When Narendra Modi was campaigning, voters were led to believe that he would fight against corruption and promote a developmental agenda, if he were to be given a chance to govern. While only 31% of the voters heeded his call, it was sufficient to capture an absolute majority of the Lok Sabha seats for BJP and catapult him to the highest office of the land.
Sadly, to the disappointment of even his most ardent followers, governance in India now seems to have taken an ugly turn, with a focus on divisive cultural and religious issues, which have the potential to derail his promised agenda and to threaten the very fabric of the nation that is on the brink of greatness.
The Prime Minister has just returned from a trip to Silicon Valley in California, selling ‘Digital India’, a program to transform India to a digitally empowered society. Addressing the audience in Silicone Valley, he said the following: “I know, to achieve the vision of Digital India, the government must also start thinking a bit like you’.
According to news reports, days later at Dadri, UP, not too far from the Capital of India, a mob converged at the door of Mohammad Akhlaq, based on the rumor that a cow’s slaughtered meat was stored in his refrigerator at home. The mob broke open the door and bludgeoned Mr. Akhlaq; smashed his son’s head with a brick; and then dragged Mr. Akhlaq down 14 cement steps, and out to the main road where he was left for all to see. His son is currently fighting for his life in a hospital. The extremists did not even spare Akhlaq’s mother who is 70 years old, leaving her with a black eye. They also abused his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.
Does this medieval barbarism of lynching of a person for his dietary practice go with the vision of ‘Digital India’? It may have played a part after all, first to orchestrate the assault using ‘whatsapp’ and ‘facebook’ and then broadcasting to the entire world the aftermath. According to New York Times which reported the story, many members of the ‘save the cow’ movement are also prominent local organizers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP administration. Seven of the 10 youths named in the Dadri lynching FIR are said to belong to the family of district BJP worker Sanjay Rana. The list also includes Rana’s son, Vishal. A man is killed and his family is upended because what he eats! It is wrong.
Another sad commentary about this madness is that it has happened to a father of an Air Force personnel, who is serving to protect the country from external threats. Akhlaq’s eldest son, Sartaj is with IAF. Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha termed it as an ‘unfortunate incident’, and promised to move the air warrior’s family out of their area of a residence to a secure air force area.
It is quite incredible that the AkhileshYadav government in U.P. has sent pieces of meat in the refrigerator for a forensic test to find out whether it is beef. Does that mean if the results proved to be positive, Mr. Akhlaq deserved to die? This is part of the idiosyncrasy that is taking place along with the irrational deeds of the political class, both of which damage the unity and harmony of a nation.
This is not the first such incident. However, something is different this time around. Although the account of the incident is on every news channel, the government refuses to acknowledge it, and Prime Minister NarendraModi’s silence in this regard is especially deafening. While, he cannot be responsible for every incident anywhere in the country, the person who tweets about Billiards championship, can certainly do more to set a moral tone for the country, and calm the situation using his own digital capability. There is no doubt that the Hindutva brigade is getting emboldened since Modi took office, and his silence is interpreted by many as tacit approval of the actions of these far right groups.
One of the known BJP tactics includes creating panic and polarizing communities ahead of an election. This has happened in Muzaffarnagar, UP before the 2014 Parliament election. I recollect visiting the town and a refugee camp in the aftermath. I have heard story after story directly from many in that Jat community, detailing how Hindus and Muslims were living side by side for centuries without serious incidents. However, an auto accident involving young people was used as a pretext to create a wedge between two communities, and the subsequent riots resulted in the death of 60 people and rendered about 5000 people homeless. The violence of this degree did help to consolidate the Hindu Jat vote bank, and delivered almost all of the Lok Sabha seats from western U.P. to the BJP. As the local elections are fast approaching, one could not discount the possibility of incitement in this case.
One of the ironies about the cow slaughter debate is that India retains its top spot as the world’s largest exporter of beef, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and has extended its lead over the next highest exporter, Brazil. According to the data, India exported 2.4 million tones of beef and veal in FY2015, compared to 2 million tones by Brazil and 1.5 million by Australia. There is also misconception that beef is consumed only by Muslims and Christians, however, poor Tribals and Dalits sustained themselves by consuming beef all throughout the history.
Dadri reminds us of the depth of hatred and barbarism that still exists in the society, and how it is being practiced and nurtured for political ends as some kind of a devotion to the Hindu Rashtra. The people in the rural areas, and many from the backward castes are increasingly falling prey to the Sangh Parivar’s divisive rhetoric, and taking the law unto their own hands.
While Modi is touring continents and rubbing shoulders with tech CEOs, and promoting the transfer of technology and inviting investments, Mahesh Sharma, his Minister of State for Culture said the following; “we will cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernized and where Indian culture and civilization need to be restored – be it the history we read, our cultural heritage or our institutes that have been polluted over the years.”
For Sharma, globalization is a one-way street. Promoting Yoga on a worldwide stage or sharing India’s culture, food and festivals in various capitals may be fine with him. But his appeal to the rest of the world may sound like this: bring in only the money and the soft code! There is no doubt that these regressive policies are part of a deliberate and larger effort to transform India, and to impose upper caste culture on all Indians. Sadhvi Prachi, a BJP leader known for her controversial remarks justified the Dadri lynching. “Those who consume beef deserve such action against them”.
The ongoing saffronization of secular institutions, and the silence of those who are in power when minorities are attacked may only lead to more political instability and social disharmony at home. Speaking on a seminar on communal amity, Vice-President of India, Hamid Ansari said the following: ‘article 21 of the Constitution provides for right to life and it was the responsibility of not only the government but people as well to ensure that every Indian is secure. “We have our own religious books, but as a citizen, the constitution is one religious book. It says the right to life is a basic right of every citizen” he said.
(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)