The Bhartiya Janata Party's Lok Sabha candidate in Nawada in Bihar, Giriraj Singh, is unrepentant. He knows his party is trying to project a soft image of Narendra Modi, but he's in no mood to apologise for his remark that all Modi's critics will have to go to Pakistan after Modi become prime minister in a few weeks. His statement only exacerbates fears that a Modi government will be intolerant of dissidents, branding them as anti-national, or seditious. The idea of expulsion from the country suggests how extreme this intolerance could get.
But why Pakistan? Why didn't Singh just say Modi's critics would have to leave India and allow them to choose their own destinations? What Singh really meant was that Muslims would have to go to Pakistan. If he had said as much, though, the Election Commission would have come down heavily on him for so obviously violating the model code of conduct for the elections, which stipulates that candidates cannot spread communal disharmony in their campaigning. But without demonising Muslims, there's no way the BJP can win Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They know no other trick. We heard Amit Shah's speeches in western Uttar Pradesh recently. This election is a fight for honour and revenge, he told Jats as he defended people accused of fanning riots in Muzaffarnagar. For BJP leaders to resort to such tactics, there must really be no Modi wave in UP and Bihar.
Their strategy is simple: demonise Muslims, raise issues that set the terms of the political campaign on Hindu-Muslim lines, and scare Hindus into voting for the BJP. In the absence of such polarisation, Hindu voters would be divided along caste lines, supporting caste-based parties such as those led by Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Mualayam Singh Yadav or Mayawati. For the BJP, the Muslim is the new Hindu rakshasa. If all Muslims were to leave India, for Pakistan or wherever, the BJP would have to invent another enemy to prevent Hindus from seeing identities other than their religion as important.
Singh told the Economic Times that he could not see anything wrong about his statement. “Is it not true that Pakistan is using all its resources to prevent Narendra Modi from becoming the PM?” he said. “Even within the country, there are people with Pakistani mindset who are opposing Modi and their proper destination would be Pakistan, which is their political Mecca-Medina." The use of the words "Mecca-Medina" there makes it clear who he is talking about.
The BJP may officially 'disapprove' of Giriraj Singh's statements but there's little more it will do because it needs to the polarisation on the ground. It would seem that Modi is trying to re-invent himself as a nice man. He hasn't used the word Pakistan much in recent speeches and interviews. But in the past, he has also deployed Pakistan to suggest that Indian Muslims are the enemy within. Whether or not he was responsible for the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat, he certainly did use the violence to polarise the electorate. That year, he dissolved the Gujarat assembly and called early elections to capitalise on the charged environment. Presenting himself as a Hindu hero in a state that had just seen an anti-Muslim pogrom, he repeatedly targeted Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president at that time. To make clear what he meant, he described the Pakistani head of state as "Mian Musharraf". More recently, he described Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi not as "yuvraj" as many have, but by the Urdu word "shehzada". Both mean prince, but his attempt at polarisation is implicit in his word choice.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah would be proud of the BJP. After all, the BJP is still battling Jinnah's enemy, the Congress. The BJP agrees with Jinnah and the Muslim League that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together, that they are two different, irreconcilable nations. One worships the cow and the other eats it, Jinnah complained – and even today the BJP manifesto frets about cows. "Necessary legal framework will be created to protect and promote cow and its progeny," it says. Muslims may be killed, but cows will be protected by law. It did not occur to Jinnah and it does not occur to the BJP that the cow can be both worshipped and eaten. The two are not mutually exclusive ideas. Of course, logic must not be allowed to come in the way of the politics of polarisation.
If there are any Indians who have the "Pakistani mindset", it is the BJP. The BJP and its politics is what makes Pakistanis declare that Jinnah was right to have demanded Partition. The BJP shares with the Muslim League the belief that it is acceptable to use violence to attain power. The violence in Calcutta on Direct Action Day in August 1946 was followed by anti-Muslim violence in Bihar later that year, which was seen as precipitating the creation of Pakistan. The death toll in Bihar was said to be between 5,000 to 10,000. Bihari Muslims began to leave for the Muslim-ruled states of Bengal and Sindh for fear of their lives.
Jinnah was happy to see the suffering of those Bihari Muslims. "Nations are built through sacrifices and I am really proud of the Bihari Muslims who have sacrificed so much...They have certainly shown the goal of Pakistan nearer," he told refugees in Karachi in February 1947, some months before Pakistan came into being. The 1946 Bihar violence had vindicated Jinnah and the Muslim League. Giriraj Singh and the BJP continue to perpetuate this mindset.
In the 1946 elections in Bihar, 40 seats had been reserved for Muslims. The Muslim League won 34. Bihar chief minister Sri Krishna Sinha attributed this to violent electioneering and fear-mongering by the League, about the safety of Muslims should Pakistan fail to come into existence. Today, it is the BJP that indulges in such violent electioneering and fear-mongering.
Sardar Patel and the top leadership of the Indian National Congress agreed to the creation of Pakistan when Lord Mountbatten told them that the British departure from India could not wait until the Congress and the Muslim League arrived at a consensus. Fearing that the Congress would perhaps fail to get control of the Indian union, they agreed to the formation of Pakistan. According to Patrick French's book Liberty or Death, Patel said that Jinnah could have the “diseased limbs” that were the eastern and western flanks of India. Amputation was the need of the hour. The lust for power created an agreement on Pakistan between the League and the Congress. What the BJP is doing to gain power doesn’t make it very different.
The Bihar Muslim League said that Muslims would not migrate out of the province only if the Congress government led by Sinha created separate pockets in each district for Muslims. What was once a Muslim extremist demand is today a Hindutva goal. The BJP and its associates have used riots to ghettoise Muslims. In Gujarat, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal protest every instance of a Muslim buying a home in a “Hindu area” and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia even demanded that one Muslim be evicted for daring to do so. The Modi government in Gujarat has a special law to prevent Hindus or Muslims from selling houses to people of the other community in areas deemed disturbed”.
By contrast, if anyone has an “Indian mindset” – the mindset that believes different people can live together – it is embodied in the Indian Muslims who chose not to migrate to Pakistan. Papiya Ghosh and others have documented how thousands of Bihari Muslims returned to Bihar just before 1947 even as they could see the coming of Pakistan, because they found no efforts were being made to resettle them. In addition, thousands returned after East Pakistan became Bangladesh, since Bangladeshi nationalism didn't seem to have place for them.
Against this rancorous backdrop, it is heartening to see that the burden of saving the idea of India from Jinnah's Hindu inheritors is not that of the Indian Muslim alone. On Twitter, the hashtag #ModiSendMeToPak found humour as a way of responding to Giriraj Singh. Most responses are by people who have Hindu names and are Modi critics. Tweeted one person, "I heard kebabs are amazing there."