The BJP has a ‘Hindu’ image, its dependence on the RSS is evident, and some of its motor-mouth leaders call for recognition of their religious demands and restrictions on privileges of Muslims and other minorities. The media looks for communal undertones in all government policies. Global media predicted India’s decline despite a development-oriented Prime Minister. Yet most elections since 2014 have made the BJP the biggest party. Even minorities appear to have voted for it.
The Hindutva (Hindu way of life) brigade could also point to exceptions made for Muslims (the Haj travel subsidy, resistance to the Uniform Civil Code, ignoring women’s rights even when contrary to law, putting religious loyalty above loyalty to nation, etc). They demanded that national laws be applicable to all.
It is against this background that the question arises, whether the demand for Hindutva may hamper development for all, the major promise of Narendra Modi?
Here we must recognise the role of the Indian judiciary and its relative independence, more so of superior courts. It can be expected, albeit slowly, to protect civil rights, including religious practice and gender. After all, even during the UPA rule, the judiciary at the highest level exonerated Narendra Modi of any guilt for the 2002 Gujarat Riots. So we have to be restrained in questioning the recent lower court exoneration of Swami Aseemanand of guilt for the ghastly crimes of many deaths by bomb explosions at the Ajmer Sharif Dargah, the Samjhauta Express and the Hyderabad Makkah Masjid. By contrast, a 90% paralysed academic, Prof Saibaba, was sentenced to life for his association with Naxalites. We must await the completion of the full judicial process before final verdicts. It is speculative to conclude that many more such crimes will go unpunished under a BJP government. We must repose faith in India’s independent judiciary. Discriminatory government policies for or against any group can be expected to be modified by the judiciary. These are also against development.
A media report points out that when he recently visited Surat, PM Modi got a huge welcome including from Muslim males and burqa-clad women. A city that has seen many Muslims killed in communal riots has them living in fear. They probably see no better choice for their safety and well-being than the Modi-led BJP. Fear is said to dominate them. Development demands that this be assuaged. All citizens and residents must feel secure if development is to be consistent.
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Many believe that the BJP is modelled on Veer Savarkar’s ideas, who died in 1966. Savarkar believed in using violence to eliminate the British from India. He made a daring escape from jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. He was an atheist who propagated dismantling of the caste system and reconversion of Hindus. Savarkar used the term ‘Hindutva’ to describe the Hindu identity. His ideas (and of the BJP) are not against development. He did not propagate violence against the minorities.
Can ideas that place Hinduism at the apex of Indian society have negative effects on development? Before the British came, India was ruled by many kingdoms, a large number of which were Hindu. Many were prosperous and engaged in global trade. Then, India and China were the two largest economies in the world (Angus Maddison).
A recent article in the EPW suggests that “Brahmanism … has been the ideology of the ruling classes. The state irrespective of which party is in power has always been the same—pro-capital, pro-Hindu, pro-upper caste and plutocratic.” The article suggests that virulent Hindus were responsible for the murder of Graham Staines (a Christian missionary suspected of converting Hindu tribals to Christianity), Dalits lynched in Dulina in 2002, murder of Akhlaq who was suspected of beef-eating, flogging of Dalits near Una, murders of rationalists Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi. Over the years, there were many such individual crimes. They did not constitute a national or organised movement.
Development requires vision, clear ideas an efficient implementing mechanism through the administration, law and order, a population that also wants development with more jobs, quality education and health services, support to all the poor, and improving living standards. Above all, there must be peace among different groups and communities. The recent assembly elections suggest that all communities and castes want the same. It may not have been just fear that made Muslims vote for the party that could give them protection and development. But no citizen or resident must have any fear of violence because of lifestyle. For this, all and especially governments and the parties in power have to ensure peace and harmony.
PM Modi is passionate about development. It is unclear that the RSS which provides foot soldiers who bring out the vote equally shares this passion. There are many who want the promises and appeasements by earlier Congress governments to be eliminated.
They will not recognise the data (painstakingly collected by NCAER from over 30,000 randomly selected households) quoted by the Sachar Committee Report. Muslims were poor in every way: literacy, education, higher skills (apart from making handmade products), housing, sanitation, the ghettoes they lived in were poorly serviced for water, roads, power, health services, with inadequate scholarships and other aids.
Hinduism is a complex of beliefs and practices. It is about peace and tolerance. No government can govern if it shows undue preference for long to one group of citizens over others on grounds such as race, religion, caste, etc.
The BJP, led by PM Modi, has emphasised that it stands for all-round development. The government has to shed the baggage of its past into which opposition parties are constantly painting. It must muzzle those in its party who push anti-minority statements and actions. Policies that appear to interfere with minority beliefs and practices must not be rushed, and must experience much consultation and even judicial interpretation. The BJP’s full focus must be on good governance for development. If it can show results, it could stay in power for decades.
The author is former director general, NCAER, and first chairman of CERC. Views are personal