India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi barely gives an interview to news organisations. But in the first interview with a news organisation after assuming office in 2014, to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Modi had said, “Indian Muslims will live for India. They will die for India. They will not want anything bad for India.”
In the same interview, he said, “if I can win the confidence of the people of India not by my speeches but by actions, then the power of 1.25 billion Indians will come together to take the country forward.”
Muslims never wished to do any harm to the country until then, and they do not wish to do any harm now. They want to live and die for the country. That’s why some of them are in selfless service irrespective of how they are treated in the country that’s turning to be more communal and divisive by the day.
But the Prime Minister and his handpicked parliamentarians do not want to follow what they preach. Nor does it reflect in their actions to take the country forward. There are umpteen examples from different BJP-ruled states as to how Muslims have been criminalised in different parts of the country.
In one such recent example, Tejasvi Surya, the 30-year-old parliamentarian from Bangalore South constituency, the party’s youth wing president who’s known to be a rabble rouser, provoked the Muslim community by projecting them in a bad light.
Surya, with no evidence, cherry picked 16 Muslim workers in the city’s civic body-run COVID war room and accused them of irregularity in bed allotment. For no fault of theirs, those workers temporarily lost jobs and were left traumatised. In fact, six of the seven arrested in the case were all Hindus, and none was from the list read out by Surya.
Investigations have proved that the 16 accused by Surya had no involvement in the scam and the police found no conclusive proof to pin the blame on them. After five days, 11 of them were asked to be reinstated while five others felt traumatised and did not wish to join the war room again.
So what did Surya’s action entail? At a time when the country faces an unprecedented health crisis, Surya and his team of MLAs wanted to play divisive politics. Bigotry, not development, was on their minds.
It’s understandable that the MP, who runs a parallel COVID helpline, akin to the one run by the government, wants to help people and hear their problems. But Surya wanted to take control of the system managed by bureaucrats so that he and his team could allot beds to those they recommend.
If there were bad apples in the system, he could have got them removed as it’s his own government heading the state. But as the bureaucrats refused to budge to his requests, Surya chose a communal path.
His action came right at the time when 24 people had died of oxygen shortage in Chamarajanagar district and several hospitals in the city flagged an oxygen crisis. Suddenly, Surya’s allegations took centre-stage. The media and opposition parties were distracted from following up the mismanagement by the government that had caused the Chamarajanagar tragedy.
The energy of civil society groups, which were focussed on helping people in need during the COVID-19 crisis, was spent on running communal harmony campaigns. On Sunday, people took to the trending hashtag campaign ‘NammooraEllaruNammavaru’ (everybody in the city, are ours), to keep up the spirit of togetherness.
Surya kept the pot boiling by flip-flopping on what he said. An unapologetic person, he went to apologise, not to the victims of his crime, but to the rest of the workers, who got affected as their telephone numbers were leaked on public domain. And later he claimed he did not apologise and that the media was spreading fake news.
In a leaked audio put out by some media channels, Surya gives weird suggestions to those workers to change their phone numbers and that he will arrange for one. For no mistake of theirs, those workers now have to run around to do the damage control.
Accused of spreading communal hatred in the past, Surya appeared to be ensuring that the Muslim community feels terrorised.
Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, who criticised an angry Muslim leader for venting his frustration at Surya, did not condemn the MP’s actions. By this, the chief minister, who often criticised those targeting minorities, became complicit in this divisive politics. Surya and the MLAs who went with him may have been emboldened even more by this.
Within days, MLA Satish Reddy, who is alleged to be involved in the scam, stormed into the war room and manhandled an IAS officer, yet again over bed booking issues.
Surya may take help from Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, who offered to revamp the system and fix the glitches. But by this, he is only undermining the capability of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) that designs robust portals for various governments and also puts to question why a contract was allotted to an “inefficient” web designer in the first place.
Whether or not Surya helped the system improve, by the end of the week, he traumatised some, diverted public attention from the government’s mismanagement of COVID crisis, and led to attrition in the COVID-war room, which only affected people more.
He may not own up to his mistakes, but it’s high time people in responsible positions like him stop spreading hatred and focus on pandemic control.