A Modi-ised India

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Even Home Minister Rajnath Singh, it seems, has issues with the greatness thrust upon Akbar by chroniclers of history. “Why Akbar the Great? Why not Rana Pratap the Great?”, the minister demanded to know.

What’s in a name? Plenty, it would seem. Just when M J Akbar, who not long ago compared Narendra Modi to Hitler for his role in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, was mounting a passionate and most cogent defence of his new hero on his first year in office, something strange was going on in Delhi. Hindutva’s foot soldiers were celebrating the ‘achche din’ that Modi has gifted India in their own characteristic fashion – by defacing the street names of the capital. Apparently, the idea was to wipe out the last hateful signs and vestiges of Muslim rule from Delhi and India.

Some of the most popular Delhi streets that were caught in the celebratory crossfire of the Hindutva faithful included landmarks such as the Safdar Hashmi Marg, Feroz Shah Road, and Aurangzeb Road. The road named after Akbar the Great, M J’s namesake and once considered the most secular and liberal of Muslim rulers, was not spared either.

Even Modi’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh, it seems, has issues with the greatness thrust upon Akbar by chroniclers of history. “Why Akbar the Great? Why not Rana Pratap the Great?”, the minister demanded to know this past week after paying rich tributes to the Rajput king who valiantly took on the Mughals.

It was essentially a battle for power – nothing more, nothing less. But nothing is so simple when politicians take upon themselves the task of rewriting and reinterpreting history; and the past is perpetually viewed through the coloured blinkers and dialectics of ‘Us versus Them.’

Those who defaced Delhi’s signposts were clearly doing their own rewriting of history, hoping to wipe out the stubborn footprints of Muslims from a city they loved and cared for, leaving behind monuments that have stood the test of time.

The new interpreters of history left no one in doubt what they were hoping to achieve in the posters that they plastered on the defaced street names. ‘Bharat mein Islamikaran manzoor nahi’ (Islamisation will not be tolerated in India.)

Lest someone else take the credit for their hard work, the authors of the message also thoughtfully identified themselves and the organisations that they represented. Yet the FIR registered by the Delhi Police conveniently chose to ignore the offenders. But then as they say, ‘Jab Saiyan Bahe Kotwal Toe Ab Dar Kahe Ka’ (You’ve got nothing to fear when sheriff happens to be…umm…your paramour!)

In any case, the defacement of street signs is nothing when compared to what else has been going on in the name of ‘achche din’ in the republic.

While the prime minister, on his endless global lecture tour – 18 foreign trips in 12 months, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley revealed – never tires of pontificating to world leaders and the diaspora about the greatness of the Indian (read Hindu) civilisation, fabled tolerance and scientific temper and achievements, his Hindutva-corporate Parivar has been busy showing the nation’s poor, minorities and dispossessed groups their rightful place under the new order.

Doubtless, after long years of the voiceless, faceless and often bewildering leadership of the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh duo – not to mention the series of scams that dogged the UPA II rule – Modi’s loud, in-your-face, ubiquitous, one-man show has generated a feel-good buzz and general euphoria as far as markets and urban middle classes are concerned.

As Akbar points out, industry is back in business: Indian companies raised Rs56,801 crore in equity capital against Rs29,381 crore the previous year.

Clever schemes like the Jandhan Yojana and the one-rupee life insurance bringing the elitist banking sector to the so-called have-nots and tapping their immense financial potential at the same time make a big difference. Inflation is down, largely thanks to the sinking global oil prices.

It is no coincidence that the Bombay Stock Exchange, for the first time ever, breached the 30,000-point psychological barrier. They’re pulling out all the stops for foreign investors – especially multinational, big-ticket players. 

At the same time, unconcerned and almost oblivious of this happy state of the economy, India’s desperate farmers are killing themselves in the thousands – some of them right in the capital, watched live by amused Delhi cops and an excited political audience.

In a country that depends as much as 70 percent on farming – no wonder Gandhi said India lives in its villages – unhappy, suicidal farmers should be bad news for any government. Yet, maybe a government that is still in its infancy and is enjoying its honeymoon period could afford to be blasé and take this unprecedented agrarian crisis in its stride.

That is why it is pushing ahead with the hated land acquisition legislation to snatch prime, fertile farm land from India’s farmers and gift it to its corporate cronies in what is considered the biggest land-grab in the nation’s history.

Mercifully, as many had feared, there has been no repeat of Gujarat in this Modi-fied India – at least not yet. As Ajaz Ashraf argues in his fine Firstpost piece, for religious minorities, life under the Modi government can be considered ‘normal’ only because the very definition of the word has been altered.

Horrifying riots like Gujarat 2002 may not happen under the New Normal, but the communal cauldron is constantly kept simmering, brought close to the boiling point every time there is an election around the corner. Under the new ‘normal’, minorities have become used to being perpetually under siege with attacks on churches, mosques and minority institutions and communities becoming a matter of daily routine.

Moves like the blanket ban on beef by most states rendering millions across India jobless are shrugged off. So is the cheeky advice to beefeaters to “go to Pakistan” by Modi’s overzealous minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

Other honourable members of the federal cabinet have suggested worse without inviting so much as a reprimand by the prime minister. NDA allies and coalition partners like Shiv Sena can get away with calls demanding disenfranchisement of Muslims. In Modi-fied India, companies have the audacity to deny jobs by saying they ‘only employ non-Muslims’. Meanwhile all those convicted of crimes against humanity in Gujarat and elsewhere find themselves miraculously free or out on bail.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, that eternal fount of Hindutva wisdom and ideological parent of the ruling party, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad have been active on other fronts.

While divisive campaigns in the name of ‘love jihad’ and ‘ghar wapsi’ keep the communal cauldron going at a steady pace, it is the silent and frontal assault on the secular and democratic character and institutions of the polity that is more disturbing and dangerous.

The ongoing project of saffronisation of textbooks and rewriting of history undertaken by the Sangh mythologists and so-called historians, portraying all Muslims as invaders, iconoclasts and plunderers of Hindu India, threatens to further demonise an already vilified minority. More important, it could have catastrophic consequences for the peace and unity of a complex, melting pot of a nation with a billion identities.

In his first year in power, Modi has transformed India into his own image – and beyond recognition. As I argued on the eve of his arrival in Delhi last year, by the time Modi is done with India or India is done with Modi, it will no longer be recognisable as the country that we all inherited and knew. This is only the beginning of a long and defining journey. The future is full of limitless possibilities.

Email: aijaz.syed@hotmail.com 

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