If you only paid attention to what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweets, you might think that he operates like a statesman, not venturing into messy political battles or offensive rhetoric. On Monday, as the protest movement against the Citizenship Act amendments continued to become bigger and broader, Modi appealed to Indian citizens to “maintain peace, unity and brotherhood.”
The amendments to the Act bring in an expedited process for non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to be naturalised, thereby effectively adding a religious test to Indian citizenship laws. Many fear this will be used to harass millions of Indian Muslims once the National Register of Citizens is introduced nationwide. Yet, Modi insisted that the Act “does not affect any citizen of India of any religion.”
“We cannot allow vested interest groups to divide us and create disturbance,” Modi tweeted. “It is my appeal to everyone to stay away from any sort of rumour mongering and falsehoods.”
All of this sounds great – except it is Modi himself, as well as his government and the Bharatiya Janata Party that are responsible for rumour mongering, falsehoods and spreading the idea that the Citizenship Act will be used against Indian Muslims. It is the rhetoric of the ruling party that has brought thousands of people to the streets to assert that the government cannot simply decide who it believes is an Indian citizen.
Modi jumped right into the fray over the weekend, with this comment:
“Congress and their allies are creating a ruckus...” he said, at an election rally in Jharkhand on Sunday. “They are doing arson because they did not get their way. Those who are creating violence can be identified by their clothes itself.”
In case anyone missed the reference, which one commentator said was not a dog whistle but an entire dog orchestra, the BJP’s Amit Malviya put together a video:
The suggestion from Modi here is that anyone at all who looks Muslim – in this case wearing easy-to-spot topis – is a potential threat and likely to be violent in their response to the Act, regardless of whether they are Indian citizens or not.
The comment, a relatively rare, openly communal remark from Modi who prefers to leave such rhetoric to BJP President Amit Shah, corroborates the very fear that the protesters have about the Citizenship Act: That it will be used to harass and demonise anyone who is Muslim, regardless of their nationality.
Indeed, Modi would never make such a remark about violent protesters from other communities – such as those involved in Jat or Maratha agitations. Or even bring up the fact that at least some of the violence perpetrated over the last few days has come from men in uniform, particularly police personnel at Aligarh Muslim University and Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia.
The BJP has actually been desperate to communalise the protests against the Citizenship Act, though the first sustained opposition actually came from the North East, where the anger is aimed at outsiders to the region regardless of religion.
Shah also tried to address the protesters on Monday, saying that the Act “is not to take away citizenship of any Indian.”
In doing so, Shah has to go against his own rhetoric in which he makes it clear that current Indian citizens will be affected by the Citizenship Act and the all-India National Register of Citizens, unless they are “mool niwasi” or original inhabitants.
In other words, if they do not fit the BJP and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s idea of who belongs in India, they do have to worry. Shah’s arguments for the amendments were built on the same fallacy, the idea that the Indian state is a natural home for all Hindus but not for Muslims.
In reality, India – on paper at least – is a country that is the natural home of anyone willing to abide by the principles laid down in the Constitution, which includes not discriminating on the basis of religion. Modi and Shah’s attempts at damage control do not fool anyone.
No matter what happens next, it should be clear to all that there is a significant Indian population that is unwilling to bow down to the communally divisive rhetoric and worldview promoted by the RSS and the BJP.