Pathologically communal or back to basics? More apt descriptors of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comments at Sunday’s election rally in Fatehpur, Uttar Pradesh, cannot be found. But let’s be clear: The statements he made are the default setting of the party he leads with his friend Amit Shah.
At the rally, Modi pleaded in the name of non-discrimination that a cremation ground should also be constructed in a village that has a burial ground, and that electricity should be distributed equally between Hindu and Muslim communities, especially during their festivals.
“Gaon me kabristan banta hai to shamshaan bhi bananaa chahiye. Ramzan me bijli aati hai to Diwali me bhi aani chahiye...Agar Holi mein bijli milti hai, to Eid par bhi bijli milni chahiye.
“[If a graveyard is made in a village, it should also have a cremation ground. If a village gets electricity during Ramzan, it should also get the same during Diwali...If there is electricity during Holi, there should be electricity during Eid too.]”
“There shouldn’t be any discrimination. It is the duty of a government to be unbiased. Injustice shouldn’t be done to anybody…it should never be on the basis of religion or caste or class.”
Graveyards have been a sensitive issue in the villages of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for a long time now. In the year preceding the 2015 Assembly election in Bihar, more than a dozen incidents of encroachment and small-scale violence related to graveyards were reported from that state.
The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have always tried to keep this issue alive. Muslims have legitimately demanded boundary walls around their burial grounds as sometimes idols are put there in a bit to encroach, or attempts are made to carve out a thoroughfare through these grounds on the pretext of creating shortcuts. The boundary walls offend some Hindus as the land is officially made out of bounds for them. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has played on this feeling of deprivation successfully.
Therefore, the constituency of the BJP is clear about which community is being discriminated against. The myth that Hindus are made to suffer, and Muslims benefit at their cost, has been nurtured in our minds since our childhood. If I recall my childhood days in Bihar correctly, there was a perception at that time that Hindus did not get an adequate supply of water on Holi, the spring festival of colours, and they had to suffer electricity cuts even on Diwali, the festival of lights, whereas Muslims received an uninterrupted supply of water and electricity on Eid and Bakr-Eid. This perception was totally unfounded, but Hindus believed it then, and still do.
Hindu vs Muslim
While making his comments on Sunday, the prime minister perhaps took his cue from Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal, who, two days before the first phase of voting in Uttar Pradesh, alleged that electricity wires bypassed Hindu homes.
Reporting on Goyal’s February 9 press conference, the National Herald quoted the minister as saying:
“BJP MP Sarvesh Kumar had lodged a complaint with Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) about discrimination in distribution of power connections on the basis of religion in Moradabad. After inquiry these charges were found to be correct.”
The National Herald later talked to AN Mishra, a top official in the Uttar Pradesh electricity department. Mishra dismissed Goyal’s allegations, saying:
“There is no hop, skip and jump when electricity flows through conductors. There is no mechanism by which you can give electricity to Muslims and deny the same to Hindus.”
The issue of compensation
In the same press conference, Goyal also referred, rather crassly, to the issue of compensation. He alleged:
“The BJP has always been saying that SP [Samajwadi Party] thrives on appeasement of Muslims. It gave different compensation to Hindus and Muslims – the Muslims got more money while Hindus did not even get half of it. This is on record and anyone can verify it.”
Compensation after a mishap or tragedy is another sensitive issue with Hindus. In violence-hit areas in Bihar and western Uttar Pradesh, Hindus often complain that Muslims have been treated royally by the respective state governments while they have been left high and dry. Those who enquire further are also told that if a Muslim police officer dies, his relatives get jobs, and crores as compensation, whereas the families of slain Hindu officers are left to languish without any monetary compensation.
It is not surprising therefore that Modi is consistent. It works through a ritual of repetition, and Modi does not seem to lose heart from the fact that his narrative has not clicked with voters on certain occasions.
Let us compare the prime minister’s Fatehpur speech with his speeches from the Bihar elections to see that they have been consistent. In Fatehpur, apart from demanding a cremation ground for each graveyard, Modi hinted that Muslims are the main beneficiaries of state schemes. He said:
“Ask a Dalit in Uttar Pradesh and he will tell you that he is not getting his rights because these are given only to the OBCs [Other Backward Classes]. Ask an OBC and he will say that Yadavs are enjoying all the benefits. A Yadav says the family members of the Samajwadi leaders are hogging the advantages [government-sponsored benefits], and the rest goes to the Muslims.”
In Bihar, Modi used similar language to accuse the Nitish Kumar government of favouring Muslims, of taking away from Hindus to give to Muslims. It was not borne out by facts, but Modi repeated it unabashedly. He reiterated it even when there was an uproar, and figures disproving his claims were brought to his attention.
At a rally in Buxar, Bihar, on October 26, 2015, Modi alleged:
“These leaders [Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad] are making a devious plan. They are conspiring to take away five per cent reservation of Dalits, Mahadalits, backwards and extremely backwards and give it to a particular community...I come from an extremely backward class and understand the pain of having been born to a poor woman. I will not allow this to happen. I pledge to protect the rights of Dalits, mahadalits and backwards.”
Calling this a sinful plan – “paap ki yojana” – Modi said: “Nobody will be allowed to take away your reservation and give it to any other community in pursuit of their vote bank politics.”
In his Fatehpur speech, Modi also referred to a case in which Arun Verma, the Samajwadi Party MLA from Sultanpur, had been booked for the murder of a woman who had accused him of rape.
“Kya maa-betiyon ki ijjat lootne ke liye SP ki sarkar banai thi…maa-betiyon ki hatya karne ke liye SP ki sarkar banai thi?
“[Was the SP government elected to rape and kill our mothers and daughters.]”
If you put Modi’s comments together with Amit Shah’s pledge in Kaptanganj on Monday to shut down all slaughter houses in Uttar Pradesh if the BJP was voted to power and convert “a river of blood of cows, oxen and buffaloes in Uttar Pradesh” into a river “in which ghee and milk flow”, and to form anti-Romeo squads to punish “a particular kind of motorcycle riders” (read Muslims) who harass women, the Modi-Shah strategy becomes very stark.
The communal strategy deployed by Modi and his party failed miserably in Bihar in 2015. Then why are Modi-Shah still speaking this tired language?
Those who think in narrow instrumentalist ways believe that only success drives one’s instinct. But there is also something called ideology, which one inculcates, which one is trained in, which one believes in, which is one’s world view and which makes each person who they are.
Social psychologist Ashis Nandy understood the psychological make up of Narendra Modi long ago, when nobody would have dared to suggest that Modi would one day rule India. After interviewing Modi, who was a worker with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh at that time, Nandy told his colleague, Achyut Yagnik, that he had just met a textbook fascist.
After Modi took over as prime minister of India in 2014, and everybody was dying to believe that he had changed, that he had been swept into power on an inclusive plank of development, Nandy was interviewed. The interviewer asked Nandy if he would like to comment on his earlier understanding and description of Modi. Nandy said, his voice unwavering, that he stood by his professional conclusion.
Thus, it is not desperation that has driven the prime minister towards communalism.
However, at elite gatherings, one argument put forward to defend Modi’s communal statements goes thus: “What can the poor man do if the idiots do not understand his appeal for development, he has to speak in language they understand.” The people who say this would like us to believe that Modi, and the BJP, is all for development but they need power for this noble mission. Since power comes only through elections, and since the so-called casteist and secular parties have practised only the language of caste and religion for decades, BJP and its leaders have no option but to resort to this communalist communication strategy.
The argument goes on to say: “Everything is fine and no one is discriminated against once the BJP comes to power. Look at Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan – absolute peace and high speed development! Are Muslims not getting a part of this?”
It is this logic that keeps the backers of Modi and the BJP from even raising their eyebrows at the communal statements made by Modi and his party men, often at election rallies. Additionally, the prime minister gets no notices from the Election Commission.
Meanwhile, the anti-minority communal statements are repeated in a loop. These statements accumulate in our minds, their roots going deeper and deeper into our social psyche.
Apoorvanand is a professor of Hindi at the University of Delhi.