The hateful, religiously motivated targeting of Indian fast bowler Mohammad Shami on social media after India lost the T20 World Cup cricket match against Pakistan Sunday, and clothing brand Fabindia being forced to withdraw its ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’ Diwali advertisement earlier should not surprise us anymore. After all, majoritarian instincts dominate India now and politics has only two colours — aggressive Hindutva and soft-Hindutva.
The hostile version of Hindutva introduced by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the early 1990s and cemented by its current leadership has ushered in a new era of intolerance and a relentless hate campaign against minorities in India’s socio-political milieu. Even the opposition has done precious little to counter the communal polarisation. The opposition’s only answer to the BJP has been its own version of Hindutva — soft and less potent but obvious, opportunistic and frankly, desperate.
No amount of solidarity statements for Shami or others, as welcome and needed as they are, can take away from the fact that, along with the BJP, the opposition also has played a role in creating the toxic atmosphere that we see in India today, one that thrives on the majority feeling superior with political parties appeasing the dominant religious community.
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From Fab to Shami
Fabindia came up with an aesthetically pleasing Diwali ad with a nomenclature that had a lovely, poetic ring to it — ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’. Little did it know that the name alone would invite such a backlash that the company would be forced to withdraw it. #BoycottFabindia had begun trending on Twitter in no time.
BJP leaders accused Fabindia of ‘defacing’ Diwali, and of promoting ‘Muslim ideologies’ in a Hindu festival. BJP Yuva Morcha president Tejasvi Surya’s claim that the ad was a ‘deliberate attempt of abrahamisation of Hindu festivals’ said it all. Essentially, even a ‘Muslim sounding’ name is now offensive, and a threat to the sentiments of the Hindu community.
Barely had this controversy died down that India faced an embarrassing T20 defeat against Pakistan and Mohammed Shami, by virtue of being a Muslim, became the target. The abuses he received on Instagram were despicable and nasty, forcing many to come out in Shami’s defence. But just the fact that Shami had to be defended, merely because he follows a certain religion, is enough to show the abysmal lows that we as a country have now touched.
These are just two recent instances of the tyranny of the majority running wild, and of how deep the anti-Muslim poison has spread. But we have seen far too many cases in the last few years to ignore this culture — from brutal public lynching of Muslims over ‘beef’ or theft or propaganda campaigns like ‘love jihad’, to regular online hate and demonisation of anything remotely not subscribing to the idea of Hindutva.
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Why opposition is equally responsible
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi condemned the online attack on Shami and expressed solidarity with him.
Mohammad #Shami we are all with you.
These people are filled with hate because nobody gives them any love. Forgive them.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) October 25, 2021
But it does little to take away from the fact that the opposition has, in every way, aided the BJP in its agenda of making Hindutva supreme, and of making the language of the majority the only dominant narrative in India. It may find solace in the fact that its Hindutva push isn’t as toxic or polarising as that of the Narendra Modi-led BJP, but what is true is that the opposition has happily jumped onto the same bandwagon for electoral gains and for lack of political imagination.
So, Rahul Gandhi is a proud janeu-wielding Brahmin, happy to make public visits to temples ahead of crucial assembly elections and also embark on a pilgrimage to Shiva’s abode as campaign seasons begin. As Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), told my colleague D.K. Singh in August 2018, Rahul Gandhi is ‘practising actual Hindutva, and not soft Hindutva’.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is busy offering prayers at the Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya, just months after his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) conducts a ‘Tiranga Yatra’ in the holy city. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee proved her ‘Hindu credentials’ by reciting the ‘Chandi path’ in the run-up to the West Bengal assembly election. And mind you, Kejriwal and Mamata are Modi’s most vocal, and perhaps even his strongest, rivals at this point. If the two leaders who have halted the BJP juggernaut in their respective states have resorted to the Hindutva playbook for political gains, it’s hardly surprising that a sinking Congress would consider Hindutva its lifeboat.
Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav has been on a temple run and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has mixed her Dalit politics with a dash of Hindutva in the hope of presenting a formidable challenge to the BJP ahead of next year’s Uttar Pradesh assembly election. Forget the rest, even the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been flirting with Hindutva in Kerala.
Essentially, the BJP has changed the language of Indian politics into a Hindutva-laden one, and instead of fighting it, the opposition has learnt the language and is actively practising it. This nature of politics has seeped into the social fabric and our everyday lives, turning our discourse into a linear version of the ‘rights’ of the majority and the ‘threats’ it imagines are posed by the minority. To put it bluntly, the opposition has been an enabling force, a facilitator if not a catalyst, for the BJP’s attempts at turning India into a majoritarian country where anything even remotely to do with the Muslim community is considered evil.
When every political party in India is busy appeasing Hindus and placing a premium on their votes, a Mohammed Shami is bound to get caught in the crosshairs.
Shami and Fabindia are just the latest victims of this phenomenon, mere manifestations of the larger malice that has seeped so deep into the country’s social and political spheres that eradicating it will prove to be a herculean task, if not impossible. The opposition can’t pat itself on the back with mere solidarity tweets and statements condemning such instances long after the issues have fanned more communal flames. It needs to look itself in the mirror and admit being just as responsible as the BJP for turning India into an intolerant, parochial nation.
The author tweets @RuhiTewari. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)