India is a diverse democracy which cannot be squeezed into “isms” easily for too long. And it cuts down leaders who try to fit it in their own “ism”.
As we approach the 69th Republic Day, it may seem that the world’s largest democracy actually nurtures democratic attitudes. But the fact is, our politics continuously defeats India’s people and divides them on the basis of caste and religion. For decades, a Muslim vote bank has existed. Now, the Hindu vote bank is a reality.
It has been clear for some time the Amit Shah and Narendra Modi combine governs the nation, and decides everything. But nearly four years into his rule, is there anything like ‘Modi-ism’?
In history, influential leaders were known by their ‘isms’: Leninism, Stalinism, Thatcherism, Reaganism, Maoism. We know nothing of Sonia-ism, because she mostly operated from behind the scenes.
Somehow, the Indian press has never tried to define a Modi-ism. Articles appear, but they tend to shield Modi. Loudmouth television anchors spew acid, justifiably, against Pakistan, but do not utter a word against Modi for not withdrawing its MFN status or declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terror. This self-censorship is significant.
But to the discerning eye, the Modi government has revealed its “ism” in over three years of its rule. Before the 2014 elections, I read numerous speeches by Modi to figure if they were divisive, and did not find anything sectarian. The slogan Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (Together with all, Development for all) was authentic. But Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas is suddenly an orphan, and Achhe Din, like Lord Rama, has been sent to vanwas (exile).
The goal of Modi-ism is this: using Hindutva to unite Hindus against Muslims. The first sign of it came when the Shah-Modi duo decided against fielding any Muslim candidate in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections of 2017. Then Rajasthan’s cabinet minister Jaswant Yadav told voters during the parliamentary election for Alwar this month: If Hindu, vote for me, if Muslim vote for Congress. Though he later denied his statement, the political purpose was served.
Modi-ism – or the Gujarat model of politics – buried Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas when it appointed Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, a person known for his murderous message to Muslims: “If they kill one Hindu, we will kill 100”. It is the Gujarat model of politics that prevents Modi from speaking when Muslims are dragged out of trains for being Muslims, or just for transporting cows, and killed. In her column on 31 December 2017, senior journalist Tavleen Singh noted that Modi, who never tires of issuing happy birthday messages on Twitter, has shown disapproval of vigilante violence only when the victims are Dalits, and not when they are Muslims.
Instead of stopping the cow vigilantes, the Modi government sought to encourage them by bringing in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017. It required transporters to get a certificate that “the cattle has not been brought to the market for sale for slaughter.” Facing backlash from meat exporters, and once its goal to consolidate cow vigilantes and Hindu voters on the issue of cows was served, the government withdrew the notification. A similar mindset exists in the case of the Bajrang Dal. Every RSS worker I have spoken to agrees that it is a violent group, but the argument remains: it serves a purpose.
The triple talaq legislation is rooted in the growing hatred of Muslims being seeded by Hindu-interest parties and organisations. It seeks to criminalise Muslims, and is not, by any definition, a piece of reform. By not consulting with stakeholders, Muslim community leaders, women’s rights groups, or legal experts, Modi-ism is promoting a deliberate, but politically potent, form of racism against Indian Muslims. Modi-ism makes the pretence of taking up what appear to be hot-button Muslim issues – Haj subsidy, instant triple talaq and polygamy (next in West Bengal elections) – but they are, in reality, Hindu political issues. These are the subjects around which it is easier to mobilise right wing Hindus.
Modi-ism has subsumed the BJP, which has been reduced to the status of a puppet. But India is a diverse democracy, which cannot be squeezed into “isms” easily for too long. And it cuts down leaders, who try to fit it in their own “ism”.
Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He tweets @tufailelif