged as an acceptable face also because there were no major riots in Gujarat after 2002 and Modi has, by way of various gestures, demonstrated a commitment to religious pluralism, as has been discussed above. Spare a thought for the university graduate finding it difficult to get a job owing to the UPA’s mismanagement and a businessman stifled by what has been called a “policy paralysis”.
The basic premise on which Modi has come to power is economic development, and religion-based violence would be counterproductive in that regard. Besides, after 2002, Gujarat under Modi did not see any major riot, and given Modi’s demonstrating commitment to India’s religious pluralism, Indian Muslims have little to fear.
I noticed a write-up by a Pakistani, in which she said that Indians voting for Modi implies that they wish to promote a puritan Hindu conception of India, free from Islamic cultural influences. Let me inform her and others like her that the historical sites of the Sultanate and Mughal periods in India will stay intact, Urdu will still remain one of India’s 22 official languages, Hindus who visited and prayed in durgahs will continue to do so with reverence, and mushayras, ghazal concerts and qavvalis will continue in India with active Hindu participation. In fact, interestingly, the BJP manifesto for these elections promised equal opportunities to the religious minorities, promotion of Urdu and preventing illegal encroachments into waqf property!
This, however, is not to suggest that there will be absolutely no hate crimes in any part of India. Almost every pluralistic nation-state in the world has seen hate crimes to varying degrees, Pakistan being no exception, with frequent Shi’ite-Sunni clashes, Sindhi-Mohajir violence, attacks on Ahmedias and non-Muslims and the ultra-theocratic TTP bombing innocent civilians (including polio workers) taking place frequently (and contrary to what many people suggest, I fail to understand how and why securing the life and property of religious minorities is linked to secularism, as though theocratic states are not obliged to do the same, which would erroneously suggest that the state religions in theocracies permit violence against innocent people following other religions). India does see some minor riots in different pockets from time to time every year in which put together, casualties include both Hindus and Muslims, but what is important is that the victims should get justice, and indeed, as mentioned earlier, hundreds have been convicted in the context of the riots in Gujarat in 2002 and even in the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, including police personnel for dereliction of duty. Even in the recent unfortunate incident of a Muslim techie killed in the city of Pune in the province of Maharashtra, more than half a score of Hindus have been arrested by the police, and going by the Indian constitution, except in times of declaration of emergency, law and order falls within the domain of the provincial government, and Maharashtra is currently governed by a coalition of the Indian National Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, which are in opposition to Modi’s BJP; so, Modi cannot be blamed for this unfortunate incident. In fact, as mentioned earlier, Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, had ensured that no major riot took place in Gujarat after 2002.