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Battle for Delhi and Muslims

As the battle for Delhi gets serious, both the BJP and Congress look to polarize a fractious nation

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

Aijaz Syed

If only Narendra Modi would speak more often in Queen’s English and interact with media rolling more of those pearls of wisdom! It’s amazing what one close encounter and unguarded moment could do to break facades and false gods. After years of calibrated speeches in controlled environment and breathless hagiographies by reverential journalists, the Gujarat leader turned the spotlight on himself with the Reuters interview. And what was supposed to have been the great Modi makeover ahead of the 2014 polls ended up exposing warts and all–and the monster in the mirror.

Well, the silly season is back in India. As the battle for ballot heats up, politicians are aggressively hawking their wares. Knives are out and all pretenses of civility are discarded. You must tune in to some of these prime time television debates to know what I mean. Everyone speaks at the top of their voice all at the same time, reminding you of resolute roadside vendors in Indian bazaars.

But it’s carnival time for political observers and news junkies like me. There’s so much happening all at the same time that you are often spoiled for choice. Looks like this election, still a year away, is going to be one of the nastiest and most divisive in India’s history.

The BJP saw to it when it picked up Modi as its campaign chief, effectively declaring him as its prime ministerial candidate ignoring his role in the 2002 pogrom. It’s like Yugoslavia choosing Radovan Karadzic as its presidential candidate after the Balkan genocide. But it’s specious to view the BJP in isolation of Modi or vice versa. He is the product of and personifies the worldview of his party and its ideological ‘parivar.’

However, no matter how hard Modi and his spinmeisters try, fudging facts here and leaning on a pliant media there, to try to reinvent, refurbish and reposition his image as the popular, all-embracing knight in the shining armor India has been waiting for, it just doesn’t cut it.

You may bend over backwards trying to be what you are not but the truth has an irritating way of slipping out. A leopard cannot change its spots. And all the Goebbelsian spin in the world cannot wash the blood on your hands.

No one expected Modi to go on his knees and offer an apology but ‘kutte ka bachcha’ (puppy)? That was a bit bewildering even for the larger saffron brotherhood. But then Muslims indeed have a dog’s life in the Vibrant Gujarat. Even worse. At least, a puppy evokes the sympathy and compassion in Gujarat. “In our culture every form of life is valued and worshipped,” Modi tweeted later responding to the furor over the ‘puppy’ analogy. Muslims aren’t part of the animal world revered by the Sangh though.   

As CPM leader Brinda Karat points out, Modi’s concern for puppies is as touching as was Hitler’s love for his dog. The Nazis enacted one of the most comprehensive animal protection legislations in the world that ensured anaesthetizing fish before they were cut up and lobsters were killed swiftly rather than experience the pain of being slowly boiled. In Nazi minds, there was no conflict between caring for animals and killing of Jews.

And if you think that the ‘puppy love’ was a Freudian slip or derogatory to Muslims, think again. Actually, it was benign considering how Modi and his fellow travelers see the largest minority and have repeatedly dealt with it. Why, the visceral hatred of Muslims has been the very basis and raison detre of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh–founded in 1925–and its numerous offshoots and affiliates including BJP. 

What do you expect from someone who single-mindedly presided over the worst, state-sponsored religious massacre in India’s history? He remains defiantly unrepentant about the past that refuses to go away. “I did my best under the given circumstances,” Modi told Reuters without batting an eyelid.

He sure did his best to ensure no one intervened to disrupt the dance of death that went on for nearly three months monitored by his ministers and top administration officials. He doesn’t have to be sorry for mass rapes and murders either. Even pregnant women weren’t spared; neither were babies in their womb.

What apologies can anyone demand or offer for such actions? It’s all there in testimonies running into thousands of pages—offered before numerous courts, government inquiries, public hearings conducted by citizens groups and investigations by publications like Tehelka. The reign of terror didn’t end in 2002. It has continued in the form of staged police encounters of innocents like Ishrat, and total marginalization of the community.

The web of lies and deceit–detailed in the CBI charge sheet this week–that not just involved Gujarat ministers and top cops but even included Intelligence Bureau operating under the Center reveals the extent of sickness and deep-seated systemic prejudice against Muslims.   

The highest court in the land has slammed the chief minister for his role comparing him to a fiddling Nero. Several of his senior officials are either behind bars or awaiting their moment of reckoning. Yet this man not just has the audacity to claim a ‘clean chit’ from Supreme Court, he dreams of leading the nation of Gandhi.

None of Modi’s speeches–and those of other Sangh luminaries—are complete without the taunts and barbs targeting the community. Even his attacks on the Congress are pegged on its ‘Muslim appeasement.’ The latest salvo against the governing party accusing it of “hiding behind the burqa of secularism” is a case in point.

From targeting Sonia Gandhi’s Italian, Roman Catholic roots to attacking her close aide from Gujarat as ‘Mian Ahmed Patel,’ nothing and no one is beyond the barbed wire. On other occasions, Modi has attacked the party that led India’s freedom struggle as the ‘Delhi sultanate’ implying Muslims still ruled India. In the past, in veiled and not so veiled attacks on Indian Muslims as the fifth column of Pakistan, he would get into a one-sided verbal duel with ‘Mian Musharraf’ next door.       

As the battle for Delhi gets serious and Modi and his party pull out all steps, this cynical game is bound to get deadlier and dirtier, dangerously polarizing a complex country with enough on its plate. Clearly, the BJP whose vote share has dwindled over the years believes that without polarizing the nation along communal lines, as it did in the ‘80s and 90’s, it cannot win capture Delhi.

Ironically, under siege over corruption and bad governance and deeply unpopular, the Congress hopes for the same. Else Muslims and other minorities are unlikely to rally around the party which for all this ‘appeasement’ talk has repeatedly betrayed them. And Muslims once again find themselves caught in the middle and in the unwelcome spotlight.

While the BJP remains an open enemy, the Congress has been playing the games it has played and perfected over these years. While it uses the community as its ‘vote bank’ raising the Hindutva bogey from time to time, the condition of Muslims has progressively worsened.

The last few years have seen the victimization of thousands of innocent Muslims, from Modi’s Gujarat to Mulayam Singh’s Uttar Pradesh, at the hands of security agencies on the Congress’s watch. So between the BJP and Congress, it’s indeed a Hobson’s choice.

But is this merely a concern of Muslims? This is the battle for India and the idea of India. What is at stake is the very soul and the future of the great nation. A country as diverse and complex as this needs an inclusive and all-embracing leader capable of healing and uniting this nation of myriad competing identities, not split and polarize it further. Humanity is worth more than a dog’s life.  

Email: aijaz.syed@hotmail.com


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