Indian secularism holds its ground
By: Nilofar Suhrawardy
Indian Muslims are rightly apprehensive over a spate of communal incidents taking place in India. The anti-Muslim forces in the country, Muslims think, are buoyed by the formation of government at the center by a radical Hindu party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is giving these elements virtually a license to take law into their own hands and create a communal atmosphere.
Recently a legislator of Shiv Sena, an ally of the ruling BJP, force-fed a Muslim employee, who was fasting; and a BJP leader questioned the national credentials of tennis star, Sania Mirza. These incidents are disturbing, as both the incidents involved Hindu leaders belonging to the ruling party.
Irrespective of whether BJP-led government remains silent on the issue or not, there are several aspects to it that cannot be ignored.
Thanks to the secular groups, media and rights groups, Muslims have not been left isolated. Rather such occurrences of communal overtones have backfired.
Questions are being raised as how could the Shiv Sena legislator have the audacity to hurt the religious sentiments of a fasting Muslim? Why is Sania’s nationalism being questioned?
Media and the secular Indians with support of other political and social sections have pushed these anti-social communal elements in the dock. Their behavior is being questioned. These leaders may still escape the legal trap. But their political image stands considerably damaged as the dark side of their communal characteristics is exposed.
Many of the Shiv Sena and BJP leaders are communally rabid and are known for their anti-Muslim stance.
Ahead of the recent parliamentary elections, BJP’s chief campaigner and currently the prime minister, Narendra Modi, went overboard in convincing the electorate about his “secular” credentials. He did not assume power by invoking religious appeal to Hindus or creating communal verbose to polarize votes. Modi sought vote on development agenda, without adding any extremely religious and/or communal color to it.
India has witnessed right-wing political parties playing communal cards during election that never helped any party gain power at the center. BJP in particular has taken a long time to accept this socio-political reality.
Modi played a true Machiavellian when he took care to showcase some Muslims in his audience to earn extra mileage in the elections. Political compulsion apparently made Modi shed his communal image and put on a secular mask. Now that Modi has completed two months in office, his actual “secularism” remains under constant scrutiny of the public and media. It is not without reason that questions are being raised as to why he remained silent on communal incidents targeting Muslims.
For a change, Modi’s silence is not helping him improve his political image. It is not adding to the “secular” image he tried so hard to promote during parliamentary elections.
In other words, by promoting his own “secular” image during his electoral campaign, Modi has also indirectly raised “secular” expectations from his role as an Indian prime minister.
An impression is also being created that Modi cannot be blamed for communalism displayed by others linked with his party. This view would have carried some credence if Modi was not heading the present Indian government. As prime minister, he will be held responsible for communal activities, targeting secularism, by those associated with his party and the government.
The editorials and opinion pieces carried by Indian dailies questioning Modi’s silence over such communal incidents make it clear that advocates of Indian secularism have not given in to communal forces. Rather, by loudly raising questions about their communal behavior as well as Modi’s silence, Indian secular forces have consolidated their position. Thus, while deliberating over several Shiv Sena legislators’ communal behavior, it is equally important to pay due note to the same having been virtually cornered by Indian secularism. Sounds of communalism and that of Modi’s silence have not been allowed to succeed because of secularism displayed by the majority of Indians.