Will Modi’s Pakistan stick to beat the Congress with, work in Jharkand?

Seventeen long years, 2002-2019, and Modi, chief minister, Gujarat or prime minister, India has never failed to use abusive references to Pakistan and Indian Muslims to divert, and unfortunately even win elections

JharkandImage Courtesy: thenewsminute.com

By constantly equating India’s large Muslim population with our neighbour Pakistan, and questioning their loyalties to the Indian nation, Modi and other leaders are using a time-tested RSS shakha ploy! Nothing works better with the Indian, read Hindu, masses than the beating of the minority-turned-traitor drum!

The RSS in its near century old neighbourhood propaganda classes, uses the demonic image of the “Muslim and Pakistan” to build a perennial bank of othering and hate. Rickshaw drivers, fed on the poison generated by the Whatsapp university can suddenly now tell you how ‘Sonia Gandhi wants to give Pakistani citizens, Indian citizenship!’ Belittling the political opposition by equating them with our neighbour, Modi tries to paint his supremacist party as the sole claimant to a strident hyper-nationalism.

Is this the first time, then, that Modi, has lashed out at his main opposition, the Indian National Congress, this way? Faced with mounting criticism and protests over the recently passed amendment to India’s citizenship law, (Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019), the prime minister, Narendra Modi has raised this diversionary, nasty pitch. Never mind, that his government’s move to seminally alter the constitutional bearings of Indian citizenship law has been roundly criticised, Modi appears unfazed or untouched by an outpouring of public anger.

Campaigning in Bhognadih is a village in Sahebganj district of Jharkhand State yesterday, Modi accused “Congress and its friends” of spreading lies over the new citizenship law, and dared them to declare they will accord “Indian nationality to all Pakistanis.”  

Will this time tested Modi ploy work yet again? Will the population of Jharkand give a go by to the anti-Adivasi policies of this government in the state, ignore the damage done to laws like PESA, forget about the spiral in hunger, deprivation and unemployment and cast a ‘Yes we hate Pakistan’ vote? On December 23, we shall know when the results of the five phase Jharkand state elections are declared. Meanwhile there is the Delhi state election, where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) appears going strong and the Bihar state elections later next year.

Level of Political Discourse

The rather crass level to which Modi has reduced public and political discourse, however, bears recall. This tendency to swing public opinion his way on a shrill anti-Pakistan, anti-Muslim rhetoric goes back 17 years to the December of 2002 when Modi rode out national and international criticism of the Gujarat 2002 state-wide massacre of Muslims.

A day after then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had countered Pervez Musharraf’s criticism of the Gujarat killings at the United Nations, then chief minister of the state, Modi, picked up the cue and converted the Pakistan President’s remarks into an “assault on Gujarati pride”.  He did not stop at a dig at the Pakistan president. Modi kicked off the second leg of his ‘Journey of Pride’ (Gaurav Yatra) by using the rather derogatory term, “Mian Musharraf” to belittle the speaker and say that his language was “borrowed” from the Congress! “Mian Musharraf’s language is borrowed from the Congress. Both are saying the same thing.”

An hour later, in another location, Dhanduka, Gujarat he went several steps further. He amplified the statement in his usual acerbic style: “The songs which Sonia Gandhi and some English TV channels were singing about Gujarat after Godhra have obviously been heard across the border. Now Mian Musharraf is repeating their accusations against me in an international forum. Isn’t it strange that Pakistan, which has engineered so much bloodshed in Kashmir and forced its Hindus out, should try to teach me lessons in communal harmony?”

He continued: “Mian Musharraf, the conspiracy to destabilise India was hatched in Pakistan. But you must remember there are many more Muslims in India than in your country where one Islamic sect is always fighting another. At least in India, Muslims are able to live in peace.” In the north of India, the word Mian is usually used with respect, but in Gujarat, it has acquired derogatory overtones.

Modi even stooped so low as to describe India’s oldest political party the Congress as “shameless and anti-social” and accused the party of “compromising with the country’s pride to grab votes” He even referred to the Dangs (south Gujarat) violence when Christian churches were attacked calling ii a “Congress conspiracy to defame the Hindus and at the end of it all, not a single Christian was killed.”

2002, the Gujarat genocidal carnage was Modi’s first successful attempt at twisting the truth and turning facts on their head.

For Modi and the Sangh, terrorism equals Muslims. Muslims equal terrorism. Below are some examples of how the sangh parivar has tried to induce a fear psychosis in the electorate:

  • “You may have a wife, a car and your own land, but what if your son doesn’t return home safe?”—Narendra Modi speaking at public rallies.
  • Compact discs (CDs) distributed across Gujarat had this message: “You are travelling in a train, you might be attacked. You are in prayer, you can be assaulted. You are walking in a crowd, you could be lynched.”
  • A pamphlet in Ahmedabad had this ominous warning: “Be careful passing through Muslim-dominated areas. Ask the government to set up police chowkis in such areas. Ask for a Hindu-friendly officer. Women, be careful while shopping in Muslim-dominated markets like Dhalgarwad in Ahmedabad, you might be molested or raped….”

Historically, mass hysteria often turns the truth on its head. While it was the minority community that faced the brunt of the violence in February-March 2002, they were murdered, raped, looted, yet, the ruling BJP managed to run an election campaign where people were told that Muslims, just 10 per cent of the population, are to be feared by 90 per cent of the people.

Indian Muslims, Pakistanis, terrorists, they have all been painted with the same brush. Lumping them together, the BJP has favoured the power of gross over-generalisation while playing on fears: of terrorism; of incidents like Godhra and Akshardham. In Modi-speak, the fear of Mian Musharraf, the Muslim, be it in India or Pakistan must needs be feared, and therefore violently dealt with.

In the course of his gaurav yatra and in the final leg of the 2002 election campaign, it became clear that Modi had made a fine art of exploiting the fear the unknown terrorist induces. Terrorism in his vocabulary is not just cross-border or Pakistan-sponsored. The enemy lies within. His much repeated Mian Musharraf became a euphemism for the entire Muslim community of Gujarat. His ally in arms, VHP leader Praveen Togadia, also traversed the state claiming Gujarat is the next target of the ISI, that jehadi forces within were just waiting to strike.

Modi’s shrill oratory has also succeeded in putting the Congress on the defensive. The Congress, in Modi-speak, is a party that caters to the minorities. This has led to the party spending much of the campaign trying to prove its Hindu antecedents. Modi’s parting shot on the final day of campaigning says it all: “If the BJP wins, the entire country will burst crackers. But if the Congress wins, crackers will be burst in Pakistan. Pakistan wants a government of its own convenience in Gujarat so that it can carry out its sinister terrorist attacks here.”

Unfortunately, since 2002, the Congress has kept on reacting to the BJP instead of charting its own course throughout any election campaign.

Meanwhile, the average Muslim has been both demonised and isolated from the public and political discourse, a clear-cut strategy of Modi, the first Pracharak-turned-Prime Miniister of India. The average Muslim, excluded from fair citizenship entitlements reacts with a mix of fear and anger, knowing that the sting behind this rhetoric is a threat laced with a warning to all India’s Muslims: stay silent or leave. Then his ambit extended only to Gujarat. This now extends to all over India.

By 2014, when he was fighting a high pitched and well-oiled battle for Delhi, Modi again raised the issue of Pak terror links to hit out at his rivals in domestic politics. “Three AKs have emerged as a unique strength for Pakistan. One is AK-47 which has been used to cause bloodshed in Kashmir. The second is AK Antony, who informs Parliament that people wearing the dress of Pak army beheaded our soldiers while our Army says Pakistanis had come. The Third ‘AK’ was an perhaps an allusion to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal,” he had said.

In 2017, during the on-going Gujarat assembly polls, Modi again pulled out the Pakistan card. Brazenly manipulative –never mind the fact that these levels of tactics do not benefit a prime minister –he actually went so far as to suggest that the presence of former prime minister Manmohan Singh and former vice-president Hamid Ansari at a dinner where the Pakistani High Commissioner to India and a former Pakistan foreign minister were also in attendance, was some kind of a secret gathering related to the on-going Gujarat Assembly elections! Clearly, it’s not just the shakha bent of prime minister Narendra Modi’s bent of mind but his conviction that this discourse sells! Pakistan baiting can get him votes.

He went further. He also claimed that a person called Sardar Arshad Rafiq, a retired Pakistani military officer, had called for Ahmed Patel, the political secretary of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, to become the chief minister of Gujarat. Simultaneously, Modi alleged that it was following this dinner, which was hosted by Mani Shankar Aiyar, that the Congress leader called him “neech” or a low-life.

The contentious dinner: media investigations later revealed that while there had been a gathering at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house on December 6, this was a dinner in honour of the former foreign minister of Pakistan, Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri. Present at the occasion were Manmohan Singh, Hamid Ansari, the Pakistan High Commissioner to India, former Army chief Deepak Kapoor, former foreign minister Natwar Singh, senior retired diplomats and former high commissioners of India to Pakistan – Salman Haidar, TCA Raghavan, Sharat Sabharwal and KS Bajpai. These facts did not deter Modi and neither did the fact that two years earlier, on December 25, 2015, Prime Minister Modi has himself dropped in at a party in Lahore thrown by Nawaz Sharif, then Pakistan’s prime minister, and no one accused him of anything else but naiveté, even opportunism!

Election dog whistles

Muslims and Pakistan are Modi’s favourite bugbears. The 2012 state assembly elections was the first time Modi used the “Ahmed Patel for Chief Minister” card to polarise voters against the Muslims. This time the term “mian” was used as a suffix, as in “Ahmed mian”, almost suggesting that Patel was being supported for the office of chief minister by a former Pakistani general. Ahmed Patel has as much a right to become the chief minister of Gujarat as any other Indian national. It is also clear that Modi’s reference to Patel as “mian” is more of a tactic to scare voters about the possibility of a Muslim chief minister rather than something that has any basis in reality.

Invoking Pakistan

Modi has used the attacks on security forces in Pathankot in January 2016, and in Uri in September that year, to call for Pakistan to be labelled as a state sponsor of terrorism. The hysteria that was aroused over the so-called surgical strikes against Pakistani positions on the Line of Control at the end of September 2016 was blatantly used to harvest votes in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections five months later. The May 2019 general elections could well have been a lost show for the Modi-Shah combine but for the February 14, Pulwama attack on a CRPF convoy –an instance of gross inefficiency and intelligence failure – criticism of which was quickly drowned in the orchestrated back-slapping and hysteria over the “strikes” at Balakot.

Clearly, their governance deficit and inability to manage a country apart, this has been the oft-used, time tested push back ploy: when nothing else works, pull out the Pakistan-Indian Muslims plug into your electoral hat—and see how well it pays. It’s a shame that this card still works though.




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