By Zeeshan Haider
Most of India’s 600 million electorate has delivered a thumping seal of approval to Narendra Modi and allies.
But the home of over 1.3 billion people has also emerged religio-socially more polarized than ever before and drifted away from the ideals of its founding fathers since Modi assumed power in June 2014.
The single handed victory – the first in three decades – comes across as a thumping endorsement of the image Modi cultivated as a business-friendly administrator during his three terms as chief minister of Gujrat.
Modi has won, though few of the commitments he had made in 2014 – creation of 20 million jobs, launching of “smart cities” for youth, “purification” the river Ganga – were fulfilled in his five year rule, went into fulfilment.
The corporate India enthusiastically cheered his win, hoping he would ensure continuation of his business-friendly policies. The bullish response of the Indian stock and money markets to the election results was testimony to this euphoria.
Contrastingly, however, Modi’s triumph has deepened worries among secular Indians and fears among vulnerable sections of the Indian society particularly the Muslims, some 13 percent of the total Indian population.
Though a strong anti-Muslim, extremist Hindu lobby has existed in the Indian society since its independence in 1947, yet it has exceptionally grown under the BJP tutelage, stoking the Hindu sentiment by focusing on the ideals of the Hindutva ideals.
It was these strong anti-Muslim sentiments that Modi exploited to stake claim over the chief minister-ship of Gujarat and it was under his watch that India witnessed the gruesome anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 – the worst in the Indian history.
The Gujarat experience emboldened the BJP-allied extremist Hindu groups – Vishva Hindu Prarishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – to inflame anti-Muslim sentiments across the country to promote Hindutva to grab power in New Delhi to make India more Hindu than officially a secular nation idealized by its founding fathers.
And that’s why after Modi became prime minister in 2014, these extremist Hindu groups asserted their agenda more aggressively and violently throughout the country.
Under Modi’s watch, India saw lynching of Muslims by Hindu vigilantes on suspicions of beef-eating, attempts to rewrite the history to give India religiously a more Hindu identity as well as a name-changing spree for several cities associated with a Muslim identity. All these moves were aimed at making officially secular India to look more like a Hindu country.
Such pro-extremist Hindu policies promoted under Modi rule have not just made Muslims vulnerable but have also forced secular parties to discreetly distance themselves from Muslims in order to not annoy their Hindu voters.
In 2014, only seven Muslims contested elections on BJP platform and all lost, making the outgoing parliament the first in India which has no Muslim MP from the ruling party.
The Congress which claims to be a secular party, and the majority of Muslims too have traditionally voted for it, has lately been found to be reluctant to field Muslim candidates for fear of losing contest to a fanatic Hindu rival. Such attitudes mean that gradually the political space is shrinking for Muslim politicians because of mounting pressure of the radical Hindus.
Now Muslim politicians too have been openly expressing their fears over the growing political and social marginalization in India since Modi’s rise to power.
“The (Modi) government wants Muslims to live in India as second-class citizens,” head of All India Majlis-e-IttehadulMuslimeen, AsaduddinOwaisi, said last year.
This growing sense of political and social insecurity among Indian Muslims is a big challenge not just for themselves but for the world, particularly the Western countries who claim to be champions of democracy, human rights groups as well as the Muslim world at large.
Major world powers as well as leading Muslims countries have often overlooked the plight of the Indian Muslims in view of the economic weight of India which has been ranked among the world’s fastest-growing large economies.
Being home to the largest Muslim population in the world, India already enjoys an observer’s status in the 56-member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and eventually may be offered full membership of the grouping but it is time for the Muslim institutions to rise to end sense of insecurity among Indian Muslims, failing which militants could make inroads to exploit situation in their favor.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad firstname.lastname@example.org