Is there something wrong in expecting votes from the minority communities? It would seem so, going by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first reaction to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Kerala’s Wayanad constituency.
Modi claimed Rahul was scared to face the majority Hindu voters in Amethi and instead chose a constituency where the majority was in a minority, clearly indicating that the Congress chief was depending on minority voters to win at the hustings.
The Prime Minister, by his reaction, has all but validated criticism that he, the BJP and their mentor, the RSS, see voters not as Indians, but as Hindus, Muslims, Christians etc. The prevalent sub-text is that under the present dispensation, the “other” has emerged in Indian society. And, the majority community of Hindus who comprise around 80 percent of the population need to fear the “other” and protect themselves from the alleged dangers they find themselves in. It is not clear though what these dangers are.
Modi’s statement almost makes it seem that there is something wrong in seeking votes from minorities. Those who have been following the BJP’s narrative closely since it came to power in 2014, the statement does not come as a surprise. Decisions have been made and laws have been legislated that directly affect either Muslims or Christians.
The ban on cattle trade (that was later lifted after all-round protests), their slaughter and the attempt to rename the day of Christmas as Good Governance day were the initial moves that were a sign of things to come.
These attempts to view Indian society through communal lens has had far-reaching consequences. Using the ban on cattle slaughter as an excuse, members of the Muslim community have been lynched across several states by Hindu vigilante mobs. Not surprising, as the government has itself indicated its preferences. Except under extreme pressure, most of those involved in lynchings have escaped due punishment. At a recent public rally of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, a main accused in one of the lynchings, was in the front row raising slogans in his favour.
While on the one hand, some sections make it a point to say that as Prime Minister Modi represents all Indians, in reality he has, by the actions of his government and statements like the one on Rahul’s Wayanad decision, made it clear who he really represents and what this means for a nation that is going into elections in the next few days.
Unsurprisingly, the BJP’s narrative is not new. Inspired by the Hindutva ideology conceived and promoted by the RSS, majoritarian ideas always existed but largely within the confines of the RSS-BJP and its supporters. Since coming to power five years ago, these ideas have turned mainstream and been put into practice as a consequence of which today there is palpable fear among minority communities.
Leading Bollywood stars like Aamir Khan and Naseerudin Shah have faced the wrath of right wing trolls and criticism from the top brass of the BJP-RSS dispensation for daring to air their apprehensions publicly.
The irony is that any government or political party that dares to make any move seen as beneficial to the minorities is quickly dismissed as “appeasement politics”. Over time, the BJP-RSS has managed to taint the word to such an extent that the opposition parties cringe when accused of appeasing minorities. On close examination, one does not find anything substantial to back up the accusation of appeasement – which in India’s right-wing political lingo has come to mean decisions that, according to it, unfairly benefit minorities.
Most of the decisions that come under the umbrella of appeasement are policy decisions like funding Muslims wanting to go on Hajj to Mecca. That the government subsidises the majority Hindu community to visit shrines like Vaishnodevi or Amarnath is conveniently overlooked. (Anyway, the Hajj subsidies are on the way out following a court order)
Past governments have no doubt taken controversial decisions like that of Rajiv Gandhi who amended the Constitution to neutralise the court judgement in the Shah Bano maintenance case or his government’s decision to ban Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”. These are open to criticism but pooling anything and everything to do with minorities within the bracket of appeasement has over time blurred the idea to suit a Hindu-majority agenda. In many cases terming a decision an appeasement is reductionist and papers over the complexity of the issue, like Article 370 for Kashmir.
If at all there was real appeasement, one of the biggest since Independence was by the Congress’s P V Narasimha Rao government, which allowed the destruction of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. From the time of the start of the destruction on the morning of December 6, 1992, for around six hours when mobs razed the historical structure to the ground, the then central government did nothing. But again, this has never been described in these terms by an otherwise active right-wing that jumps on any move even remotely seen as favouring the minorities.
The Rajinder Sachar committee which went into the conditions of Muslims in contemporary India clearly concluded with facts and figures that the community was severely under-represented across various services and the living conditions of large sections of Muslims had hardly improved in the last seven decades since independence. If the community had been “appeased” by governments in the past, this would certainly not have been the case.
The other pet peeve of the right wing is in education where the minorities, since independence, enjoy certain privileges in running institutions for their benefit. But the fact is that these institutions, especially the Christian-run missionary schools, have benefited a mammoth cross-section of Indians irrespective of the religion they belong to.
The RSS-BJP driven narrative of appeasement and anti-minoritysm has played itself in ways the contours of which are only now becoming clear. The latest statement of the Prime Minister on Wayanad is just another predictable remark that opens a wee bit more India’s communal fault line.