Blood and Soil in Narendra Modi’s India The Prime Minister’s Hindu-nationalist government has cast two hundred million Muslims as internal enemies.

Good long and disturbing read on the rise and impact of the BJP (excerpts):

On August 11th, two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent soldiers in to pacify the Indian state of Kashmir, a reporter appeared on the news channel Republic TV, riding a motor scooter through the city of Srinagar. She was there to assure viewers that, whatever else they might be hearing, the situation was remarkably calm. “You can see banks here and commercial complexes,” the reporter, Sweta Srivastava, said, as she wound her way past local landmarks. “The situation makes you feel good, because the situation is returning to normal, and the locals are ready to live their lives normally again.” She conducted no interviews; there was no one on the streets to talk to.

Other coverage on Republic TV showed people dancing ecstatically, along with the words “Jubilant Indians celebrate Modi’s Kashmir masterstroke.” A week earlier, Modi’s government had announced that it was suspending Article 370 of the constitution, which grants autonomy to Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. The provision, written to help preserve the state’s religious and ethnic identity, largely prohibits members of India’s Hindu majority from settling there. Modi, who rose to power trailed by allegations of encouraging anti-Muslim bigotry, said that the decision would help Kashmiris, by spurring development and discouraging a long-standing guerrilla insurgency. To insure a smooth reception, Modi had flooded Kashmir with troops and detained hundreds of prominent Muslims—a move that Republic TV described by saying that “the leaders who would have created trouble” had been placed in “government guesthouses.”

The change in Kashmir upended more than half a century of careful politics, but the Indian press reacted with nearly uniform approval. Ever since Modi was first elected Prime Minister, in 2014, he has been recasting the story of India, from that of a secular democracy accommodating a uniquely diverse population to that of a Hindu nation that dominates its minorities, especially the country’s two hundred million Muslims. Modi and his allies have squeezed, bullied, and smothered the press into endorsing what they call the “New India.”

Kashmiris greeted Modi’s decision with protests, claiming that his real goal was to inundate the state with Hindu settlers. After the initial tumult subsided, though, the Times of India and other major newspapers began claiming that a majority of Kashmiris quietly supported Modi—they were just too frightened of militants to say so aloud. Television reporters, newly arrived from Delhi, set up cameras on the picturesque shoreline of Dal Lake and dutifully repeated the government’s line.

…..

To many observers, Modi’s success stemmed from his willingness to play on profound resentments, which for decades had been considered offensive to voice in polite society. Even though India’s Muslims were typically poorer than their fellow-citizens, many Hindus felt that they had been unjustly favored by the central government. In private, Hindus sniped that the Muslims had too many children and that they supported terrorism. The Gandhi-Nehru experiment had made Muslims feel unusually secure in India, and partly as a result there has been very little radicalization, outside Kashmir; still, many Hindus considered them a constant threat. “Modi became a hero for all the Hindus of India,” Nirjhari Sinha, a scientist in Gujarat who investigated the riots, told me. “That is what people tell me, at parties, at dinners. People genuinely feel that Muslims are terrorists—and it is because of Modi that Muslims are finally under control.”

….

As Modi began his run for Prime Minister, in the fall of 2013, he sold himself not as a crusading nationalist but as a master manager, the visionary who had presided over an economic boom in Gujarat. His campaign’s slogan was “The good days are coming.” A close look at the data showed that Gujarat’s economy had grown no faster under his administration than under previous ones—the accelerated growth was “a fantastically crafted fiction,” according to Prasad, the former editor. Even so, many of India’s largest businesses flooded his campaign with contributions.

Modi was helped by an overwhelming public perception that the Congress Party, which had been in power for most of the past half century, had grown arrogant and corrupt. Its complacency was personified by the Gandhi family, whose members dominated the Party but appeared diffident and out of touch. Rahul Gandhi, the head of the Party (and Nehru’s great-grandson), was dubbed the “reluctant prince” by the Indian media.

By contrast, Modi and his team were disciplined, focussed, and responsive. “The Gandhis would keep chief ministers, who had travelled across the country to see them, waiting for days—they didn’t care,” an Indian political commentator who has met the Gandhis as well as Modi told me. “With Modi’s people, you got right in.” While the Congress leaders often behaved as if they were entitled to rule, the B.J.P.’s leaders presented themselves as ascetic, committed, and incorruptible. Modi, who is said to do several hours of yoga every day, typically wore simple kurtas, and members of his immediate family worked in modest jobs and were conspicuously absent from senior government positions; whatever other allegations floated around him, he could not be accused of material greed.

The B.J.P. won a plurality of the popular vote, placing Modi at the head of a governing coalition. As Prime Minister, he surprised many Indians by challenging people to confront problems that had gone unaddressed. One was public defecation, a major cause of disease throughout India. At an early speech in Delhi, he announced a nationwide program to build public toilets in every school—a prosaic improvement that gratified many Indians, even those who could afford indoor plumbing. Modi also addressed a series of widely publicized gang rapes by speaking in bracingly modern terms. “Parents ask their daughters hundreds of questions,” he said. “But have any dared to ask their sons where they are going?”

The address set the tone for Modi’s premiership, or at least for part of it. As a young pracharak, he had taken a vow of celibacy, and he gave no public sign of breaking it. Unburdened by family commitments, he worked constantly. People who saw him said he exuded a vitality that seemed to compensate for his otherwise solitary existence. “When you have that kind of power, that kind of adoration, you don’t need romance,” the Indian political commentator told me. In Gujarat, Modi had focussed on big-ticket projects, wooing car manufacturers and bringing electricity to villages; as Prime Minister, he introduced a sweeping reform of bankruptcy laws and embarked on a multibillion-dollar campaign of road construction.

Modi’s effort to transform his image succeeded in the West, as well. In the United States, newspaper columnists welcomed his emphasis on markets and efficiency. In addition, Modi called on a vast network of Indian-Americans, who cheered his success at putting India on the world stage. The Obama Administration quietly dropped the visa ban. When Modi met Obama, not long after taking office, the two visited the memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., a man Modi claimed to admire. During his stay, Modi had a dinner meeting with Obama, but he presented White House chefs with a dilemma: he was fasting for Navaratri, a Hindu festival. At the meeting, he consumed only water.

The Indian political commentator, who met with Modi during his first term, told me that in person he was intense and inquisitive but not restless; he joked about the monkeys that were marauding his garden, and happily discussed the arcana of projects that were occupying his attention. The main one was water: India’s groundwater reserves were declining quickly (they’ve gone down by sixty-one per cent in the past decade), and Modi was trying to prepare for a future in which the country could run dry. During the meeting, he also displayed a detailed list of nations that were in need of various professionals—lawyers, engineers, doctors—of the very kind that India, with its huge population of graduates, could provide. “He is smart, extremely focussed,” the commentator said. “And, yes, a bit puritanical.”

In 2016, after four years of trying to find a publisher for her book, Ayyub decided to publish it herself. To pay for it, she sold the gold jewelry that her mother had been saving for her wedding. “I wasn’t getting married anytime soon anyway,” she told me, laughing. She found a printer willing to reproduce the manuscript without reading it first, and cut a deal with a book distributor to share any profits. She persuaded an artist friend to design an appropriately ominous cover. Ayyub was protected by the fact that, as an English-language book, it would be read only by India’s élite, too small a group toconcern the B.J.P. That May, the book went on sale on Amazon and in bookstores around the country. She called it “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up.”

“Gujarat Files” relates the highlights of the discussions Ayyub had with senior officials as she tried to figure out what happened during Modi’s and Shah’s time presiding over the state. It is not a polished work; it reads like a pamphlet for political insiders, rushed into publication by someone with no time to check punctuation or spell out abbreviations or delve into the historical background of the cases discussed. “I didn’t have the resources to think about all that,” Ayyub told me. “I just wanted to get the story out.” The virtue of the book is that it feels like being present at a cocktail party of Hindu nationalists, speaking frankly about long-suppressed secrets. “Here is the thing,” Ayyub said. “Everybody has heard the truth—but you can’t be sure. With my book, you can hear it from the horse’s mouth.”

Among those whom Ayyub “stung” was Ashok Narayan, who had been Gujarat’s Home Secretary during the riots. According to Ayyub, Narayan said that Modi had decided to allow the Hindu nationalists to parade the bodies of the victims of the train attack. Narayan said that he had warned Modi, “Things will go out of hand,” but to no avail. When he resisted, Modi went around him. “Bringing the bodies to Ahmedabad flared up the whole thing, but he is the one who took the decision,” he said.

As Modi consolidated his hold on the government, he used its power to silence mainstream outlets. In 2016, his administration began moving to crush the television news network NDTV. Since it went on the air, in 1988, the station has been one of the liveliest and most credible news channels; this spring, as votes were tallied in the general election, its Web site received 16.5 billion hits in a single day. According to two people familiar with the situation, Modi’s administration has pulled nearly all government advertising from the network—one of its primary sources of revenue—and members of his Cabinet have pressured private companies to stop buying ads. NDTV recently laid off some four hundred employees, a quarter of its staff. The journalists who remain say that they don’t know how long they can persist. “These are dark times,” one told me.

That year, Karan Thapar, the journalist who had asked Modi whether he wanted to express remorse for the Gujarat riots, found that no one from the B.J.P. would appear on his nightly show any longer. Thapar, perhaps the country’s most prominent television journalist, was suddenly unable to meaningfully cover politics. Then he discovered that Modi’s Cabinet members were pushing his bosses to take him off the air. “They make you toxic,” Thapar told me. “These are not things that are put in writing. They’re conversations—‘We think it’s not a good idea to have him around.’ ” (His network, India Today, denies being influenced by “external pressures.”) In 2017, his employers expressed reluctance to renew his contract, so he left the network.

Modi’s government has targeted enterprising editors as well. Last year, Bobby Ghosh, the editor of the Hindustan Times, one of the country’s most respected newspapers, ran a series tracking violence against Muslims. Modi met privately with the Times’ owner, and the next day Ghosh was asked to leave. In 2016, Outlook ran a disturbing investigation by Neha Dixit, revealing that the R.S.S. had offered schooling to dozens of disadvantaged children in the state of Assam, and then sent them to be indoctrinated in Hindu-nationalist camps on the other side of the country. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Outlook’s owners—one of India’s wealthiest families, whose businesses depended on government approvals—came under pressure from Modi’s administration. “They were going to ruin their empire,” the person said. Not long after, Krishna Prasad, Outlook’s longtime editor, resigned.

The lack of journalistic scrutiny has given Modi immense freedom to control the narrative. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the months leading up to his reëlection, in 2019. Backed by his allies in business, Modi ran a campaign that was said to cost some five billion dollars. (Its exact cost is unknown, owing to weak campaign-finance laws.) As the vote approached, though, Modi was losing momentum, hampered by an underperforming economy. On February 14th, a suicide bomber crashed a car laden with explosives into an Indian military convoy in Kashmir, killing forty soldiers. The attack energized Modi: he gave a series of bellicose speeches, insisting, “The blood of the people is boiling!” He blamed the attack on Pakistan, India’s archrival, and sent thousands of troops into Kashmir. The B.J.P.’s supporters launched a social-media blitz, attacking Pakistan and hailing Modi as “a tiger.” One viral social-media post contained a telephone recording of Modi consoling a widow; it turned out that the recording had been made in 2013.

On February 26th, Modi ordered air strikes against what he claimed was a training camp for militants in the town of Balakot. Sympathetic outlets described a momentous victory: they pumped out images of a devastated landscape, and, citing official sources, claimed that three hundred militants had been killed. But Western reporters visiting the site found no evidence of any deaths; there were only a handful of craters, a slightly damaged house, and some fallen trees. Many of the pro-Modi posts turned out to be crude fabrications. Pratik Sinha, of Alt News, pointed out that photos claiming to depict dead Pakistani militants actually showed victims of a heat wave; other images, ostensibly of the strikes, were cribbed from a video game called Arma 2.

But, in a country where hundreds of millions of people are illiterate or nearly so, the big idea got through. Modi rose in the polls and coasted to victory. The B.J.P. won a majority in the lower house of parliament, making Modi the most powerful Prime Minister in decades. Amit Shah, Modi’s deputy, told a group of election workers that the Party’s social-media networks were an unstoppable force. “Do you understand what I’m saying?” he said. “We are capable of delivering any message we want to the public—whether sweet or sour, true or fake.”

For many, Modi’s reëlection suggested that he had uncovered a terrible secret at the heart of Indian society: by deploying vicious sectarian rhetoric, the country’s leader could persuade Hindus to give him nearly unchecked power. In the following months, Modi’s government introduced a series of extraordinary initiatives meant to solidify Hindu dominance. The most notable of them, along with revoking the special status of Kashmir, was a measure designed to strip citizenship from as many as two million residents of the state of Assam, many of whom had crossed the border from the Muslim nation of Bangladesh decades before. In September, the government began constructing detention centers for residents who had become illegal overnight.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

3 Responses to Blood and Soil in Narendra Modi’s India The Prime Minister’s Hindu-nationalist government has cast two hundred million Muslims as internal enemies.

  1. dsb85 says:

    Check Brownpundits podcast or blog if you actually want to understand the issue without ideological lenses, fewer biases with both sides presenting their cases & without Geo-political moorings present in the above article.

  2. dsb85 says:

    Nop just follow the blog discussions, you will gain a much deeper insights about the issues in India.

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