Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit is indeed historic. But not for the reasons he and his friends would like us to believe.
For eight long years, the prime minister did not conduct a single press conference or field unvetted questions in an interview by a journalist critical of his government. The closest he ever came to a press conference since the last time he addressed one (in London in November 2015), was in May, 2019. But while he did appear before reporters with Amit Shah, he did not take any questions.
‘Aap aam kaise khate hain (how do you like to eat your mangoes)’?
‘Aap thakte kyun nahi hain, kaun sa tonic lete hain (why do you not get tired? which energy tonic do you take)’?
‘Kya aap jeb mein batua rakhte hain (do you keep a wallet in your pocket)’?
These were so far the kind of ‘questions’ Modi has been asked on the performance of his government.
Many journalists have been raising questions and demanding accountability from Narendra Modi and his government but to no avail. The Wire, in the past, has even published wish lists of questions for Modi if he ever was to hold a press conference or if someone got a chance to interview him. But it has proven an impossibility for all of us.
After more than 100 episodes of ‘Mann Ki Baat’ and being used to his ‘monologues only’ style, I blinked in disbelief when I read about Modi holding a press conference in Washington – even if he had agreed to take just one question each from an Indian and a US reporter.
The Wall Street Journal’s White House correspondent Sabrina Siddiqui was given the opportunity to ask a question to Modi.
“India has long prided itself as the world’s largest democracy, but there are many human rights groups who say that your government has discriminated against religious minorities and sought to silence its critics. What steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and to uphold free speech?” she asked.
Modi replied blithely that there was no discrimination in India based on identity.
“We have always proved that democracy can deliver. And when I say deliver, this is regardless of caste, creed, religion, gender. There’s absolutely no space for discrimination. And when you talk of democracy, if there are no human values and there is no humanity, there are no human rights, then it’s not a democracy,” he said.
This categorical denial of discrimination and violence is being hailed by BJP supporters on social media as the “shutting down of a Pakistani journalist” by Modi.
Siddiqui, who is actually Indian American, is also being attacked online for her Muslim identity by Hindutva supporters. In response to the trolling, she posted pictures of herself and her father in blue jerseys, supporting the Indian cricket team.
Since some have chosen to make a point of my personal background, it feels only right to provide a fuller picture. Sometimes identities are more complex than they seem. pic.twitter.com/Huxbmm57q8
— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) June 24, 2023
The fact that Siddiqui felt compelled to respond tells its own story about what India has become in the last nine years and should not surprise us. But Modi’s blatant denial of the systematic targeting of Muslims in India is shocking for any journalist who has been reporting on the daily injustices and oppression faced by Muslims in India under his government. It is also bewildering that even on a global stage, he can misrepresent the truth with such ease and also get away with it.
Since 2014, Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party under him have controlled key sources of disseminating information and have spent millions to twist the truth and deceive the people of India. But the truth eventually breaks through.
Modi’s years in power have seen divisive politics. He has brought regressive laws and policies which have aimed at changing India’s primary identity from a confident, modern and forward-looking nation state to one that is stuck in the past. The targeting of Muslims is designed to reduce their status from equal members of society to second class citizens.
Even his claim that the benefits of government schemes are available to all regardless of religion are contradicted by the discontinuation of the Haj ‘subsidy’ (even though many other religious pilgrimages get state support) and suspension of the Maulana Azad National Scholarship for minority students. In fact, this discrimination is celebrated by the BJP domestically as the withdrawal of ‘privileges’ given to Muslims in the past.
But the anti-Muslim bias of Modi government runs much, much deeper. Consider the following seven examples.
- Muslim Women (Protection) of Rights on Marriage Act, 2019
Through the Muslim Women (Protection) of Rights on Marriage Act, 2019, the Modi government criminalised the already invalidated instantaneous talaq method of divorce among Muslims, where pronouncing the word ‘talaq’ three times by the husband in one go was considered a complete divorce procedure.
While triple talaq had already been held illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of India, the new law criminalised a Muslim man’s attempt to desert his wife by saying the word three times. Now, the abandonment of wives – whether by Muslim men taking recourse to triple talaq or by men of any religion under any pretext – is a serious issue in India. Yet Modi’s law criminalised only Muslim men who fail to follow the divorce procedure prescribed in law.
- ‘Love Jihad’
The unrelenting parade of ‘love jihad’ laws continues even when there is no court of law in the country that has ever found any credible evidence of the existence of this spurious conspiracy theory – dreamt up by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and BJP – that Muslims are trying to convert Hindu women to Islam.
None of the BJP-ruled state governments have any data or definition as to what ‘love jihad’ is. But by the end of 2022, at least 11 of these states had passed laws in one form or the other that criminalise inter-faith marriages.
Films like The Kerala Story further feed into the same Islamophobic conspiracy theories of ‘innocent’ Hindu women being lured by evil Muslim men to convert them to Islam – and that one day this will lead to the population of Muslims exceeding Hindus, thus turning India into an Islamic nation. The endorsement of such films (and the ludicrous conspiracy theories they promote) by none other than the prime minister of India tells us that popular cinema has become a new tool for Hindutva propaganda and gets official backing for this enterprise.
- The Citizenship (Amendment) Act
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act added a religious criteria to India’s citizenship laws for the first time.
It took three neighbouring countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – and fast-tracked the citizenship applications of non-Muslim refugees who arrived in India before December 31, 2014, and stayed on without valid papers. Muslim refugees are excluded from this benefit regardless of the time spent in India or the fact that they may have Indian spouses or that their children may have been born in India.
The Modi government claims that the law is not anti-Muslim but is only meant to help persecuted minorities neighbouring countries. However it has no explanation for why persecuted minorities like the Tamils in Sri Lanka or the Rohingya and Kachin in Myanmar do not qualify for India’s empathy.
- The reading down of Article 370: Taking away autonomy from India’s only Muslim-majority state
On August 5, 2019, the Modi government read down Article 370 which granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir special constitutional status, and split it into two downgraded union territories.
It is clear now that the aim was to change the fundamental character of Kashmir in every sense of the word.
In the name of ‘integration’, the attack is not just on J&K’s autonomy and Muslim identity, but the land, politics, culture and the very way of life of Kashmir and Kashmiris was attacked. Besides other things, the new change allowed non-residents to purchase property and apply for jobs that had been reserved for the state’s population, the majority of whom are Muslims.
- Silence over calls for genocide by Hindutva leaders and the boycott of Muslims by BJP legislators
Over a year ago, in December 2021, a large gathering of Hindu religious leaders, hardline fundamentalist individuals and members of Hindutva organisations was held at Haridwar. This three-day ‘Dharma Sansad’ witnessed a flood of hate speeches against Muslims, including open threats of rape. Many of the speakers later were found to be connected with the BJP and its wider Sangh Parivar. Not only are most of the persons seen making hate speeches now free, the cycle of hate speeches and violence continues to date.
In October, 2022, BJP MP Parvesh Verma participated in a VHP rally and asked for the economic boycott of Muslims.
Just six months ago, the ‘Early Warning Project’ ranked India eighth among countries that are at the highest risk for mass killing.
- Illegal demolition of Muslim houses, shops, madrasas and mazars
The illegal demolition of houses and shops particularly in states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh has become the latest weapon to spread fear and insecurity among Muslims.
At the smallest pretext of a Muslim being accused of a criminal act, the state sends bulldozers to raze properties belonging to the accused. This, before a court of law has pronounced any verdict. While in Assam, madrasas are being razed, in Uttarakhand it is mazars which are the new target of the state government. The government itself has announced that ‘330 illegal mazars’ have been demolished in just three months.
- Is Modi an Indian PM or a Hindu king?
While laying the foundation of the Ram temple amidst great fanfare, Modi appeared more like a religious leader and less like the elected representative of 1.4 billion people of various religions and ethnicities.
On August 5, 2020 he laid the foundation for a Ram temple at the very place where a mosque, which stood for close to five centuries, was illegally brought down on December 6, 1992. The ‘bhumi pujan’ performed by the prime minister was essentially a declaration of India’s official shift from a secular democracy to a non-secular Hindu-first country. The radical transformation of the world’s largest democracy, one that incidentally is also home to more than 200 million Muslims who were made to feel orphaned in their own country.
He repeated this religious and Brahmanical demonstration while inaugurating the new parliament building last month. The ‘all faith prayer’ which was also held after the Vedic rituals only served to demonstrate the primacy, in Modi’s mind, of Hinduism at both the social-cultural and political level.
‘Democracy is in our DNA’ and ‘India is a mother of Democracy’ – on international platforms, Narendra Modi is often seen taking pride in India’s rich democratic legacy, its diversity and multiculturalism. He derives his authority from being a leader who represents 1.4 billion people. But at home this ‘Vishwaguru of democracy’ promotes the opposite – the politics of Hindu supremacy. It is time the world sees through Modi’s hypocrisy and how he uses democracy as a cushion against Western criticism of his regime.
Source: The Wire