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Can gap between Modi’s vision and Hindu hyper-nationalists be bridged?

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Narendra Modi is probably learning the veracity of Stalin’s insightful aphorism that while one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. In a country which has seen innumerable communal riots over the decades, and a 25 percent rise in inter-faith violence since Modi came to power, the furore over the death of one Muslim in a village near Delhi must be something of a puzzle and also hugely disconcerting for the government because it cannot quite anticipate what the fallout will be over a period of time.

Its concerns must be all the greater because the incident persuaded President Pranab Mukherjee to deviate from a written script at a Rashtrapati Bhavan function and call for preserving the nation’s “core” values. The president’s appeal made the prime minister break what the New York Times once called his “dangerous silence” on the attacks on minorities and urge Hindus and Muslims to fight poverty and not one another.

Evidently, the murderous attack on a Muslim family by a saffron mob on the suspicion that they were eating beef has alerted the prime minister about the growing level of intolerance in the saffron camp. For Modi, the tragedy could not have occurred at a worse time, for it has taken much of the sheen off his recent foreign trip. Even German chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to India was overshadowed by the murder.

What the centre and the BJP may feel uneasy about is that even as they issue the routine condemnations, they will be largely unable to brush aside the primary motive for the murder since cow slaughter has always had great emotional appeal for the saffron brotherhood.

As a result, the Hindu chauvinists will be forever on the lookout for any provocation in their eyes as can be seen from the manhandling of an MLA by the BJP legislators inside the Jammu and Kashmir assembly for holding a beef party and the burning of a truck carrying cows and the assault on a Muslim youth who was in the truck in Uttar Pradesh.

These acts of violence show that for all of Modi’s efforts, the communal situation will continue to simmer. Moreover, the government’s difficulty will be in failing to sell the idea of the “holy cow” without being seen as oddballs in today’s world by the beef-eating foreign investors.

It was easier for the Hindutva lobby to accuse Muslims of invasion, rape, pillage and desecration of temples in medieval times, and then link them with today’s jehadis in order to buttress its essentially anti-Muslim worldview.

But it is difficult to justify the killing of a Muslim for allegedly eating beef. Hence the widespread criticism in the international media of this “accident”, as Union Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma called it.

In the last few days, therefore, much of the favourable impression which Modi succeeded in creating about himself abroad with his dress sense, eloquence and tears for his mother has been largely negated by the rage expressed by saffronites against beef-eaters.

Coupled with the suspected involvement of the Hindu Right in the killing of rationalists, the anti-beef agitation will make the task of governance all the more difficult.

Arguably, the realization in the government that the depredations of the Hindu fundamentalists will have an adverse impact on foreign investment will persuade it to rein them in.

But it will not be easy to bridge the gap between Modi’s vision of a 21st century India – a digitalized nation, smart cities, bullet trains – and the desire of the Hindu hyper-nationalists to impose their culinary fads on the country.

Admittedly, the BJP has become a lot more sober than the time when it moved from the margins of politics to centre-stage in the 1990s with its call for demolishing mosques, or the “ocular” provocations, to quote LK Advani, the party’s fiery rath yatri (chariot rider) of the time.

Stints in power at the centre and in some of the states have made it aware of the “idea” of India, or the Nehruvian concept of a nation with a composite culture, incorporating the multihued strands of the religions of all those who live in the country – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and others. However, this sophisticated view is apparently confined to a thin layer of those in the BJP’s upper echelons while the vast majority in the party and in the Sangh parivar subscribes to the concept of Hindu rashtra (nation), where the minorities will be second class citizens.

Modi has been successful so far in preventing a major communal outbreak that was anticipated by the Congress’s Mani Shankar Aiyar, who said that he was waiting for the Godhra or Gujarat “moment” which would set the ball rolling for Modi’s downfall.

The latest incident, however, poses a real challenge to the prime minister because it relates to the issue of cow slaughter which is probably even more sensitive to the saffron crowd than the “ocular” provocations. Yet, he has no option but to douse the flames since the success or failure of his “Make in India” project based on foreign investment depends on his fire-fighting abilities directed against sections of his own party and ‘parivar’.

(Amulya Ganguli, IANS)

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India Begins Its Election Season With Five States

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh.

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India, elections
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses the gathering during the 'Global Mobility Summit' in New Delhi, India, VOA

India began on Monday the first of five state elections to be held in coming weeks, important tests for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he plots a course that he hopes will ensure him victory in a general election due by May.

Voters in the central state of Chhattisgarh went to the polls on Monday to elect representatives for 18 of the state assembly’s 90 seats in a staggered poll complicated by logistical problems and left-wing guerrillas.

The state of about 26 million people has been ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2003, and he will be hoping to hold on to power.

India, elections
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Continues To Stay Mum On The #MeToo Movement. Wikimedia Commons

“Some unholy people have handed guns to children who should have pens in their hands,” Modi told a rally in the state on Friday, referring to the rag-tag guerrillas battling government forces from forest hideouts. “They’ve finished the lives of our tribal children.”

Hundreds of election workers had to be flown in to remote polling stations by helicopter because of the danger posed by the rebels.

Modi called for voters to back his BJP and its vision of “development for all.”

The final phase of voting in Chhattisgarh, which is known for its coal, iron ore and bauxite reserves, will be on Nov. 20.

India,India, elections
India’s Congress party President Rahul Gandhi displays documents as he accuses Narendra Modi’s government of buying 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault at a highly inflated price, in New Delhi, India. VOA

The BJP was the preference of about 43 percent of voters in Chhattisgarh, 7 percentage points ahead of the main opposition Congress party, according to a survey released last week by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Modi’s other big tests will be in the neighboring central state of Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is slightly ahead of Congress, according to polls, and in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, where Congress is expected to emerge victorious.

A good performance by the BJP in the elections would help it deflect growing criticism over unemployment and a crisis in the countryside over falling farm prices and wages.

India, elections
Modi Appeals For A Regional Front Against Terrorism, flickr

Elections will also be held for assemblies in Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh, including Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest and the BJP chief minister in Uttar Pradesh state.

Also Read: PM Narendra Modi Announces Easier Access to Credit

Adityanath has been appealing to the BJP’s Hindu-nationalist base and on Sunday accused the opposition of blocking construction of a temple for Hindu god Ram on a disputed site in Uttar Pradesh.

The destruction of a mosque on the site by a Hindu mob in 1992 sparked deadly riots across the country. (VOA)