Vinod Mubayi

The open threats of genocide of Muslims made by assorted Hindutva “priests” at the so-called Dharam Sansad in Haridwar in December 2021 have attracted international attention and condemnation. Yet, Prime Minister Modi has not uttered a word in response to public statements made at the gathering that urged Hindu youth to acquire weapons to kill millions of Muslims. Home Minister Amit Shah who heads the police all over the country has not said anything either. Their silence on this issue is quite in character for these functionaries who currently lead (or mislead) India. After all, they remained silent many times in the last several years when minority Muslims and, in some cases, Dalits were lynched by mobs of ruffians and goondas owing allegiance to Hindutva. Modi remains the Indian politician who likened the brutal killing of over a thousand Muslims in 2002 by violent Hindutva mobs in his home state of Gujarat, where he was then chief minister, to a puppy caught under the wheels of a car and who has never uttered a word of regret for the mass killing of innocent women, children and men.

In a recent presentation to the US Congress, Dr Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, an organization that correctly predicted the genocide in Rwanda in 2004-5, identified India as the second-most likely country to experience a genocide in the near future. Dr Stanton, who is very familiar with India having spent a year in the law college in Delhi, based his analysis on what he identified as ten stages, or processes, leading to genocide that countries experience as determined historically. Among these processes, all of which have been amply demonstrated in recent years in India are: classification, i.e., dividing people into Us and Them; symbolization, or identifying people by external symbols such as their clothes and appearance; discrimination on the basis of religious identity as evidenced in laws passed under the Modi government like the Citizenship Amendment Act; dehumanization, shown for example by Home Minister Amit Shah referring to Bengali Muslims as termites or his BJP party members taunting Indian Muslims telling them to go to Pakistan or kabristan (graveyard); and polarization, viz., dividing communities by passing laws like love jihad that essentially prohibit inter-religious-marriage and subject couples who have entered into such marriages to prosecution. In this atmosphere, when hate speeches like the ones in Haridwar are actually made calling for the killing of specific minorities the pre-conditions under which genocide can occur are fulfilled. Never mind that India is a signatory to the Genocide Convention under which calls to genocide are treated as akin to genocide itself deserving condign punishment. The fact that Dr Stanton called on the US Congress and Administration to issue a warning to India was largely ignored by the godi (lapdog) Indian media as well as the Indian government.

While Modi has remained silent for well over a month on genocidal hate speech by his followers, he has, however, been extremely voluble in making speeches distorting India’s constitutional obligations, as well as the history of the personalities who played leading roles in India’s freedom struggle. In a recent speech Modi lamented that Indians have been wasting time talking about and fighting for their rights when they should have been focusing attention on their duties to the country instead. Well, the Indian Constitution does enjoin eleven basic duties on all citizens. In view of Modi’s admonition, one is entitled to ask if Modi and his regime are observing any of these duties. For instance, to abide by the constitution and respect its ideals and institutions. The constitution begins by listing the fundamental rights to justice, liberty and equality of all citizens. By Modi’s criteria, fighting for these rights would be a waste of time. Modi does not seem to know, whether deliberately or not is a different matter, that rights and duties are closely connected. It is the duty of government and associated institutions of the legislature and judiciary, to ensure that the fundamental rights of citizens are respected and observed. Modi’s tenure, on the other hand, and that of his cohorts in BJP-ruled states like UP, MP, and Karnataka, has witnessed a flagrant disregard of the most fundamental of these rights, the freedom of speech, assembly, and the press through the use of colonial-era laws like sedition that criminalize free speech critical of government policies and personalities. Numerous critics who dared to criticize Modi or Shah are rotting in jail for years before any trial has even started. Several have faced the enhancement of their charges via the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) that makes release on bail almost impossible. Politicians belonging to opposition parties face harassment by investigative agencies of the government on flimsy or fabricated grounds. The list of autocratic acts of the Modi government is long and amply documented, enough to put India under Modi into the class of flawed or failed democracies such as Hungary under Orban, Turkey under Erdogan and Brazil under Bolsonaro.

Another duty of the constitution is to promote harmony and brotherhood among the diverse people of India. Since the foundational objective of the RSS, the organization to which Modi owes his entire philosophy and career, is to promote a Hindu Rashtra, a goal totally antithetical to this duty enshrined in the constitution, it is hardly any surprise that Modi openly disregards this constitutional duty. Promoting polarization, discord, and disharmony and stoking the fires of majoritarianism is a staple of Modi’s public speeches.

From volubly trashing the constitution, Modi is now loudly distorting history as well. This has been demonstrated by the recent attempts to appropriate Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, one of the most secular of the Indian nationalist leaders in the struggle against British imperialism, as an icon of Hindutva by installing his statue in the very location that once housed a statue of the British monarch in the heart of New Delhi. Since Bose had political differences with Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru in the latter stages of his career, Modi and BJP would like to anoint him purely out of spite against the Congress. One cannot forget that a former member of the RSS was Gandhi’s assassin and that many BJP leaders, including some who are members of Parliament, venerate and glorify Nathuram Godse and wish to install his statue in some public space or erect temples in his memory. In the US context, it would be an act akin to celebrating and anointing John Wilkes Booth who assassinated Abraham Lincoln as a national hero.

The fact that Modi has to distort history to such an extent as to try and appropriate Bose, as they earlier tried with Bhagat Singh, shows the desperation of the Hindutva crowd to claim someone for their own who is identified in the public mind with the Indian national movement for freedom. Hindutva’s own icons, like Guruji (Golwalkar) of the RSS, have no record of any participation in the freedom struggle. The closest one they have is Damodar Savarkar who initially was a nationalist advocating violent revolution against British rule in the early 20th century until he was arrested and sentenced to jail in the Andaman Islands where, after a few years, he underwent a complete transformation of his previous beliefs. He then began writing cringe-worthy petitions to the British authorities begging to be released and pledging eternal fealty to the Empire. After release in 1923, he began glorifying the Hindu “race” and propounded the two-nation theory over a decade before Mohammad Ali Jinnah ran with it to create Pakistan. During the Quit India movement in the early 1940s, Savarkar urged Hindu youth to join the British-led Indian Army and fight for the empire. He was also credibly accused of masterminding Gandhi’s assassination only to escape indictment on a legal technicality. To complete the irony, his portrait now hangs in Parliament opposite that of Gandhi the man he allegedly conspired to eliminate. If Savarkar is the closest to a nationalist freedom fighter in Hindutva’s pantheon, it is no wonder that Modi is desperately looking to induct Bose just to dislodge Gandhi and Nehru from their position as national icons and despite the fact that Bose’s well-documented political views are diametrically opposed to those of Modi and RSS.

Modi’s silence as well as his speeches are dictated by the need to win elections in several of the 5 states that go the polls in February and March this year. Having failed at everything else affecting the country, especially the economy that continues to sink, managing the pandemic, alleviating extreme poverty that has mounted in the last two years, dealing with the widespread closings and failures of the schools in many parts of the country affecting millions of children, he likely knows at some level that for the BJP to win in these elections he needs to retain the support of the blind Modi-bhakts as well as those who may be still vulnerable to hyper-nationalist appeals. His silence at the genocidal speeches and the condoning by police of terrorization or lynching of minorities and Dalits by Hindutva mobs is a calculated tactic. The loud theatrical measures to install Netaji’s hologram and later statue at India Gate is a strategy to cultivate and preen the non-existent nationalist image of the BJP whose leaders played no recognizable role in the freedom struggle.

The danger as Dr Gregory Stanton indicated in a recent interview with Karan Thapar is that silence of the country’s leadership in the midst of menacing calls to genocide can escalate into unforeseen and uncontrollable situations. Dr Stanton, who is familiar with Indian conditions having spent time in the country, pointed out that unlike Nazi Germany where agencies of the German government constructed industrial scale factories to commit murder on a mass scale of minorities and what were considered “undesirables” like the gypsies, later genocides like in Rwanda were carried out entirely by mobs that were either unrestrained or secretly encouraged by the police who made no effort to intervene and stop the killing. On a smaller scale, this is familiar from the various “riots” that have taken place in India, like the pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat 2002 where the police either looked away or passively connived at the brutal killings. The warnings of Dr Stanton need to be heeded on an international level before conditions deteriorate further.

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