“Can World’s Largest Democracy Endure Another Five Years of Modi Government?”

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Time magazine

Safi Jannaty | Caravan Daily

THE title of the feature in the latest edition of Time magazine “Can the World’s Largest Democracy Endure Another Five Years of a Modi Government?” echoed sentiments reverberating across the drawing rooms of not only the intellectuals and liberals but also for those who have secularism close to their hearts.

For a greater part, the author has maintained a line that reflects agony and frustration of the conscientious souls that did not find enough avenues to manifest. The most conspicuous torment of the Modi’s rule of five years had been the unsaid and undeclared curb on the freedom of speech. As the author quoted one of BJP’s young politicians, Tejaswi Surya, who maintained that if you are not toeing the line of Modi, you are a traitor.  As the henpecked bureaucrats of the independent governmental bodies fell at the feet of Modi-Shah duo, equally well supported by what a veteran journalist, Arun Shourie had termed ‘Godi Media’ (media sitting in the lap of Modi) there was hardly any need for the government to declare an emergency or place restrictions by means of a written instrument.

However, all said and done, the feature has a few glaring inaccuracies along with the author’s lack of insight on some issues. While it is true that Indian Muslims were allowed to keep the Shariah-based family law; it cannot be argued that Hindus have been left to any unequal or biased law of the land. They too enjoyed the liberty to follow or have the Hindu Code Bill applied insofar as their family affairs are concerned.  They referred to arcane practice, triple Talaq, which was rarely a norm and a clear misinterpretation of Shariah, has not only been done away now by means of a highly contentious regulation, it has also been made a crime with punishment more severe than that faced by men of other communities for violation of any of their family law.  On the face of it, the law talked of equality of women and safeguarding their rights; yet, in reality, it is the first step to ultimately strip the Muslims of their right to apply Shariah in their personal affairs.

The author’s contention that the places of worship of the majority were often taken away by the government made it sound as if they were debarred to practice their rites and rituals in the manner they wished or allowed the government to demolish or make them available for public use and benefit. They are just administered by the Government Endowments agency through the respective trusts for the sake of avoiding malpractices and misappropriation of monies and other valuables received from devotees without any interference in the day to day affairs or religious administration.

The case of Sabarimala temple of Kerala where the Supreme Court had to order for the removal of a ban on the entry of women, which had been imposed by the trust of the temple serves as a classic example of the autonomy of the trusts. Besides, government exchequers incur huge expenses for the upkeep of temples as well as in facilitating different events associated with temples and festivals. Recently, the Government of Uttar Pradesh incurred a hefty expenditure of Rs. 4, 200 crores, which is equivalent to over $ 60,0000000 for the Kumbh Mela, a mega religious festival hosted in 2019. In the past few decades, there are hundreds of cases where different idols have been placed inside or beside the historical monuments and the encroached spaces got wider and wider without any protests being staged.

Not only did the administration both at the centre and the state failed miserably to stop the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, but even the successive non-BJP governments did little to prosecute and punish the culprits. This tacit support has emboldened Pragya Thakur who is under trial for bomb blasts and is also contesting parliamentary elections to claim that she was part of the mob that led the demolition and that did not even raise any eyebrows.

The author has overlooked the fact that though the Muslim population has increased both in terms of numbers and percentage post-independence, their representation in all spheres has continually shrunk to the extent of them being overtly marginalized.  Muslim representation in India’s parliament shrank from 9 per cent in 1980 to a mere four per cent in 2014 and post elections, this percentage will get a further dent as political parties across the country are shying away from giving tickets to Muslim candidates.

The situation is no different in the judiciary, civil services, police, and armed forces.  In fact, the Sachar Committee formed in 2006 by Dr. Manmohan Singh to study the socio-economic condition of Muslims highlighted that though Muslims constitute 14 per cent of the Indian population, they only comprised 2.5 per cent of the Indian bureaucracy and concluded that the conditions being faced by the Indian Muslims were worse than that of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who have been provided with reservations in education and government jobs since independence. A few state governments offered reservations to Muslims, but that largely remained as a poll promise.

In short, the author has failed to highlight inordinate marginalization of Muslims and question the hollowness of the grounds on which Modi and his ilk have been able to create a feeling of insecurity to drive a larger section of the majority into their folds to gain power. Again, the author has extracted the words out of the mouth of the Hindutva brigade without giving credit to them to propagate that there existed unresolvable divisions between people who had previously not known that they disagreed with one another.

While the article puts an accurate number of the Sikh people killed during the 1984 riots, it has wrongly lowered the casualty of Gujarat riots of 2002. Not over 1000, but more than 2,000 people were butchered mercilessly by the mobs under the direct supervision and support of high profile leaders of BJP and ministers in Modi’s State government.  Further, the author has brushed aside the role of Narendra Modi in instigating those riots and turning a blind eye to the burning and maiming of people across the State.  As admitted now by a former BJP minister and leader, Yashwant Sinha, the prime minister of that time, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was determined to sack Modi as the chief minister, but he fell short of taking that decision due to the threat of resignation by his deputy, L.K. Advani.

Ironically, in the final analysis, notwithstanding the epithet, the article bolsters the agenda of BJP as it highlights the reasons of the rise of the Saffron brigade and presents the party and the man of the hour as the saviour of the majority. When the leaders of the party are leaving no stone unturned in polarizing the communities and seeking votes from one particular section, the feature rather supports their agenda and objective.

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Safi Jannaty is Contributing Editor of Caravan Daily. Views are personal

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