India of Modi

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A 22 year old MBA graduate Zeeshan Ali Khan applied for a marketing job at a Mumbai based exports company but was told he couldn’t get it because of his religion.  While two of his Hindu friends were called for the interview, Zeeshan received an email that read:”Thanks for your application. We regret to inform you that we hire only non-Muslim candidates.” 

Zeshan posted the mail onto his Facebook account, from where it went viral triggering a debate about the state of affairs in the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s India. Fate of Zeeshan is one more proof that all is not well in the country. One year after Modi’s spectacular emergence on the scene, India is embarked on a dangerous descent towards crude majoritarianism and the minority hate. In fact, within weeks of Modi’s taking over as PM last year a young Muslim techie in Pune was killed by a rightwing mob. Later an sms from his killers triumphantly declared that first Muslim wicket had been taken down. Ever since there have been many more attacks against the minorities – Muslims and Christians – and by the time we have come to Zeeshan, the rising communal hate has become too commonplace a fact to generate shock and outrage. 

Modi is the one overriding factor behind this ugly turn of events. He has ushered in a new political sensibility and a  ruling intelligence explicitly informed by the resolve to reclaim India for Hindus. Hence not restrained by any secular inhibition his government sees itself as the defender of the interests of the majority community against the “secular appeasement” of the minorities. And this shift couldn’t have been highlighted better than Hari Krishna Exports Private Limited which unburdened by any sense of nicety or the need for political correctness declared that it didn’t hire Muslims. On its face, this raises troubling questions about the place of Muslims in India. How will the absence of a putative secular polity affect them? Or has already affected them.  

Has Modi’s rise to power changed anything fundamental about India that Muslims need to fear?  This is only half true. Modi may have brought an in-your-face edge to India’s deep-seated minority bias, but he hasn’t made any elemental shift in how India’s polity operates. For the secularism that Modi has replaced with what he is keen to rebrand as an all-encompassing and inclusive Hindutva wasn’t what it professed to be. It was more about form and curtsey than substance and action. More an election season slogan than a policy of governance. More symbolism than deed. More politics than a political philosophy. This is why while politicians went through their motions, the structures they erected and the institutions they presided over weren’t beholden to secularism.  Is this by an accident that Muslims are at the bottom of the development pyramid as reflected by the Sachar Committee report?  Is this by chance that Muslims don’t figure conspicuously in the ranks of bureaucracy, judiciary and the security apparatus? And is it by coincidence that a significant number of the  innocent Muslims are the victims of the security campaign against the terrorist violence in the country? It isn’t. What we need in India is a political secularism matched by an institutional secularism which hasn’t been exactly the case over the past seventy years, constitutional guarantees notwithstanding. As Zeeshan’s case underlines, India is at a fork in the road: we could either have a country where the BJP creed acquires a wider resonance, forcing other parties to fall in line or a secular fightback, this time hopefully in its bonafide avatar. We hope that the country, sooner than later embarks on the lattercourse. 

 Muhammad Riyaz

Sanat Nagar, Srinagar

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