The Future of Muslims in Saffronsed India

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 25 Sep 2023

Moin Qazi - TRANSCEND Media Service

21 Sep 2023 – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is inflaming hatred of Muslims in India, as the world looks the other way. Hindu hard-liners, one holding a sword, chant slogans against Muslim communities. A darker narrative is starting to define Modi’s India. The government has been systematically oppressing, marginalizing and inciting hatred toward its 220-million Muslim minority. This campaign has been slowly gathering momentum over the years and has reached new intensity levels today. India is not a healthy democracy.

The poisonous rhetoric is having an effect. Shortly after these speeches, during celebrations commemorating the birth of Lord Rama, multiple attacks took place all over the country.

The dangerous provocations continue. “Tolerant Muslims can be counted on fingers. T. Even that is a tactic. It is to stay in public life with a mask.” Meanwhile, Modi was praising an extremely Islamophobic new film at a rally ahead of local elections this month.

Outside of several civil society groups standing up for a pluralistic India and Muslim rights, the Supreme Court has been the most potent check on the B.J.P. But even among the country’s highest judges, there is a sense of exasperated helplessness. “The state is impotent. The state is powerless. It does not act in time. Why do we have a state if it remains silent?” Justice K.M. Joseph  exclaimed  during a recent hearing, during which he condemned local B.J.P.

There are many, many cases of lynching. Muslims were also prevented from talking to Hindu girls. The vigilante groups called that “love jihad.” Muslims were also precluded from purchasing flats in Hindu-dominated neighbourhoods. There was an actual deterioration of life for Muslims. De facto, you saw them becoming second-class citizens.

After 2019, we saw something new. We saw things changing in the laws. A fundamental rule, for instance, was the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. It was passed to make religion the criterion for accessing Indian nationality. Only non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan were eligible for citizenship. Also, new laws were passed to make interreligious marriages more difficult.

There was also the revocation of Article 370, which had granted some autonomy for Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. These laws were all passed simultaneously after the 2019 election. These elections transformed a de facto ethnic democracy into a de jure ethnic democracy. But they also marked a shift toward authoritarianism. And this authoritarianism took different forms.

First, we saw an attack on the judiciary. [The B.J.P.] tried to change the procedure for appointing judges. They failed. They forgot that Benjamin Netanyahu is failing—not so much because of popular demonstrations but because the Supreme Court’s judges said, no, we don’t want to change how people are appointed. But, in retaliation, the Modi government refused to fix the judges the judiciary had selected for the job. And therefore, in 2017, 2018, and 2019, you had a fantastic number of vacancies. And now the judiciary was on the defensive. They finally internalized this and stopped nominating judges they knew the government would not accept. They also started to become very complacent. So either they validated any law the government passed or refused to take a stand.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act is illegal, but the judges are sitting on it and don’t want to give any verdict. The abolition of Article 370 was unlawful, too. There are a significant number of laws that are in contradiction to the Constitution and which the judges should invalidate. That’s one symptom of authoritarianism.

There is another very interesting symptom, which is the way that the media has been treated. The press in India used to be vibrant, like the judiciary. That’s over. The B.J.P. used the leverage they had on the owners. The people who own the media in India are all businessmen. And these businessmen have other businesses. They need the government’s support for the other businesses, and if the government is not happy with some of the journalists, they ask the businessmen to ease out the journalists.

 Brazil, the United States, or any of these places don’t have bigotry that shapes our politics. But the scale of anti-Muslim prejudice in India and how it has openly infected many areas of Indian public life, especially in the past decade, is astonishing and depressing. I’m curious why you think that is or how it’s happened.

There is a push factor, and there is a pull factor. Islamophobia was fostered by Partition and how Pakistan supported jihadi groups in the two-thousands. That was horrendous. That’s a factor in the mobilization against Muslims, seen as a fifth column of Pakistan articulating a jihadi discourse. But there is also a pull factor: we’ve seen a Hinduization of society.

Why has Hinduism become such an appealing identity? You can only understand it if you look at the modernization of Indian society after 1991 when economic liberalization resulted in more growth, urbanization, and consumerism. These were the ingredients of a new middle class to become the core electorate of the B.J.P. This group became affluent but also rootless. They searched for an identity and found it in Hindu nationalism, which endowed them with cultural anchor points. This upper-caste middle class turned to new, modern, English-speaking gurus and sectarian movements in Gujarat and elsewhere.   The B.J.P. has been very good at tapping that source of legitimacy by co-opting these gurus. More generally, the Ayodhya movement for building the temple in Ayodhya has enabled the B.J.P. to capitalize on this appetite for Hinduism and pride in a Hindu identity.

 Finally, they won because, in 2020, the Supreme Court of India said, go ahead, you can lay the first stone. Modi acts as though he were a priest, as if he were the tremendous priestly head of India. You have a kind of theocracy in the making here, right? It explains a significant part of his popularity.

 Through the first week of August, against the hum of G20 preparations, communal riots took place an hour from Delhi, in which a Hindu mob burned down a mosque. As foreign delegates across the world travelled to India to meet their counterparts in the run-up to the G20 summit, calls for a social and economic boycott of Muslims were made in Gurgaon, the satellite city of Delhi, by far-right Hindu nationalist organizations.

Muslims in India are not just humiliated on the streets. They are being demonized and vilified on the big screen. Modi has praised and defended two films criticized as deeply Islamophobic, The Kashmir Files and The Kerala Story, in his election rallies. Some state governments even exempted the movie from certain entertainment taxes.

The idea of ‘Muslim Mind’ seems to influence our public discussions interestingly. Although there has always been some curiosity about “how Muslims think and behave in secular India”, the rise of the Modi-led B.J.P. as the dominant force at the national level has transformed this sincere concern into political anxiety.

The B.J.P.’s Hindutva politics revolves around the slogan of sab ka saath, sab ka vikas, sab ka vishwas , claiming that there is no need to treat Muslims as a separate social entity. The party, no doubt, is making serious efforts to reach out to the Pasmanda Muslim communities, yet, the ‘Muslim mind’ is still seen as a problematic question.

Critics of the B.J.P. are equally puzzled. Non-BJP parties have indeed opposed aggressive Hindutva and its violent anti-Muslim manifestations. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, supported by civil society organizations and people’s movements, was a serious attempt in this regard. Yet, there is unease among non-BJP groups. Despite advocating communal brotherhood as a core political value, opposition parties do not want to be labelled as “pro-Muslim”. The impression that the ‘Muslim mind’ can only be understood as an anti-BJP phenomenon seems to guide their political strategy.

The prime minister is projecting himself as a vishwaguru (global leader) through India’s hosting of the G20. The craven mainstream news channels in India project him as the only leader with the solution to the Ukraine crisis and other global issues – without questioning his inability to fix the civil unrest in India. In the week of the G20 summit, when India needs to project itself as an inclusive plural democracy, the discussions are now focused on renaming it “Bharat” to allegedly break free of colonial chains. The undercurrent to this discussion is the political right’s desire to restore “Hindu glory” to the nation.

Foreign nations that buy into the P.R. blitzkrieg calling India the world’s largest democracy out of commercial and geostrategic interests or lazy naivety are complicit in the accelerating decline of democratic values in India. For now, the host of the G20 summit is reeling under one of the most un-democratic periods in its history.

Islam continues to be deeply rooted and still present in everyday life, profoundly influencing various societies and ideologies. Islam remains a system of values by which Muslims live. It is robust enough to survive the complexities that have buffeted world civilizations in the past and has the answer to even those potential threats hovering around in the social environment.

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Moin Qazi, PhD Economics, PhD English, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment and a member of NITI Aayog’s National Committee on Financial Literacy and Inclusion for Women. He is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades in India and can be reached at moinqazi123@gmail.com.


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Sep 2023.

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One Response to “The Future of Muslims in Saffronsed India”

  1. MUHAMMED Husain says:

    Well wrtten. Factual, comprehensive and well documented. It’s not in the interest of any democracy to abandon impartiality and the rule of law. Judiciary must be allowed to work independently without any fear of consequences to the deliverers of justice. State must remain vigilant to forces of creating divisions in the society.