Muslim world denounces Indian BJP’s radical narratives
Muslim world denounces Indian BJP’s radical narratives
In a few years, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India went from a secular democracy to a demagogic theocracy.
Although Hinduism has traditionally coexisted amicably with many other religious beliefs, the ruling Bharatiya Janata party champions Hindutva – until recently a radical fringe ideology committed to making 276 million non-Hindu citizens second-class citizens, or even non-citizens.
The BJP’s main target has been India’s 200 million Muslims and the eradication of India’s cultural heritage as a synthesis of Islamic and Indian traditions.
Muslim-majority states demonstrated this month that BJP incitement against the Prophet Muhammad is a red line, with assertive diplomatic moves and spontaneous public support for boycotts. The Gulf States are among India’s major trading partners. With billions of dollars in remittances from over eight million Indian workers through the GCC keeping India’s economy afloat, this is a wake-up call for the BJP’s anti-pluralism agenda. The Gulf states potentially wield a powerful economic veto over the BJP and other Asian leaders who seek to oppress or eradicate their Muslim populations.
Nonetheless, many BJP-affiliated commentators who routinely incite hatred against Muslims wonder why the Indian government has “compromised” with Muslim states by removing officials responsible for the most recent offensive comments. Although more than 20 nations in the Islamic world speak with one voice, BJP firebrands have offensively accused these states of acting on behalf of al-Qaeda and fomenting a Hindu-Muslim conflict.
The BJP and Al-Qaeda feed off each other’s extremism and scare propaganda. Despite the staunchly moderate character of Indian Islam, Al-Qaeda vigorously exploits the BJP’s extremist policies by radicalizing and recruiting. Although Indian Muslims have mostly been oblivious to such propaganda, if young people find themselves under constant attack, they will inevitably be seduced by such murderous tales.
The truth is that India is diversity personified. During my visits there, I have always been struck by the extraordinary richness and variety of cultures, languages, ethnicities and forms of artistic expression. Attempts to impose a single theological ideology can only end badly.
In 1984, I was the last journalist to interview Indira Gandhi, hours before she was murdered by her two Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for the bloody incidents that had taken place a few months earlier at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. She expressed to me her optimism that a society rooted in religious tolerance would overcome these tragic events. She recalled her own upbringing, trekking with her father in Muslim Kashmir as an example of how the cultural traditions and diverse peoples of India were intrinsically linked.
Tensions, pogroms and communal bloodshed in India will only escalate; Modi is likely to win a third term in 2023 thanks to his populist diet of endless culture wars, and the BJP figures most likely to succeed him are even more radical and divisive than him. The Congress party, long dominated by the Gandhi family, is in disarray after a dismal performance in the 2019 elections.
In India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, there have been dozens of deadly attacks by Hindu mobs who often blamed their victims for slaughtering cows. The BJP inevitably sided with the killers. When the party won the 2017 state elections, a radical Hindu cleric responsible for instigating these vigilante actions became chief minister. Modi’s unilateral reshuffling of Kashmir’s status in 2019 has dramatically worsened levels of repression in the troubled region. Tensions also skyrocketed around the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, which was destroyed by Hindu nationalists in 1992; authorities have now given the green light for the construction of a Hindu temple on the site.
The V-Dem Institute in Sweden has classified India as an “electoral autocracy”, and it has fallen to 53rd position in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index. Both reports accuse the BJP of civil liberties abuses. Evidence has been doctored to justify the detention of activists and political opponents, and the repression of the media is blatant and routine; over the past decade, hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against journalists under a colonial-era sedition law.
Incompetent responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in mass burnings of bodies. Botched shutdowns have prompted millions of destitute migrant workers to leave cities, accelerating the spread of the virus, while Modi has encouraged maskless political rallies and million-strong Hindu pilgrimages. As the authors of a recent book on India observed: “The plague did not gut India’s healthcare system, it just showed it for what it was.”
Gulf states potentially wield a powerful economic veto over the BJP and other Asian leaders who seek to oppress or eradicate their Muslim populations
Militant scholars affiliated with the BJP claim that India invented nuclear weapons, stem cell technology, airplanes and the internet – thousands of years ago! It’s one thing for BJP members to wallow in such ultra-nationalist nonsense, but when it becomes the raw material for school textbooks, one has to fear for future generations.
Post-independence India has always seemed like a miraculous impossibility: of the world’s 10 most populous nations, only the United States and India are long-established democracies. For decades, this immensely large but immensely poor nation has held orderly elections and smooth transitions of power, while being a mainstay of the global Non-Aligned Movement.
Modi nevertheless finds himself being celebrated by the West as a bulwark against China and Russia. Western leaders seem to believe they can fight belligerent autocrats in one place by closing in on equally dangerous figures elsewhere. Consider, for example, those politicians who argued that an oil boycott against Russia could be achieved by reducing sanctions against Iran.
Developments in India go hand in hand with populist tendencies elsewhere. A US Congressional investigation is currently revealing how close America came to a coup by its incumbent president on January 6, 2021. Some Republicans’ use of “white grievances” to mobilize their supporters has parallels accurate in the Hindu supremacy of the BJP.
Likewise, Israel’s apartheid policies reduce Palestinians to precarious non-citizens. Much like India, Israel has gone from decades of political domination by the centrist Labor Party to ceding its democracy to increasingly ruthless and messianic far-right coalitions. Elsewhere, there are similar demagogic manuals in Iran, Turkey, Russia, Hungary and Brazil.
So the BJP is just one manifestation of a populist pandemic that has infected the planet. This fever will only break when citizens are wise and choose real leaders who are genuinely committed to improving lives – not quasi-fascists who cling to power by starting race wars, inciting genocide and throwing oil on the fires of hatred and intolerance.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is the editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed many heads of state.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News