Modi has not responded, which is good. It is also good that he never fails to remind us that the spectacular welcome he was given in Houston by Indians of the diaspora was because he represents ‘130 crore Indians’.
There are people on Narendra Modi’s team who are doing their best to prove Imran Khan right when he says that India is being led by a ‘Hindu fascist’ who hates Muslims. These people make it clear every time they speak or tweet or participate in a TV debate that they despise Muslims as ‘heirs’ of Jinnah and despise Islam for being an ‘intolerant’ religion. And, because they are in the BJP or proud supporters of Modi, they confirm the charges being made from the Islamic Republic next door that India is no longer a country in which Muslims have the same rights as Hindus.
Since the abrogation of Article 370, Imran Khan has hardly made a speech in which he has not charged Modi with ‘hating’ Muslims. He has said more than once that Kashmir’s special status was removed only because its population is mostly Muslim. In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, he made the ‘fascist’ India charge and repeated it in every interview he gave (and he gave many) to international TV channels and newspapers. On returning home he told a huge, volatile gathering at Islamabad airport that he was now fighting a jihad in the name of Allah. Then, after declaring that India was preparing for a ‘massacre in Kashmir’ he said that the RSS ‘believes in killing Muslims’ and that he would never talk peace with Modi because he was an RSS man.
Modi has not responded, which is good. It is also good that he never fails to remind us that the spectacular welcome he was given in Houston by Indians of the diaspora was because he represents ‘130 crore Indians’. Of these, roughly 25 crore are Muslims. So he needs to do more to reassure them that the bile spewed against them by some of his ministers and Twitter supporters does not reflect what he feels. I am not repeating the things that have been said because they are unrepeatable and also because I refuse to give hate-filled bigots the oxygen of publicity. But, it could be time for the Prime Minister to speak up. He took too long in his first term to condemn the lynchings, so by then it was not just Muslims who were being targeted but Dalits as well.
The lynchings have continued in his second term. But, now a menacing new ugliness hangs in the air that is alienating the Muslim community. Those causing the ugliness seem not to have noticed that they could not have chosen a worse moment to start spewing venom against Muslims and Islam. There is still no sign of peace or normality in the Kashmir Valley and bringing this about is going to take a lot more effort than it took to remove Article 370. With a large number of Muslims in the Kashmir Valley already alienated because of the removal of Article 370, and this endless lockdown, is it wise to alienate them further by abusing Muslims in the rest of India?
It is true that a huge majority of people who constitute Modi’s base have a visceral hatred of Muslims. I have in my dealings with far too many of them heard them speak of how Muslims breed in such large numbers that it will not be long before they take over India just through demographic might. I have also heard many, many times the grievances about Partition. My father’s family were refugees so I spent my childhood in half-built houses amid people with broken lives. Many had left for the first time the villages where their lands and their homes were. Many of them had come without anything. The compensation they were given by the Indian government was so meagre that it was a mockery of what they left behind. But, they did not have time for bitterness or grievance because they had to save all their energy for putting back together the pieces of their shattered lives.
It was only after I became a journalist and attended a few RSS ‘shakhas’, by way of research, that I came across real bitterness and hatred against all Muslims. These emotions run deep and have now been compounded by the legitimate anger against the ethnic cleansing of the Pandits from the Kashmir Valley. Jihadist terrorism from Pakistan has made things worse. So I can understand why Modi hesitates to say openly anything that would alienate his base. But, may I humbly offer some advice. I happened to witness a conversation between Shimon Peres (former president of Israel) and Yasser Arafat (former chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation) some years ago. It was a particularly fraught moment and Arafat railed against Israel and what it was doing to his people. Peres listened quietly for a while before finally saying, “For leaders there is a time to follow and there is a time to lead”.
Mr Modi, it is your time to lead.