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In Modi’s AMU pitch to Muslims, retreat from party politics hurting foreign policy interests

Modi’s AMU address after Shah’s CAA remarks suggests govt has realised downside — for international relations, and internal security — of pushing too hard on politics of Muslim exclusion.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose the last full week in 2020 to launch some important outreach to two sets of angry constituents: Muslims and the farmers.

It is his first outreach, to India’s alienated Muslim minority, that we are more interested in. First, because, as in 2019, he concluded the year with a pitch to India’s Muslims. Second, because, somewhat serendipitously, he chose 22 December to do so. Remember, last year, he had similarly spoken at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan when the anti-CAA agitation was at its peak. Third, because his tone and political proposition to Muslims again seemed contrary to his party’s politics and actions. And fourth, because it followed a very significant statement by his home minister, and deputy any which way, Amit Shah, who stated clearly during his West Bengal visit that the process of implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act has been put off for the time being.

The deadline for framing rules under the new law is long over and now the government will have to go back to a Parliamentary committee for a third extension. How could we implement the law when the pandemic is raging, Shah said, adding that it’s better to wait until the vaccination process starts.

We will risk inferring from this that the government has realised the downside — for international relations, and even internal security of pushing too hard with this strategy. Because, whatever the arguments on either side, it is seen internationally, and by a critical mass of people at home, as a policy of Muslim exclusion.

The prime minister’s choice of Aligarh Muslim University’s annual day for making this outreach was significant. Earlier this year, the same university was caught in a maelstrom of protests, police high-handedness and calumny. Now, Modi has described it as “mini India” and asked its students and faculty to present a good and fair picture of the country to the world.

The reference was obviously to the many foreign students who routinely come to study at AMU. At this point, the number, ThePrint reporter Fatima Khan tells me, is about 615 in a total of 22,000, besides the NRIs. The larger contingents come from Afghanistan (42), Bangladesh (68), Indonesia (66), Jordan (49), Nepal (20), Palestine (13), Iran (15), Thailand (117), Turkmenistan (21), Yemen (151), and Iraq (29).

There are smaller contingents even from the US, Mauritius, New Zealand and Nigeria. Each is a friendly country and of vital national strategic interest. 

Just for the record, AMU also has a Pakistani woman student, in the dentistry college. The impressions these students take back of India are mostly formed on the AMU campus.

For the past year, that impression has been overwhelmingly negative. And young, aware Indian Muslims, who constitute a majority of its students and faculty, have had reasons to feel angry and alienated.

Also read: Modi is reaching out. AMU has a chance to take Muslims away from path of confrontation

Yet, why should Modi bother? Muslims do not vote for him. If anything, the coming elections in West Bengal and Assam will bring back the need for polarisation, the tip of the BJP’s electoral spear.

The BJP under him and Amit Shah has done an incredible electoral job of collecting votes in a narrower catchment, excluding the minorities. They’ve made the Muslim vote irrelevant in the big picture. Why should they then bother to reach out to them now? Angry, frustrated, alienated and isolated Muslims may indeed cheer their base.

We have to go back exactly by a year, to 22 December 2019, and Modi’s speech at the Ramlila Maidan, for a clue. In that speech, he took appreciative note of the fact that Muslim protesters were using the Tricolour and the Constitution, and then qualified it by suggesting that they should, at the same time, be speaking against terrorism. That is the usual BJP/RSS Tebbit test for India’s minorities. For those of younger generations or not interested in cricket, this refers to British Conservative politician Norman Tebbit, who, infamously, put British citizens from the cricket-playing former colonies to the test of whether they supported England or their native countries’ teams in a Test match.

But Modi got off that kerb quickly, kept his tone friendly and benign, asserted that none of his welfare policies discriminated against minorities. Which, to be fair, is correct. Then, he topped that cake with icing of his choice: By listing all the prestigious national honours and awards he had been honoured with by important Muslim countries. That is what we see as a possible clue to his thinking.

Everybody likes awards, honours and adulation. Yet, whatever these mean to Modi personally, more important is that this was part of his very significant reaching out to Muslim, especially Arab, countries. This was a deft outflanking of Pakistan to its West. What he tried to the East, with Xi Jinping, failed.

Now, if the move with China failed — and at this point we have troops eyeball-to-eyeball and Pakistan has more or less ‘progressed’ to becoming a Chinese client state or protectorate — it is because Xi Jinping saw more value in that. The ploy with the Arab world, meanwhile, has worked so far. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Pakistan’s closest friends, patrons and moneybags, have drifted far away. So far, that Saudis are demanding their loans back, China plays the white knight to rescue Pakistan, and the UAE has stopped issuing visas to Pakistani workers.

Also read: A government of the 38% people, by 38% of the people, for 38% of the people

This is not a gain Modi wants to squander, particularly with a rapidly changing global environment. There has probably been a sizeable pushback from the friendly sections of the Islamic world on this.

How do they continue backing India against Pakistan, if the BJP’s politics moves on the pivot of polarisation? This, while they also deal with many fissures and challenges within the Ummah, with both Iran and Turkey jostling for influence, and US ‘persuasion’ at the same time to normalise relations with Israel. At a time when even Malaysia and Pakistan seem to be warming up to Israel, the last thing India needs is to put its Arab friends in a spot.

The world has also changed because Trump is going and Biden will be in the White House in three weeks. He’s committed to re-engaging with Iran, and that will open other possibilities in the Islamic world, east of the Persian Gulf as well. Although not nasty like Erdogan or Mahathir, Iran’s Khamenei has also lately been critical of India’s treatment of its Muslims. And Iran is a friendly country with many shared economic and strategic interests.

Closer home, it is Bangladesh. In the run-up to the AMU speech was the summit between Modi and Sheikh Hasina Wajed. The effort to repair India’s most important strategic relationship in the neighbourhood after damage done by the CAA-NRC rhetoric — the talk of throwing the “termites” into the Bay of Bengal — was evident. Now, India was offering everything, from onions to vaccines. Both the Chinese and the Pakistanis are exploring the space created by the anti-Bangladeshi (Muslim) rhetoric in India.

More than a change of heart, we are probably seeing a shift in tactics, for a time when the global picture is changing, and India’s own cache value has diminished with its economic growth. The downside of letting internal political actions play havoc with larger strategic interest and foreign relations is stark. This is just when India’s vulnerabilities have risen as a frontline state against China, and the need for allies is greater than in five decades.

Also read: If Modi really sees India as a democracy, then he must stop the labelling exercise


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  1. “Ms Nidhi Razdan – now at Harvard”

    Heh heh heh. ROFLMAO. This is just too funny. Victim of “sophisticated phishing attack”. No teaching offer from Harvard. And this pompous hack fell for it.

  2. While it is a good attempt to decipher on why the reach out now, don’t think the guess work is not convincing. Keep trying, Someday BJP needs oto reach out to the progressive Muslims who are communal, as Muslims are integral part of India.

  3. In short Shekhar is saying “be scared of muslims and go back to muslim appeasement mode”. Indic religions around the world have similar population as Muslim population. Muslim nations are divided. If those muslim naitons raise questions about Indian muslims, India can counter it by question them HOW ABDLY those naitons treat other MUSLISM sects, other minority muslims tribes, and especially bigoted treatment and constitutional discrimination of nonmuslims in those natuons. It is high time India creates a ORGANISATION OF DHARMA NATIONS similar to what OIC Org of islamic Cooperatiion. Dharma nation should have charter that they will declare DHARMA religion as state religion, each one will become HINDU or BUDDHIST RASHTRA with state religion wher enondharma will not be allowed to convert Dharma people and penalty for that wiuld be blasphemy and death.. basically implement similar laws in favor of Dharma religions which islamic nations have it. Why fear islamic nations all of which are weaker than India even if they all unite. Time for India to lead Dharma natoons and unite them and have own pressure block in the multipolar world and exploit sectarian and geopolitical fissures in islamic world. One wy to keep islam in check is to keep islmic naitons on boil, let them destroy eahc other, sell arms to them, let evil finish evil off, this is what Russia on one side and USA+NATO are doing it so well in a coordinated smart way. hahaha

    Totally nonsensical rgument from Shekhar.

  4. This is an intersting article. The bottom line is the BJP election strategy is based on whipping up anti muslim hatred. We have seen innocent people brutally attacked and even murdered because they are simply muslim.
    In this so called democracy, consenting adults have to get permission if they intend to marry and both are of different faiths. This is just restricted to a Muslim man marrying a Hindu woman and not the other way round or not the case if if involves any other religions. The world is laughing. But on a serious note, it’s a slap in the face of democracy.
    There are fantatical goons like the typical BJP zealot in Pakistan too, thankfully the majority of the population rejects them. In cases when a muslim man has kidnapped or tried to forcibly marry a Hindu or Sikh woman, thankfully the authorities have been quick to react and condemnation has come from all sides of the political, social and relgious spectrum.
    In fact for those Indians who believe Pakistanis are out to kill all Hindus or forcibly convert them I invite my neighbours to provide me with statistics on how many Hindus/Sikhs have been forcibly converted or worse – klled and then compare the number of muslims killed or attacked in India. I can assure you that you will be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, the Godi media has plunged the minds of many into darkness and the level of hate we see from across the border is unbelievable – please watch the many youTube videos of Sikhs and Hindus visiting Pakistan wherein they testify to their treatment.
    Wake up from your ignorance.

  5. Religious freedom – which country gives it to radicals of any religion. SG can enlighten us upon it. China, France, UAE, Europe – there is no place for radicals anywhere.
    BJP should not appease radicals of any community. MSM and SG should focus on issues based by all communities due to radicals of other communities.
    MSM and SG is in bed with radicals of Islam and communism – have never seen any reporting and narrative building as seen against Modi by these people against misdeeds of radicals and political violence.

    I have no choice but agree with comments of readers of the author being presstitute in the garb of being journalist.

  6. This is a very good article by the eminent editor Mr Shekhar Gupta where he noted the significance of Modi’s outreach to Muslims in AMU. However I don’t agree to his final conclusion that it is probably a shift in tactics rather than a change of heart. I feel it’s a very pragmatic step. Lots of Indian liberals would like to put Modi in the hardline category, but the fact remains that his actions are always pragmatist, always realistic. He is strict, very strict, ready to face dire consequences, but he never hardline stance on other cultures. He has been to all the so called hardline countries like Saudi Arabia, China, etc. when he was CM, if that’s beneficial for India. The other notable thing which very few notice is that his strict stance is mostly against the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent or South Asia, but never towards Muslims of other countries. The impact of partition was too horrendous to ignore and before 2015-2020 India was always looking at Muslims all over the world through the lens of Pakistan. In fact Pakistan does think of itself as the leader of the Muslim world. But the reality is Muslims outside South Asia never gave a damn about Muslims of South Asia, even less so about Pakistani Muslims. Why is Modi seem antagonist to Muslims of South Asia in particular? My take is that Modi’s actions are mostly a reactionary one considering the way lots of Muslims of South Asia followed the ideology of a “pure” or “Pak” Muslim country, and that concept gave birth to Pakistan. But it is noticeable that many Muslims in India didn’t choose to go to Pakistan, and many people who went there were not given proper citizenship, otherwise there wouldn’t have been Mohazir movement; after liberation of Bangladesh there hardly remains 30-40% of Muslims of South Asia in Pakistan which means more than 60% Muslims of South Asia have rejected that “Pak” ideology of Pakistan. Today the way Ahmadiya people, the shia sect people are treated in Pakistan, it is easy to point out where Pakistan is heading. Now most of the Indian Muslims have left that dream about this concept or ideology of Pakistan, and Modi does understand that. So it is a time of reconciliation, a time of progressive ideology.

  7. Mr. Shekar Gupta is yet to get over his hangover of his secularism days, notwithstanding the claims of unhyphenated journalism. Ever since the reversal of Shah Bano judgment by Rajiv Gandhi’s government, through Hindu genocide in Kashmir, terrorism inspired by Islam in Kashmir, Indian Muslims have maintaied thundering silence. As the Sanskrit proverb goes “Mounam sammati lakshanam” – Silence is the mark of consent. As a matter of fact, the Policies followed by Modi either as Gujarat CM or India’s PM have not been discriminatory against Muslims. If they are looked with suspicion by some Hindus, it is because of their silent apparent approval of Islamic extremism.

  8. Clueless write-up. More a reflection of the author’s pious hopes and ideological predilections then a representative of facts. Much of what is written about both the domestic and the international scenario is without evidence and mostly guesswork. This has been written by the chief editor of this online portal and is truly disappointing. If paid subscribers are expected one expects better.

  9. Heh heh heh. Typical Lutyens presstitute trope. Guptaji flailing — can’t tear out his hair in frustration since there are hardly any left!
    Economy rebounding, covid under control, major nations aligned with India, farmers too rethinking their maximalist negotiating folly….and election appeal intact.

    Where do I hit Modi?

    Tip for Shekhar Gupta: bend slowly, spread your legs, lower your head in between — and keep it there!! You might get some real ideas for your next rant.

  10. Shekarji why media like yours and many others are not asking. Why not reach out instead of reaching out after inflicting damage. Every act of BJP government under Modi is to first create controversy and divide, then organise big Outreach campaign. Muslim are fully alienated, what is the use of this lip service

  11. You seem to be seeing the speech of PM Modi to the students as an outreach to them seeing the impact of all that has happened over the last six years plus, more so in last two years.

    I am not sure one can look at this event in isolation! Looking at the Anti-conversion laws in UP and MP and other BJP ruled states are also aping along, how this speech could be seen while ignoring all that’s going around!

    The Govt in UP under Adityanath, AMU is located in this state only, is most rabid in the rhetorics against Muslims and even its actions over the four years have placed anyone from the minority community; Govt went after the Paed from Gorakhpur with the heaviest hand and continues to do so despite the Allahabad High Court’s chiding.

    And, it’s surprising that you see one speech as a course correction on the part of Modi; if it was so, Amit Shah, Aditynath, and Chauhan would have begun to sing a different tune at least!

  12. Amazingly coordinated effort by “liberal” sold out media, anti-India forces, Khalistanis, Islamists and the pro-China lobby. The on-ground muscle & manpower is provided by the Congress. Now they are throwing everything they can at the PM accusations of being anti-Muslim, anti- farmer & anti-democracy.

    And….. they will all fail.

  13. So of Modi doesn’t talk to Muslims he is being communal, if he does talk then it’s a retreat, a defeat for his agenda.

    That’s the reason Modi doesn’t give interview to the Lutyens media, they are just paid foot soldiers of the perennial critics and the political opposition.

    CAA-NRC is a reality, live with it, they are not going anywhere just coz some Jihadis and leftists are against it. Modi got people’s mandate for these very issues.

  14. India’s global aura and stature have dimmed in the last few years. For reasons that traverse beyond being the 52nd fastest growing economy in the world. If a course correction is taking place, it is long overdue. Our diplomats should have flagged the dangers of this drift long ago. It hurts us both in the Islamic world and the West. Security professionals should also sensitise the political executive to the very real risk of radicalisation. To say that communal disharmony alone is responsible for the chaos in the economy would be to overstate the case. However, it is not helping. A society that is losing its moral compass. When the plight and suffering of one large group of fellow citizens no longer move us, we will become equally callous to others in distress. The trauma of the Indians who walked home in the early stages of the pandemic has not been seen anywhere else in the world.

  15. i genuinely feel modi wants to build a strong india which is not possible without full fledged support of the muslims in india.
    but it is high time for the muslim intellectuals to respond. we are better off if they could avoid hyperboles.
    in this regard the print can contribute by avoiding hysterical articles like that of ms.zainab sikander trying to incite sikhs or the mindless article like “a govt. of 38% bla bla bla” by an obsessed author.

  16. He is making the same mistake what Atal, Indira did. Someone who doesn’t want to even remove Jinnah photo is being called Mini India.
    What they need to understand is that they are the beneficiary of Hindus frustration and not the other way round. If they fail this vote bank will shift to Yogi

  17. Excellent one sided soft anti HINDU rhetoric SHEKHARJI.

    Doesn’t explain why the same complaining is popular whereever a particular community resides as a MINORITY in the whole WORLD.

    HINDUS and SIKHS and Christian from the subcontinent are also settled all over the world.


    IF you are continually praying, and are not going to accept democracy and modern scientific education as it exists in 2020 .


  18. The author is dead right when he says that the recent BJP leadership moves on minorities are tactical and do not reflect and change in basic attitude.. It’s a matter of biding one’s time.

  19. If Modi really wants to be seen Muslim friendly, what stops him from checking characters like Yogi Adityanath who has unleashed his police on Muslim youths by his Love Jihad ordinance? Now so many BJP chief ministers want to enact similar laws. Is Modi helpless to stop this madness, or he doesn’t want to? Let men like Yogi continue targetting Muslims, while Modi makes the right noises to appear reasonable and also impress the gullible.

  20. As usual, Shekhar is playing to all the galleries. While the term termite did have negative effect in Bangla Desh, it was not meant for them but for illegal migrants from there wo entered India in the past. It was made clear that this is a domestic issue and no such migrants can go back unless Bangla Desh accepted him/her. But of course, media, politics etc. will make it a big issue and keep it alive. Modi outreach at AMU is a reiteration of known position in different words, perhaps this was in words better understood by the intended audience. Modi has developed excellent relations with GCC countries and balanced it against Iran as well. They understand his position in domestic politics very well and Modi does not have to look over to them talk to Indian citizens but from minority community.

    So Modi has spoken par for the course and essentially, negated the media narrative against BJP. Modi is doing fine with farmers as well by tiring them out but by keep talking to them all the time. When time comes, NPL, CAA and NRC will happen and everyone will be convinced that they are in national interest, so dear to Shekhar!

  21. As far as I can remember last time Modi made any inappropriate remark was 7 years back and that was dog being hit by car. Even that was not 100% communal and 0% hardcore. Minimum 13% to 20% of extra BJP voters that took BJP from 25% to 45% were traditional Congress voters who have been put off by among other things by minority hyper activism, woke politics and unfounded anti BJPism. BJP knows this more than Congress and even minorities. Like this outreach will be rebuffed. Or people are aware of farmer concerns but no amendments but total repeal is where balance gets tilted to advantage BJP.

  22. You have yourself said it sir – the retreat (if any) is merely tactical. Someone somewhere down the line will take it up. The more critical issue for India is – IS THE RIGHT WING ECOSYSTEM IN INDIA CAPABLE OF ORIGINAL THOUGHT IN THE ECONOMIC SPHERE? Or are they going to rehash old left wing ideas like bank transfers to poor people and reservations in addition to their “divide and rule” policy to keep staying in power. The real poverty in India is poverty of ideas amongst the rulers and the ruled. The rulers are still following the British India govt template and the ruled are easily satisfied by doles and ever willing to take up ancient rivalries in the modern world. The chattering classes are left wringing their hands at the all-round incompetence.

    • Good observation.
      This is what gets left behind in us vs them rhetoric.

      Dearth of ideas to improve our economic standing.

  23. Running a government even with full majority is a different ball game. The so called an anti community stance of the government is AN OPINION restricted to the so called intellectuals in the so called liberal world.
    The main reason for Modi to remain popular and in power is his impeccably clean image and ability to connect with world leaders at their levels with a visible intellect and unmatched articulation is for some reason never projected in the media.
    This main reason for his electoral victories is not even acknowledged for the fear of dwarfing the entire opposition.

  24. China can afford to go to war with its economy supporting it, but india using middle class taxes to fuel its economy can do well to avoid war. Either this PM can bring in rich classes like his cronies Ambanis to pay more taxes or stop fighting multiple wars, war internally with the congress pampered muslims.

  25. Not necessarily. The BJP is a master of saying something and doing another.

    And also they have to be wary of the Democrats in the US now.

    Just smart tactics by Shri Modiji.

  26. SG ji, a narional interest or cut the clutter on Indian people and politicians’ views on free markets and open economy would be great. Political economy is something you are great at. Will be waiting for an episode on that given this govt’s ambitious privatization agenda and recent farm reforms.

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