Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US has met with sharp criticism in some quarters. US President Joe Biden’s administration has been questioned for its decision to accord a red-carpet welcome to Modi despite the assault on democratic institutions and attacks on minorities under his leadership.

Among the Americans who expressed concern about the situation in India was former US President Barack Obama. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, he suggested that when Biden met with Modi, the “protection of the Muslim minority in a majority-Hindu India” would be worth mentioning.

“…if you do not protect the rights of ethnic minorities in India, then there is a strong possibility India at some point starts pulling apart,” Obama said. “And we’ve seen what happens when you start getting those kinds of large internal conflicts.”

At a rare press conference in Washington on Thursday Modi had sought to allay fears about what many perceive to be an authoritarian turn in India. Modi said that India has shown that democracy could deliver.

“And when I say deliver, this is regardless of caste, creed, religion or gender,” the prime minister added. “There is absolutely no space for discrimination...And when you talk of democracy, if there are no human values and there is no humanity, there are no human rights, then it’s not a democracy.”

As if to prove Modi wrong, Assam’s Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma took to Twitter the next day to launch an Islamophobic attack on Obama.

In a response to a sarcastic tweet by journalist Rohini Singh about whether the Assam’s police force would take action against Obama for his remarks about Modi, Sarma said: “There are many Hussain Obama in India itself. We should prioritize taking care of them before considering going to Washington. The Assam Police will act according to our own priorities.”

Under Sarma’s watch, the Assam Police has been in the limelight for all wrong reasons. In April last year, members of the force travelled to Gujarat to arrest MLA Jigesh Mevani on a complaint that one of his tweets had the potential to provoke violence. In addition, the force has been responsible for “encounters” in which over 51 people have been reported to be killed in extra-judicial actions since May 2021.

By emphasising Obama’s obviously Muslim middle name and declaring that members of the community in India would be taken care of, Sarma has made an open call for discrimination and violence.

This is in keeping with a long line of anti-Muslim actions he has taken, including withdrawing state funding from madrassas through the Assam Repealing Act 2020. In September 2021, when two Muslim men were shot dead by the police during a drive against what they claim were “illegal encroachments”, Sarma said the 1983 massacre of 1,800 people in Nellie and surrounding villages had been avenged.

Did Sarma want to prove that Modi’s words do not carry any weight? Or does his Bharatiya Janata Party want to project different images of India home and abroad?

Whatever the answer, one thing is for sure: Hussains in India are not safe and it seems like the threats to their freedom are becoming irreversible. Reports are becoming all too common of Indian Muslims being profiled, attacked by mobs, arrested on flimsy pretexts, their homes bulldozed and burned.

Indian Muslims would seem to reflect the situation that philosopher Max Horkheimer described in his essay The German Jews: “It is not the murderer but the victim who is guilty.” Indian Muslims, despite being victims, are seen not only as guilty, but enemies too. Sharma’s statement represents a reversal of roles where the perpetrators imagine that they are victims. As with Germans in the time of the Nazis, the actions of Hindutva supporters would seem to spring from the fact that, as Horkheimer put it, “their collective pride has been more deeply wounded than most people suspect”.

There is a danger that India will not only stop acknowledging injustice and violence against Muslims, they will also become insensitive to injustice and violence in general. This erosion of India’s soul will be very difficult to restore.

Suraj Gogoi is an assistant professor at the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, RV University, Bengaluru. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect or represent his institution.