Vinod Mubayi

It is a measure of the insanity of our time that Narendra D. Modi is hailed as a vishwaguru (world-guru) and embraced unconditionally and unabashedly by the leaders of the United States and France at a time when the state of Manipur is on the verge of civil war, minorities, in particular Muslims but to an increasing extent Christians as well, are randomly assaulted and butchered by uniformed policemen, no less, spouting Hindutva slogans exalting Modi and his henchman Yogi, all while Modi maintains a strategic silence on the crimes perpetrated by his enthusiastic followers and supporters.

Modi’s ascent to world guru status from his previous career as an obscure preacher for the Hindutva fascist organization RSS recalls a similar astonishing rise of an obscure, failed corporal in the Austrian Army in World War 1 to world statesman in less than two decades. Adolf Hitler’s ascent was marked by brutal and vicious oppression of Germany’s minorities culminating in the ultimate crime of the holocaust, but until he launched World War 2 by invading Poland he continued to be hailed as a statesman who “brought peace in our time.” Despite many differences, the essential similarity between Modi’s India and Hitler’s Germany is the use of identity markers, based on race, religion, or ethnicity, to set in place a highly authoritarian and violent form of majoritarian politics, one that not only demonizes minorities but creates a climate of fear aimed at squashing all opposition.

In Modi’s India, nominally independent agencies of the state have been turned into political arms of the ruling party with license to harass, torment, and imprison the political opposition, dissenters, and anyone who dares to question and raise their voice against the actions and policies of the regime. Thus, in the few media outlets that have remained independent one finds headlines like: “How the Modi government has weaponized the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to go after India’s Opposition.” ED was set up years ago to investigate and prosecute financial skullduggery by organized crime groups akin to the Mafia, however, in Modi’s regime it has become a convenient tool for harassing and imprisoning politicians of opposition parties or others who oppose the regime. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is widely derided as a “caged parrot” that obeys the dictates of the ruling party. This rot has infected large sections of the judiciary also, especially at the lower levels, and particularly in states like Gujarat that have become laboratories of the Hindutva ideology proclaimed by the RSS and Modi; perhaps some judges are afraid that the ED might be unleashed against them if they make a ruling that offends the powers-that-be. India’s designation as an electoral autocracy by respected institutions like Sweden’s V-Dem Institute shows what a constitutional, democratic republic has descended to under the current rulers. The 2023 V-Dem report refers to India as “one of the worst autocratisers in the last 10 years” and places India in the bottom 40-50% on its Liberal Democracy Index at rank 97. India also ranks 108 on the Electoral Democracy Index and 123 on the Egalitarian Component Index. The hypocrisy of much of those who currently pass as world statesmen like Macron and Biden was matched by the object of their embrace, Modi, who, when asked in Washington, DC about India’s shabby treatment of minorities at the only press conference he has attended in the last eight years, uttered some irrelevant platitudes about Indian democracy. Meanwhile, since the Wall Street Journal reporter who asked Modi, the question happened to be a Muslim of South Asian origin, she was subject to merciless trolling by Modi’s supporters in India for daring to cast doubt on the conduct of Modi’s regime.

Besides deceit and lying that are hallmarks of autocrats or wannabee autocrats (Donald Trump is an outstanding example), promoting divisive politics as an electoral strategy is another defining characteristic of the Modi era as it is for all majoritarian autocracies that use identity markers to polarize the electorate. This feature has continued to pay dividends for the BJP in the Hindi belt in states like UP, MP, and Haryana and in Gujarat since they were catapulted to power in 2014 and the nurturing and promotion of violent, lumpen, Hindutva individuals and mobs to terrorize minorities and Dalits has been a consistent strategy for the last decade. This strategy is likely behind the recent communal riots in the Mewat (or Nuh) region of Haryana that has a large Muslim population. As Naomi Barton writing in The Wire of August 5, 2023 says “The Brij Mandal Jalabhishek Yatra, a religious procession, was taken out by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on a route that was determined to go through Haryana’s Nuh district which is predominantly populated by Muslims. Two days prior to the communal clashes, videos had gone viral featuring Bajrang Dal leaders Monu Manesar and Bittu Bajrangi making inflammatory statements and calling for their supporters to assemble as a show of strength. Both these men have a long hate history-sheet – Manesar has been implicated in the murder of Junaid and Nasir, a hate crime which took place February this year, and Bajrangi was booked last month for an anti-Muslim speech he gave while flashing weaponry.” Engineering a communal riot in this area is a means of consolidating the Hindu vote on an anti-minority Muslim platform to paper over caste divisions that have recently erupted in the wider Hindu community between the Rajput and Gujjar castes, which have implications for the BJP’s vote banks in the forthcoming state elections in Rajasthan in December this year as well as in the Hindi belt in the national elections due in 2024. Stoking communal divisiveness, however, can result in embarrassing and unforeseen consequences of course as seen in the recent incident of a member of the Railway police who shot dead his (Hindu) supervisor and three Muslim men solely on the basis of their appearance on a train from Jaipur to Mumbai. This policeman then made a rambling video praising Modi and Yogi (the fascist BJP leader of UP) leaving no doubt of the inspirers of his murderous act

Another fallout of the promotion of divisive politics is the horrific situation in the north-eastern state of Manipur that has been vividly described by the retired bureaucrat and human rights activist Harsh Mander as being in the throes of a civil war. Although the violence between the minority Kuki-Zo and majority Meitei communities has several causes, an aspect of religious identity has manifested itself since the Kukis are wholly Christian and the Meitei are majority Hindu. Astonishingly for an alleged parliamentary democracy the Prime Minister of the country had nothing to say on Manipur for 77 long days even though his party is ruling the state. Many credible allegations accusing the BJP state government and its chief minister of causing the conflict to seize Kuki-Zo land in the hills for palm oil plantations to benefit crony corporate entities were made over the last two or three months since the violence began but Modi kept his mouth shut. He was finally compelled to open his mouth when the horrendous two and a half-month- old video finally surfaced of two Kuki women paraded naked by Meitei mobs after being gang raped. His response was characteristically hypocritical, as it always is on any incident that might conceivably embarrass him or his party, full of whataboutery on unrelated incidents of atrocities on women in opposition ruled states. The violence continues unabated and has risen to dangerous levels as looting of state armories is still going on. Just a few days ago, an armed mob of several hundred men overpowered the guards at an armory and made off with hundreds of modern weapons like INSAS rifles. Light machine guns, revolvers, carbines, detonators, and SLR guns in addition to large quantities of ammunition. No credible plan to end the conflict in Manipur has emerged nor does one appear likely as long as the current BJP regime remains in power in the state. The dangers of this inter-ethnic conflict spreading to other states in the restive and unstable north-east is obvious but Modi and his cohorts have chosen to ride the tiger of divisiveness as part of their political strategy. What it does to the country remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, what is the impact of BJP and Modi’s policies on the 200 million Muslims in the Indian heartlands so to speak? Even in the National Capital Region of Delhi? The distinguished author and critic Rakhshanda Jalil writing in The Wire of August 4, 2023 writes that “Fear, depression in Indian Muslims is palpable even among those who are ‘privileged. The bigotry, both open and with dog whistles, is leading us towards a downward spiral that will derail the Indian nation.” Whether her sober and prescient remarks will cause people in the educated segments of the majority middle classes to question where they are being led is a matter of speculation as the rot has run very deep.

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