TIME magazine’s May 20 international issue has given the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi its prestigious cover. He was on Time’s cover in 2015 that was early in his first term as prime minister and in 2012 as Gujarat’s chief minister. He is not the first Indian prime minister to have been given this honour. Many other Indian prime ministers have in the past been honoured by Time but the cover given to Narendra Modi on May 20 was exceptional. It came with a very controversial tag. The words ‘divider in chief’ were inscribed in bold letters on the cover beside his robust face.
The Time cover for Narendra Modi came while he is fighting a tough battle to lead the NDA to a second consecutive term. The elections have already seen the penultimate of the seven phases on May 12 and the last phase to elect the final 59 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha will be held on May 19. Hindutva that had provided the unassailable wind in the NDA’s sail in 2014 to sweep that year’s national elections is not so unassailable this time. Issues related to jobs, condition of farmers, particularly their suicides, that are of concern to the overwhelming majority of the voters are proving difficult impediments for the NDA against the backdrop of a decline in the Hindutva appeal. And its attempt to play the national security card with skirmishes with Pakistan in February has been largely ignored by the voters.
Narendra Modi was convinced well before the voting started on April 12 that he would have to play the Hindutva card to its fullest limit and beyond and hope and pray that it would at least hold the Hindu base to give the NDA the government even with a reduced majority. The prime minister’s prayer that Congress-led UPA under Rahul Gandhi would be unsuccessful to consolidate an alliance big and strong enough to challenge the NDA by taking advantage of its difficult electoral predicament was largely answered also well before the elections. The NDA, thus, went to the elections being aware that the Hindutva card would be its major and perhaps only weapon to recharge its base to return to power.
West Bengal is witnessing this NDA strategy of playing the Hindutva card to its utmost. The prime minister has pointed the finger at Mamata Banerjee for aligning with the Islamic fundamentalists against the interests of Hindus in the state hoping to unite the overwhelming majority of them there to support the NDA candidates encouraging Indiandefencereview.com to write ‘… the worrisome part for India is that vote-bank politics in West Bengal has invited global jihadi groups and the affiliates of al-Qaeda and Islamic State into West Bengal.’
Narendra Modi and BJP leaders have pointed the finger at Bangladesh as the source of the jihadi influences in West Bengal and in the politics of Trinamool in trying to ignite Hindutva. The prime minister is, in fact, using Hindutva as president Trump had used racism in the 2016 US elections to energise the base. Donald Trump had used racism in an end-justifies-means way not caring that it would affect his country adversely. Narendra Modi is using Hindutva the same way not caring about its impact on India. (Narendra Modi has very recently threatened to push four million ‘Bangladeshis’ from Assam if the NDA came back to power to ignite Hindutva in Assam.)
Candidate Trump was repeatedly asked by his campaign team not to go overboard in attacking the black and the immigrants, particularly the Hispanics, believing that it would encourage all of them not to vote for him where otherwise there were some who were prepared to vote for him. He thought otherwise; that the more he abused them, the more he would consolidate his base with the possibility that many Democrats who shared the same dislike for the black and immigrants would vote for him in key states. That happened in Michigan, Wisconsin and Philadelphia that was one of the main reasons for Donald Trump’s unexpected victory.
Narendra Modi is doing exactly the same thing in West Bengal. He knows that the 27.1 per cent Muslims or 24.6 million in the state would not cast any votes for the NDA but by stating repeatedly in public meetings that Islamic fundamentalism and jihadi beliefs are rampant in the state and linking them to the TMC, he could ignite Hindutva among West Bengal’s majority Hindu voters to help the NDA win some of the 34 seats that the TMC had won in 2014. The massive roadshow of the BJP’s president Amit Shah in Kolkata on May 14 to put this strategy into motion brought a huge number of people to the streets that have shaken Mamata Banarjee’s confidence hinting that the aggressive emphasis on Hindutva alone could not only win more seats for the NDA in West Bengal but also ultimately pave its way to return to power.
The total dependence on Hindutva will nevertheless polarise India’s already extremely polarised politics even further. And that puts a totally different and dangerous perspective to Time’s tag to Narendra Modi as India’s divider in chief. The Time magazine is well known for its dislike for the Indian prime minister. However, Time’s dislike notwithstanding, the tag that could not have come for the Indian prime minister at a more difficult time and his promise to take India to the pinnacle of greatness. The tough fight for survival has pushed Narendra Modi to use Hindutva on the crudest analysis of statistics, and nothing else, that in an India that is 79 per cent Hindu, the political benefits of Hindutva are endless.
In pushing Hindutva without due consideration of what it entails, Narendra Modi has perhaps inadvertently introduced the two-nation theory back in Indian politics. The two-nation theory was the one that the Congress and Indian historians believed was what had caused the partition in 1947 and had blamed the Muslim League for it. The Congress further believed that without the theory, India would have achieved its independence from the British as a united country, its Hindu-Muslim divide notwithstanding. Hindutva as Narendra Modi is using it now is saying loud and clear that India is only for the Hindus precisely what the Muslim League had said with the two-nation theory with an important difference though.
The Hindutva-inspired two-nation theory wants the whole of India for the Hindus, not considering even as an afterthought what would happen to the nearly 400 million Indians who are overwhelmingly Muslims with the accompaniment of some Christians and Sikhs. Some crazy Hindutva activists that include the BJP’s senior leaders just want these nearly 400 million to disappear into the thin air. Some BJP and RSS leaders have even suggested that the Muslims should be forced to convert to Hinduism as their forefathers had converted from Hinduism to Islam. These crazy BJP/RSS leaders have also found a name for this conversion. They have named this conversion as ‘ghar wapsi’ or coming home again!
The Hindutva-based two-nation theory could develop into incurable cancer for the great Indian civilisation, which has lasted many millenniums not because it embraced just one dominant religion and used it as the prime force of the civilisation, namely Hinduism, but because of its strength to embrace all religions including those that came to destroy it from outside. This is why the great visionaries and revolutionaries who led the Indian independence were most reluctant to play the Hindutva card as they knew clearly as daylight that it would be fatal for India. They, therefore, framed the Indian constitution to keep that fear at bay and made secularism the guiding spirit of an emerging Indian nationhood that was not even on the cusp at the time of independence but one they knew was an indispensable necessity to keep India united so that the followers all religions and peoples of all castes, colours, creeds; regions and the rich and the poor would feel they are all fellow citizens of one India under one roof.
Hindutva strikes secularism right where it can be destroyed. Hindutva is the antithesis of secularism and, therefore, poison to Indian nationhood that has not yet emerged. And if secularism is destroyed, the other dangerous divisions that have existed in India all along, the rich-poor divide, the regional divide and those embedded in Hinduism itself, its caste divide, are all going to come in the political domain to destroy not just India but the Indian civilisation. Narendra Modi, the BJP and the other parties in the NDA are playing with the Hindutva card being oblivious that blatant Hindutva could destroy not just India but the much-vaunted Indian civilisation.
India is at a historic crossroads. Another term for the NDA, which looks very likely, should be positive for Indian politics under normal circumstances. However, the way Narendra Modi has divided India, another term for NDA will divide India further and push it towards the edge. Narendra Modi is leading a coalition whose politics and vision are diametrically opposed to those of India’s founding fathers. The founding fathers preached the mantra of unity through building a secular India aware of India’s dangerous divisions while Narendra Modi is preaching the mantra of Hindutva being oblivious of those divisions and its potentials to destroy India.
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.
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