Modi’s rise & Indian Muslims
By S. M. Hali
The sixteenth Indian Lok Sabha (lower House of Parliament) elections have resulted in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) grabbing 282 of the 543 seats, enabling it to form the government, without the encumbrance of coalition partners. BJP leader Narendra Modi took oath as Prime Minister on 26 May at the helm of the largest majority government since 1984.
Modi’s meteoric rise was based on the voters’ disenchantment with corruption and mismanagement by the outgoing Indian National Congress and its allies. BJP ran a slick election campaign, making full use of social media, especially focusing on the 23 million first-time come-of-age voters. On the campaign trail, Modi had undertaken the largest mass outreach in India’s electoral history by travelling about 300,000 km for 437 public meetings in 25 states and 1350 innovative 3D rallies.
An alarming outcome of Elections—2014 is that the representation of Muslims in this Lok Sabha will be the lowest since the first general election of 1952. The 16th Lok Sabha will have just 24 Muslim MPs, down from 30 in the 15th and not a single from BJP. That translates to 4.4% of the strength of the House in a country where Muslims comprise 14.3% of the total population.
Muslims got alienated in the latest polls and now feel disenfranchised partly because the BJP shunned secularism, partly because of Modi’s baggage of anti-Muslim campaigns in the province of Gujarat, where the 2002 riots took a massive toll of over 2000 precious Muslim lives under the custodianship of Modi the Chief Minister. The vitriolic anti-Muslim election campaign speeches by Modi in some parts of India like UP and Assam, actually stoked anti Muslim fires and led to riots and wanton killing. Another possible reason for the poor performance of the Muslims in the 2014 elections has been their inability to vote en-bloc and remain divided.
Despite the fact that BJP tried to avoid RSS inspired Hindutva agenda and leveraged “good governance” in the states where they had the government to promise the same in the country. Many Muslims felt insecure when during his election campaigning, Modi responding to critics blame of discarding secularism by asking the counter question: “Do you want progress or secularism?”
A stark contrast between the election campaign run by Pakistani politicians in their general elections in 2013 and the campaign run by India, is that no Pakistani political party baited India. BJP and specifically Narendra Modi, on the contrary, taunted Pakistan as well as Muslims. Small wonder then that the Muslims, cognizant of Narendra Modi’s agenda to reduce the Muslim community in India to second class citizens, feel nervous and dejected.
Mian Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), had promised better trade relations with India if elected to power. His first act after being declared the winner in the 2013 elections was to invite the Indian Prime Minister to attend the inauguration ceremony for the new government but his request was spurned. Pakistan proposed better trade relations with India but that too fell on deaf ears. It goes to Narendra Modi’s credit that he extended invitation to all SAARC leaders to witness his swearing in ceremony. Opinion in Pakistan was divided whether Mian Nawaz Sharif should attend but ultimately the Pakistani Prime Minister graced the occasion. It provided him the opportunity to have an exclusive tête-à-tête with his Indian counterpart. Media reports regarding the actual talks were sketchy but indicated bonhomie while the Indian side disclosed that Nawaz Sharif promoted trade relations but Modi read out the Miranda Rights to Pakistan, insisting on bringing the alleged perpetrators of the Mumbai Attacks to the book and reigning in Pakistani “terrorism” before resumption of dialogue.
These reports and Modi’s appointment of Pakistan-bashers: ex spook Ajit Doval as National Security Adviser and controversial former Army Chief VK Singh as Minister, do little to boost the confidence of the Indian Muslims or Pakistan. In the run up to the elections, Indian armed forces and secret services’ tongue lashing of Pakistan persisted. Indian Express on 9th May 2014 published a baseless article titled ‘Pak Official Named in FIR on Zakir’ alleging that Tamil Nadu police arrested an agent of ISI sent to India to collect details of Indian establishment that ISI wanted to target. In this regard Amir Zubair Siddiqui, Counselor (Visa) at Pakistan High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, was included as second accused in the case, alleging that Pakistani backed extremists were being trained in Sri Lanka. The article further surmised that the arrest of Pakistani spy in India and visa Counselor in Sri Lanka could trigger a diplomatic wrangle between India and Pakistan. The situation was diffused by Sri Lankan authorities but provide a glimpse of what more is in store for Pakistan and Indian Muslims under BJP rule.