On Thursday, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bihar spokesperson Nikhil Anand took to Twitter to dish out some counsel to the veteran Rashtriya Janata Dal politician Abdul Bari Siddiqui. It was advice that India’s ruling party and its supporters often hand out to anyone critical of it: Go to Pakistan.
Attached to Anand’s tweet was a video that had surfaced a day earlier. In it, Siddiqui can be heard lamenting about “desh ka mahaul” – the atmosphere in the country. But it was a rather personalised take on the matter. In the video, he is heard saying that he has advised his children pursuing higher education abroad to not come back. “I told my children: ‘Find jobs abroad, if you can get the citizenship, take it,’” he says. “You can understand how painful it is to tell my children to leave their homeland. But such are the times we are living in.”
In response, Anand accused Siddiqui of not being “able to get out of Madrasa like ghetto culture”. The RJD leader’s remarks, Anand insisted, proved he had an “anti-national” agenda – yet another jibe that those in the BJP and their supporters often direct to those who dare question the party’s majoritarian politics.
A silent exodus
However, anyone who isn’t swept in by the ruling party’s rhetoric can see that Siddiqui was only echoing what many affluent Muslims are actively considering. Rising majoritarianism is leading to a quiet exodus of young, educated, affluent Muslim, as I reported earlier this year based on dozens of interviews with people who had left the country or were planning to.
Unlike what Anand and many cheerleaders of the BJP seem to believe, these are not anti-nationals who have no love for the country. On the contrary, many of them are deeply patriotic Indians who are aghast about having to take such a drastic step. Yet, they believe they have no choice in BJP’s New India which routinely demonises Muslims for being just that.
Immune to introspection
In fact, if anything, BJP leaders’ reactions to Siddiqui’s statement only validate his concerns. For instance, another senior leader of the party and former minister in the Bihar government, Ramsurat Rai, responded by saying that the “mahual” in India was absolutely perfect and Siddiqui should apologise for his “anti-national comments”.
Like his party colleague Anand, Rai said that it was Siddique who should move. “I will pay for it,” he added for good measure.
At no point though, do the likes of Rai and Anand seem to pause to consider that maybe there are genuine reasons for Indian Muslims to feel insecure.
Yet, even the mildest expression of protest or concern elicits a “Go to Pakistan” response.
A communal polity
It is no wonder that many Indian Muslims with the means are considering leaving for countries more tolerant of multiculturalism. As a young Muslim engineer preparing to leave the country for Canada told me, “My fellow countrymen have made me feel too many times now that they don’t recognise me as an equal anymore.”
A relentless practice of this brand of anti-minority politics has reaped the BJP such massive electoral dividends of late that even the so-called secular parties are now wary of openly speaking about the persecution of the community.
It is no wonder then that even a seven-time MLA like Siddiqui with so much social capital feels the need to tell his children to settle abroad because it may not be safe for them in their homeland.
That the BJP chose to respond with a “Go to Pakistan” jibe shows that Siddiqui’s apprehensions may not be off the mark.