Modi’s mission begins at home

Syed Aijaz Zaka

By: Syed Aijaz Zaka

August is the month of anniversaries and memories in South Asia. This past week saw India and Pakistan celebrate their Independence with the usual fanfare although it was a rather muted affair on the other side of the border. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party was spoiled by the clamorous calls of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri demanding instant revolution.

In India, national celebrations were led by Narendra Modi, something many in India and around the world had hoped they wouldn’t see in their lifetime. Modi, who cut his ideological teeth in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and went on to become its proud propagandist, was expected to break from the past. And he did — by choosing his trademark short-sleeves kurta with a polka dotted flaming orange turban and speaking in Hindi.

But that’s where the predictability ended. What Modi said in his maiden I-Day address took everyone by surprise. With the Red Fort in the backdrop and majestic Jama Masjid on his left, Modi said Indians needed to “shed the poison of communalism and casteism.”

“How long will this continue?” he asked. “We have fought long enough. We have killed enough. Turn back and see. Has anyone gained anything?”

Lamenting that decades of bloodshed had caused deep wounds to ‘Bharat Mata,’ the PM proposed a 10-year moratorium on violence. One couldn’t believe one’s ears. Is it the same man whose name was not long ago synonymous with the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat that killed nearly 2,000 Muslims? But Modi, the PM, in 2014 was urging national unity and harmony and stressing the need to build a new, all-embracing India.

What do we make of this change, if it’s indeed a change? Has Modi had a sudden change of heart, an overnight metamorphosis? None of us ‘cynical sickulars’ (in Hindutva’s parlance) in our wildest dreams had imagined that the man, who is said to have presided over Gujarat 2002, would one day preach tolerance and plead for purging the nation of “poison of communalism.”

Indeed, as that eternal cynic who was a regular at the Mughal court at the Red Fort, would put it, “Yeh masail-e-tasawwuf, yeh tera bayaan Ghalib/Tujhay hum wali samajhte, jo na badakhwar hota (These philosophies you spout with such pompous gravity, Ghalib!/People would think you wise, if you weren’t such a goddamn drunk).

What Modi said made sense. One is almost tempted to take his words seriously. The trouble is, even as the PM has been trying to make a break from the past, projecting himself as a reasonable, pragmatic leader emphasizing time and again on ‘good governance and development of all’ as he promised during his poll campaign, his party and larger ideological parivar have been pushing a different, conflicting agenda.

While he has been signing paeans to inclusive growth and progress, Hindutva rabble-rousers have been dipping into their old bag of tricks, playing the same old games that come naturally to them.

The past few months have seen hundreds of communal riots in sensitive states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Tactics have been familiar, with Muslims the target. Last month, rumors of a Hindu teacher being “gang-raped and converted to Islam” in a madrassa, of all the places, spread like wildfire in UP with the media, politicians and everyone else screaming their heads off about “mass rapes and conversions.”

A state government probe though found it to be a complete hoax with the girl insisting it wasn’t a ‘gang-rape’ but a love affair. The findings were totally ignored by the media though and wagging tongues are yet to fall silent. Meanwhile, UP continues to simmer and fear stalks the land. BJP leaders, members of Parliament no less, talk of more Muzffarnagars waiting to happen.

Now that an RSS pracharak is the PM. Some suggest, India is already a Hindu state. Ashok Singhal is confident the ‘ideal RSS swayamsevak’ that Modi is, he’s ready to paint India saffron. On the other hand, saffronization of history and text books has begun in all earnest. Either all this is happening with the blessings of Modi and according to a well-defined strategy or the Parivar is singing its own discordant tune, independent of Modi’s orchestra. Either way, this is a disturbing state of affairs.

Any attempt to change the democratic and secular character of the constitution and polity could have potentially catastrophic consequences for the country. So it’s all very well for Modi to talk of inclusive growth and a 10-year moratorium on communal violence. But who started it in the first place and who still continues to stir the cauldron of religious hatred across the country? More important, as Amulya Ganguli asked soon after Modi’s I-Day address, will the PM’s own Hindutva allies heed his call for reason?

I do not doubt Modi’s seriousness. He means what he says albeit for selfish reasons. Now that he has won the election, Congress has been wiped out and no serious opposition exists to confront him, the only obstacle to his uninterrupted power, or at least for 10 years, is from within. He wouldn’t want his fellow travelers to upset the applecart with their excessive missionary zeal and delusional designs.

We all know Modi speaks well, much better than his predecessor and many of his detractors. In the end though actions speak louder than words. His mission to save India and the world must begin at home— with his own parivar.

The writer is a Gulf-based commentator.



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