To his 2014 catchphrase “sab ka saath, sab ka vikaas”, Narendra Modi has added two new words: “sabka vishwas”. It is, presumably, a reference to India’s minorities, most of whom did not vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party. “We have to win their trust,” he told members of the newly elected National Democratic Alliance government in the central hall of Parliament on May 25. “Those who voted us are ours and those who did not are also ours.”
It was a rare occasion when Modi directly addressed the condition of minorities in India. In 2014, he had only obliquely alluded to them in “sab ka saath, sab ka vikaas”. They were to be part of a generalised common good, weak links in the chain that had to be fixed in the march of progress. It is to be hoped this recognition that a government must actively work for the trust of those who fear it, that there cannot be any “discrimination”, is a sign that the BJP is willing to recalibrate its relationship with minority citizens.
But even as Modi spoke of addressing their social, educational and economic backwardness, he dismissed the “deception” and “fearmongering” of opposition parties who claimed to represent minorities as “votebank” politics. The fears generated by five years of a BJP-led government are all too real. Several BJP leaders, including party president Amit Shah and Modi himself, also ran an openly communal election campaign that thrived on these fears and won.
In his first tenure, hate crimes and violence against minorities became almost routine. Not only have there been few convictions for lynchings in the name of the cow, in many cases, the BJP has played an active role in rehabilitating the accused. Last year, Union minister of state Jayant Sinha was photographed garlanding eight men convicted of a lynching in Jharkhand. During the election campaign this year, one of those accused of the 2015 Dadri lynching was seen cheering Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath from the front seats.
In the BJP’s project of remaking Indian citizenship, reflected in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the party made it clear that India could offer a home only to non-Muslim refugees of the subcontinent. Shah has repeatedly referred to so-called Bangladeshis – read Bengali-speaking Muslims – as “ghuspetiya” (infiltrators) and “termites” who must expelled from the country.
In a campaign fuelled by hate, the BJP fielded terror-accused Pragya Thakur, who called Gandhi’s killer, Nathuram Godse, a “patriot” and asked his detractors to examine their own patriotism. Adityanath was penalised by the Election Commission for hate speech after he characterised a Muslim candidate as a “descendant of Babur” and a “terrorist”.
In these five years, if Modi spoke out at all against the attack on minorities, it seemed like a reluctant concession made after much prodding. While he has denounced lynching as a “crime”, he remains ambivalent about the motivation behind it: so-called cow protection. Earlier, he had denounced “fake cow protectors” - presumably, the passions of vigilante mobs genuinely animated by devotion to the cow could be understood. In this election campaign, he spoke of being hurt by the term “Hindu terror” and only condemned Pragya Thakur’s remark about Godse after an intense backlash against it.
The poisonous election campaign is a jarring contrast to Modi’s ostensibly statesman-like words on Saturday. After five years of the government shielding and enabling majoritarian violence, they fail to convince. Already, within days of his re-election, mob attacks on Muslims have been reported. In his second term, the prime minister needs to put his words into action. He could start by ensuring that those accused of lynching are put behind bars and terror cases where minorities were targeted are allowed to continue without impediment.