Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on Dawn.com.

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience

.

Indian elections: What taking potshots at Pakistan really means

Updated April 25, 2014

Narendra Modi asks for restraint and disapproves of the remarks made by his party man, Giriraj Singh in Bihar few days ago. The Prime Ministerial candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right wing Hindu organisation, in a tweet said that,

Petty statements by those claiming to be BJP’s well wishers are deviating the campaign from the issues of development and good governance.

The statement on social media came in response to a statement that Singh made last week in which he asked the opponents of Modi to migrate to Pakistan.

Modi’s response sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.

Not long ago, the BJP leader equated defence minister AK Antony and Arvind Kejriwal of the Common Man’s Party as agents of Pakistan. At the time no one asked Modi for an apology and there were no disapprovals of such by any other party leaders.


Also read: Watching Modi, the maestro, at work


Why then, in the Indian elections, should Pakistan be an issue when the relationship with our immediate neighbour is not as rocky as it once was?

Those who are familiar with the politics of the Hindu rights understand what Pakistan means for them. It’s one way of terming the 180 million Muslims of India as the enemy of the state, as unreliable citizens of the country.

When Giriraj Singh talks of sending all those who oppose Modi to Pakistan, he obviously does not mean the Hindus. He wants to say that if the Muslims don’t vote for the BJP, which they don't normally, they are the enemy.

It is this fear of Hindu majoritarianism that was at the root of the two nation theory in the first part of the 20th century that led to Partition in the subcontinent. Now, the rise of Modi symbolises the same fear not just among the minorities but also among the liberal and secular Hindus.

Such fear will of course not indicate the second redrawing of the Indian map, but it will accentuate the fault lines which democratic India has been trying to bridge since 1947.

By referring to Muslims as ‘the others’, other radical Hindu right wing organisations want the wedge to continue and stop the emotional integration of Muslims in the mainstream.

This has been their project since 1925 when Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s parent organisation was founded. The idea was to create a majoritarian state. They have not succeeded thus far but their nuisance value cannot be underestimated.

When Modi was anointed as the BJP prime ministerial candidate he vowed to fight the elections on the issue of development. A few rounds into the poll, the rhetoric has changed.

The mask has started slipping.


Also read: The Narendra Modi model: A carefully crafted myth


The first indication of the Hindutva leader’s duplicity emerged when he chose Amit Shah as his points man in Uttar Pradesh. Shah is a rabid Hindu right wing worker, who as a Deputy Home Minister of Gujarat was allegedly involved in fake encounters and extra judicial killings. He was debarred from entering Gujarat by the Supreme Court for few years. He is now Modi’s trusted aide.

Within six months of being appointed as the man in charge of Uttar Pradesh, he brought the Hindu right wing into the reckoning, in the largest state of India which sends 80 out of the 545 members to parliament.

For the Muzaffarnagar riots that claimed the lives of 60 Muslims and displaced hundreds of families, most of the investigations have pointed to the local BJP leaders and the state government. Such human tragedies failed to move Modi; he has not commented on it so far.

A documentary released recently blames Shah for inciting violence in western UP, a part of the country that did not witness any violence during partition even! The area has been the crucible of communal harmony.

However, the violence has polarised the voters in UP and today opinion polls predict close to 50 seats to the BJP, which was at the fourth position in the last elections. To reach close to a simple majority in parliament, a good show in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (120 seats collectively) is a must. Communal polarisation is a speedy way of garnering the maximum seats within a short span of time in these states where Muslim votes play crucial role.

The BJP rose to political prominence by polarising voters. In the 1990s, when the party came into political prominence, it used the campaign to demolish the Babri mosque to divide voters.

The party is resorting to the same tactics now.

With the elections in northern India well in its crucial phase, the party believes that it has a better chance of expanding its shrunken bases in these areas by rousing raw passion. Therefore, Pakistan becomes a punching bag.

Modi has previously employed similar Pakistani barbs in the first two elections after the Gujarat riots in 2002. He used to address Pakistani president as Mian Musharraf.

Modi’s rise has emboldened a divisive ideology and individuals. In a recent remark in Gujarat, Pravin Togadia, one time friend and companion of Modi, advocated the eviction of Muslim owners from a housing society.


Also read: Modi’s rise a defeat for freedom in India


Shiv Sena leader, Ramdas Kadam in a rally in Maharashtra attended by Modi announced that, “Pakistan would be destroyed if the BJP comes to power”.

Modi is an old master of this kind of rhetoric. It is no wonder then that he inspires people like Togadia and Kadam, who have been in a political oblivion for the last decade, to utter such inflammatory statements.

Modi’s rise has unleashed an intolerant frenzy in the country; it has become difficult to convey counter narratives. Be it the social media or mainstream media, any voice against this mania is hurled at with invectives. You are instantly termed anti-national and an agent of Pakistan.

The problem with this anti-Pakistan and anti-minority narrative is that it vitiates the atmosphere between the neighbours. The huge peace constituency across the border which wants greater people-to-people interactions and enhanced economic engagement gets sidelined by hardliners who flourish by promoting animosity between the two countries.

Today, when Pakistan is engaged in a serious effort to root out extremism and religious radicalism from its soil, a charged atmosphere on Indian soil can put paid to such an effort.

A review of the nuclear doctrine emboldens anti-India forces in the neighbourhood and injects fear which is not good for peace in the subcontinent.

India cannot move ahead when its neighbours are in trouble. New Delhi can grow in stature at the international level only when Islamabad also enjoys stability and economic prosperity.

Fear from India or a potential threat from across the border does not allow political leadership in the Islamic state to focus on long term economic planning, it leads to militarisation and we all know the consequences of such an approach.

Is the emerging leadership in India capable of inducing new thinking in the subcontinent?

Modi’s persona does not inspire such confidence.