Under Cover of the Pandemic, the Modi Administration Has Removed Chapters on Democracy, Secularism, and Citizenship From Textbooks

Of note:

As students across India logged in to their virtual classrooms last month, many of them no doubt felt their prayers had been answered.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), India’s largesteducation board, announced in July that it had cut this year’s syllabus by 30 percent. It hopes that the move will relieve stressed-out students who have lost valuable hours in the classroom to COVID-19 and are trying to adapt to online learning.

But not everyone is pleased. The move has fueled controversy over the fact that government-run schools no longer have to teach chapters on democratic rights, secularism, federalism, and citizenship, among other topics. These concepts lie at the core of the Indian Constitution but have at times come into conflict with the Hindu-majoritarian ideology of the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party’s well-established interest in using the education system to spread its own unitary brand of Indian identity has further raised concerns that the omissions are politically motivated.


After a victory in last year’s general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP began rolling out a set of controversial citizenship policies that critics have called unconstitutional and anti-Muslim and that have been condemned for promoting an ethnoreligious idea of India. The country has since witnessed a series of large-scale national protests against the measures, including the Citizenship Amendment Act—a law designed to aid refugees from neighboring countries but which excludes Muslims—and a new National Register of Citizens. When combined, the two measures could end up disenfranchising large numbers of India’s Muslim population. (That’s the point, Home Minister Amit Shah, has admitted.) The protests were the largest public challenge to Modi’s rule since he first came to power in 2014.

When chapters like “Popular Struggles and Movements” and “Democracy and Diversity” were removed from the Class 10 political science syllabus, stakeholders and opposition groups were quick to frame the cuts as being in line with the other steps for which Modi has been  criticized. The move advances the vision of an “exclusivist, theocratic, intolerant, fascistic nation,” Sitaram Yechury, the leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist), wrote on Facebook in July. His party later called for the cuts to be rescinded, saying they hurt “secular democratic India’s future.”

The Education Ministry has denied any political motives behind the move, which it said was backed by a consensus of policymakers. It also issued a clarification on July 8 calling the cuts a “one-time measure only.”

It is hard to separate the syllabus cuts from the current political climate.

For practitioners, though, it is hard to separate the syllabus cuts from the current political climate. “It’s clear that this was a very selective exercise,” Anita Rampal, a professor and former dean of the education department at Delhi University, told me in July. “The deleted chapters relate directly to policies that are currently being questioned in the public sphere—and that’s important because not many issues usually are. These are topics the government finds inconvenient.”

Adding weight to such interpretations are other activities the government has undertaken during the pandemic. According to Human Rights Watch, New Delhi has stifled dissent and arrested protesters. The government has also come under fire for refusing to release academics and social activists from jail, including the 80-year-old poet Varavara Rao, who was kept in cramped prison conditions on charges of inciting caste-based violenceunder India’s draconian Unlawful Activities Act. He ended up contracting the coronavirus.

Meanwhile requests from opposition leaders to resume parliament or allow for videoconferencing have fallen on deaf ears. In turn, the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, has accused the government of trying to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. Add to this a distracted mainstream media with little interest in covering education policy minutiae and educators like Rampal have little to be hopeful about. “It’s a populist move that few people have the time or inclination to question,” she said. “Once deleted, I can’t see these chapters coming back in any meaningful way.”

The Education Ministry maintains that the recent move is in students’ best interests. Before the pandemic, too, ministry officials spoke about the need to “rationalize” the syllabus and unburden students from the lengthy slog. But if that is the goal, the cuts have undermined it. In an op-ed, Krishna Kumar, a former director of the National Council of Education Research and Training (the organization responsible for designing the curriculum), argued that the cuts have left some remaining topics “incomprehensible.” He points out that students will now learn about the constitution without learning about India’s federal structure.

The deleted chapters were also among those that offered relief from the rote learning and factual regurgitation that are endemic to the Indian education system.

 “These chapters allowed students to raise questions about social justice and engage in critical analysis,” Rampal said. “Removing these chapters sends a clear signal about what they believe is right for children to be learning.”

The CBSE has said teachers can still teach these topics if they wish. But that is unlikely to happen. “Teachers are evaluated on how well their students score in the board exams and are penalized if they finish the syllabus late,” a New Delhi secondary-school teacher told me. “When you’re already under so much pressure, there’s no incentive to be creative or deviate from the highly centralized teaching calendar.” This system has bred a culture of survival and removed any space for teachers to “really think and talk about educating children’s minds,” the teacher said. “It’s why so many great teachers have left.”

Policymakers must know that topics that are not going to be tested in board exams are unlikely to be covered in class, said Pradyumna Jairam, a former CBSE board social sciences teacher and researcher at King’s College London. “That’s why it is crucial to look at which chapters have been deleted and to ask why they don’t want these chapters to be taught,” he added.

Jairam’s answer is that the deleted chapters dealt with uncomfortable periods of Indian history, like the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and lower-caste struggles for emancipation. The chapter on popular movements, for example, drew a strong parallel between the assertion of Dalit rights and the civil rights movement in 1960s America, he said. “I taught this chapter, so I know how effective it was. It encouraged students to reflect on how privilege still operates in society, as well as on their own privilege, which may have sheltered them from these uncomfortable truths.”


But Jairam’s interpretation begs the question of why the BJP might have a problem with students learning about human rights, democracy, local government, and civil liberties.

The answer lies in the ruling party’s ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a volunteer paramilitary organization, and its deeply embedded Hindutva ideology. “The individualistic values promoted by liberal democracy is anathema to their view of Hindu traditions,” said Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist specializing in South Asia. He noted that Shah, Modi’s home minister, “argued that India should not follow the Western notion of human rights. Nor does the RSS allow for any room for elections or public debate within the organization.”

Education reform has long been a priority of the RSS. The organization itself operates a network of schools through its education wing, the Vidya Bharati. It views changing curriculum content in particular as a key component of nation building and erasing foreign elements from India’s Nehruvian teaching methods. When the BJP was last in power in the early 2000s, it appointed RSS members to top education positions and launched a national curriculum framework under the slogan “Indianize, nationalize, and spiritualize.”

The way history textbooks have already been rewritten in BJP-ruled states can provide clues to the kind of agenda the current administration is pursuing. In Rajasthan, for example, the state board removed all mentions of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and champion of a diverse and secular India, while adding multiple references to V.D. Savarkar, the father of Hindutva ideology. Meanwhile B.R. Ambedkar is labeled as a “Hindu social reformer” despite his later conversion to Buddhism. Critics claim his seminal key role in fighting for Dalit emancipation was also minimized.

Given this background, “it’s actually surprising that central board textbooks were not rewritten sooner,” Jaffrelot said. In 1999, the last time the BJP was in power and when Murli Manohar Joshi was the minister for human resources development, “this was a priority of the party, and they began making changes straight away.”

In that way, there is a feeling among some political observers that the BJP has left its most divisive policies for its second term in power. With the Supreme Court’s independence under question, a brutal crackdown on dissenting voices from academic and civil society, and a feeble opposition, the path has been cleared for the government to pursue its most controversial objectives, starting with the revocation of Kashmir’s special status a year ago and leading, most recently, to reconfiguring textbooks.

“Now is the time for them to do whatever they want, because who can say anything against them?” Jaffrelot said.

Source: Under Cover of the Pandemic, the Modi Administration Has Removed Chapters on Democracy, Secularism, and Citizenship From Textbooks

In Canada, Homegrown Islamophobia Gets a Boost from Modi’s Supporters in India

The traditional concern regarding Indo-Canadians has focused more of Sikh extremism than the Hindu extremism covered in this commentary. Liberal Brampton Centre MP Ramesh Sangha had made the following accusation: Brampton Liberal MP says his party ‘pandering’ to Sikh separatists.

Canadian “mainstream” media coverage has been limited, safe for the call to prayer (azan) controversy during Ramadan.

The PM’s disastrous 2018 India trip may also contribute to Canada’s relative reluctance to comment on Indian government abuses:

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has long been criticized for discriminating against India’s estimated 200 million Muslims. Tensions between this large minority and the Hindu nationalists who support Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been mounting in recent years, resulting in worrying laws, dangerous harassment, and deadly mob violence in India. Now, the hostility has moved outside of India’s borders. Thanks to social media and a dedicated diaspora, antagonism toward Muslims by supporters of India’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist government has gone global. And the international spread of domestic prejudices is causing diplomatic ripple effects for India’s allies.

This has been particularly apparent in the Persian Gulf region, home to millions of Indian expatriates. Modi’s carefully cultivated ties to the Gulf regimes are now threatened by instances of ultra-nationalist Indian expats spewing Islamophobic rhetoric online. While much of the vitriol has been aimed at the Muslim population back home in India, it has also taken the form of social media posts that denigrated Islam more generally, as well as the Prophet Mohammed. The situation has led to rare criticism of Modi by Gulf elites. In April, the government of Kuwait, along with a member of the Sharjah royal family in the United Arab Emirates, criticized widespread Islamophobic social media posts in India accusing the country’s Muslims of deliberately spreading the coronavirus and engaging in a “corona jihad.” Modi eventually responded by tweeting that the virus “does not see race [or] religion,” although his government’s rhetoric says otherwise. A month later, the UAE Federal Public Prosecution issued a public warning against discrimination after scores of Indian expats were fired from their jobs for anti-Muslim social media posts. This and similar incidents led the Dubai-based Gulf News to run an editorial in May calling for India to stop “exporting hate” to the Gulf.

In the West, the BJP’s brand of Islamophobia has found an eager partner among the far-right, as recent developments in famously multicultural Canada demonstrate.

In April, city councils across Canada voted to allow the Islamic call to prayer, the azan, to be broadcasted for a few minutes a day during the holy month of Ramadan. The government hoped to foster a sense of inclusion as mosques and other places of worship were closed for the COVID-19 lockdown. The decision elicited a major backlash, including mass petitions and online hate, with the far-right suggesting “Islamism” had infiltrated Canadian society and politics.

Some members of Canada’s Indian diaspora echoed such sentiments, tweeting comments about how the prayer call broadcasts are part of an Islamist “strategical campaign through out the world” or that “blaring loudspeakers” can never be “peaceful.” Several of the tweeters have quietly lost their jobs since then, amid pressure from anti-hate groups.

But few cases have garnered much attention. The exception is that of Ravi Hooda, who sat on a regional school board in the Toronto area and tweeted that allowing the prayer calls to be broadcast opens the door for “Separate lanes for camel & goat riders” or laws “requiring all women to cover themselves from head to toe in tents.” When Hooda’s tweet was called out by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a Twitter war ensued. Dozens of pro-Indian accounts, often with usernames containing an eight-digit string of numbers—a common indicator of a bot account—came to Hooda’s defense. A local controversy instantly took on an international character.

Hooda, for his part, is a volunteer for the local branch of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, which represents the overseas interests of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the right-wing Hindu nationalist organization that promotes the Hindutva (literally, “Hindu-ness”) ideology that India is a purely Hindu nation at its core. Modi himself is a lifelong RSS member, and a majority of his ministers have a background in the organization. The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh opened its first chapter in 1947, in Kenya, and today has more than 500 branches in 39 countries. The group’s chapters are called shakhas(branches) and, in addition to offering community services, help organize the diaspora through lectures, camps, and other organizational sessions that are aligned with the RSS’s ideological outlook.

The spread of right-wing Hindu nationalism in Canada has allegedly dovetailed with efforts by Indian intelligence agencies to “covertly influence” Canadian politicians to support Indian government positions through disinformation and money, according to documents obtained by Global News. There’s no proof of how successful this lobbying has been, but it’s clear that New Delhi is stretching its global reach at the same time that the BJP’s rhetoric and actions have politicized a new generation of Indian expats.

A glimpse of this global reach was provided by the EU DisinfoLab last fall in a report detailing a network of over 260 pro-India “fake local media outlets” spanning 65 countries, including throughout the West. The media organizations bear the names of local towns and cities, but none of them has any real connection with the localities they purport to represent, and all feature pro-India and anti-Pakistan content. Every news site was registered by the Srivastava Group, an Indian corporation that last year took right-wing European politicians on a trip to Kashmir, where they met with Modi.

Such reach can also be seen in the efforts of Indian expats and Indian Americans in the United States who organized last fall’s “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston attended by 50,000 people, including U.S. President Donald Trump and other Republican and Democratic politicians. Indian American volunteers did the heavy lifting and funded the event, which turned a meeting between heads of state into a public spectacle. The event was meant to cement Trump-Modi relations as well as to rally the U.S.-based diaspora around the BJP, thus bolstering the prime minister’s popularity back home.

An organized, RSS-minded, pro-BJP diaspora in the West and beyond would obviously be a great asset for Modi’s government.

 Elected officials would think twice before criticizing India, already a rising and influential power, for fear of angering their constituents. There are already hints that such calculations are being made by leaders. After an anti-Muslim pogrom broke out in Delhi in February, resulting in more than 50 deaths—the worst sectarian violence India has seen in years—Canada kept almost silent. While speaking to his Indian counterpart after the riots, the Canadian foreign minister offered a note of vague concern, roundly criticized in Canadian media. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made no statement, and the four Indian Canadian members of Trudeau’s Liberal caucus showed a similar reluctance to comment, drawing criticism from community organizations.

Similarly, foreign governments remained largely silent last summer when Modi stripped Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and placed it under a brutal military lockdown. This had observers wondering whether “Hindutva-inspired lobbies in the West,” as the researcher Fareeha Shamim labeled them, succeeded in their goals of building global influence from the ground up. Liberal politicians now hold an uncomfortable position, reluctant to criticize Modi lest they be attacked by his supporters in the diaspora.

Source: In Canada, Homegrown Islamophobia Gets a Boost from Modi’s Supporters in India

ICYMI: Modi Lost in Delhi. It Doesn’t Matter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party have ensured that no political parties speak about equal citizenship and political rights of the country’s Muslims.

One take on the Delhi election results:

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party suffered a major defeat in elections for the Delhi state legislature. Amit Shah, the prime minister’s confidante and the country’s home minister, led a highly divisive and sectarian campaign foregrounding Hindu nationalism and demonizing the city’s Muslims, and tried to paint the opposition Aam Aadmi Party and its leaders as treasonous.

Yet out of Delhi’s 70 seats, Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah’s B.J.P. won a mere eight seats, and the A.A.P., led by Arvind Kejriwal, who has been the chief minister of Delhi since 2015, won 62.

Mr. Kejriwal, an anti-graft activist turned politician, focused the electoral campaign of his party on his record of governance — the significant improvement he made to the delivery of services in public hospitals, the quality of education and infrastructure in schools, and the cost of electricity in Delhi.

Delhi chose Mr. Kejriwal for his performance as chief minister. While the B.J.P. plastered Mr. Modi’s face across the city, it did not offer any candidates for the Delhi state government who were more impressive or convincing than Mr. Kejriwal and his team.

Mr. Modi and his party might have lost an election but they won the ideological battle by setting the terms of electoral politics: For electoral success in India, it is no longer acceptable to speak about equal citizenship and political rights of India’s Muslims or speak out against the violence and hostility they encounter.

The election in Delhi was held while India has been witnessing continuous protests against a citizenship law passed by Mr. Modi’s government in December that makes religion the basis for citizenship. The new law discriminates against Muslims and advances the Hindu nationalist agenda of reshaping India into a majoritarian Hindu nation.

Mr. Shah, the home minister, had insisted the citizenship law would be followed by a National Register of Citizens, or N.R.C., which would require citizens to submit a set of documents to prove they are Indians. India’s Muslims and liberals worried that the citizenship register would become a tool to exclude or threaten to exclude Indian Muslims from citizenship.

Over the past two months, protests against the citizenship law and the impending N.R.C. spread across the country, from university campuses to poor Muslim neighborhoods, from distant border states to starry avenues of Bollywood.

On Dec. 15, the police in Delhi, which reports to Mr. Modi’s government, violently attacked students at Jamia Millia Islamia, a university with a large number of Muslim students. After the police assault, women from Shaheen Bagh, a working-class, mostly Muslim neighborhood adjacent to university, gathered in protest against the citizenship law and blocked a major road passing through the area. A tent was set up on the road and the protest quickly took on the air of a defiant carnival.

The numbers swelled and every kind of Indian opposed to the citizenship law gathered at Shaheen Bagh in solidarity. Two bitter winter months have passed; the women continue their protest despite the cold and the attacks by Hindu nationalist activists.

Throughout the Delhi election campaign, Mr. Modi’s party targeted Shaheen Bagh and sought to frighten the city’s Hindus by emphasizing the Muslim-ness of the protesters. Islamophobic rhetoric has been normalized in Mr. Modi’s India, but the Delhi campaign intensified it. Mr. Shah, who is also the president of the B.J.P., set the tone when he asked his supporters to push the button against the B.J.P. electoral symbol on the electronic voting machines so hard that the (mostly Muslim) protesters in Shaheen Bagh would “feel the current.”

At a Delhi election rally, Anurag Thakur, Mr. Shah’s colleague and India’s minister of state for finance, raised a sinister slogan: “These traitors of the nation! Shoot them!” A few days later, two Hindu nationalist activists opened fire on students and protesters at Jamia Millia Islamia and in Shaheen Bagh.

Parvesh Varma, a member of the Parliament from Mr. Modi’s party, sought to whip up Hindu fears by describing the Shaheen Bagh protesters as murderers and rapists: “They will enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, and kill them. There is time today. Modi Ji and Amit Shah won’t come to save you tomorrow.” Other leaders from the party likened Shaheen Bagh to Pakistan and framed the Delhi election as a contest between India and Pakistan.

Mr. Kejriwal spoke against the citizenship law, calling it a distraction from Mr. Modi’s failure on the economy, but assiduously avoided confronting the Hindu nationalist rhetoric during the elections and ignored the attacks on Muslims.

When the police entered Jamia Milia Islamia and attacked the students, Mr. Kejriwal stayed silent for several days. When asked about the protests in Delhi, he declared that he would have cleared the road through Shaheen Bagh in two hours if the police in Delhi, which reports to the federal government, were under his control.

To emphasize his being a Hindu, Mr. Kejriwal publicly sang Hindu religious prayers and visited a temple soon after his victory speech. Essentially, he worked around the boundaries set by the Hindu nationalists and embraced a softer version of their politics.

The Delhi election suggests that India has entered an era where the ideological terms and the language of politics are set by the Hindu nationalists. To be electorally competitive, political parties will need to adhere to some variant of the Hindu nationalism and jingoism exemplified by Mr. Modi.

The “Modi consensus” has ensured that India’s Muslims are not only politically powerless but also politically invisible. Seventy-three years after independence, India’s Muslims are still fighting for equal citizenship. We are now putting our lives on the line, not to gain parity in jobs and education but to hold on to legal equality.

The protests against the new citizenship law have the air of a final cry to salvage our dignity before we are made second-class citizens, or worse, noncitizens.

In an election, while most citizens vote for material benefits and aspirations, India’s Muslims are reduced to voting for their security. Despite Mr. Kejriwal and his A.A.P.’s sidestepping the issues concerning Muslims, Delhi’s Muslims overwhelminglybacked his party because it is not actively hostile to them.

To interpret defeat of Mr. Modi’s party in Delhi with his project of Hindu majoritarianism would be a grave misreading of the verdict. In a recent survey, four-fifths of Delhi’s voters favored Mr. Modi and three-fourths of Delhi’s voters expressed satisfaction with his federal government.

It is unclear whether Mr. Kejriwal’s model of good governance and service delivery while ignoring the contentious sectarian and militant nationalist positions of the Hindu nationalists can be replicated outside the relatively small, urban state of Delhi.

Since its inception, the Hindu nationalist movement, of which the B.J.P. is the electoral branch, had a single goal: Hindu supremacy. There are no politicians who have the gumption to challenge Mr. Modi and his B.J.P. on that central vision. Mr. Modi and his party might lose the occasional election but they have won the ideological war.

Source: Modi Lost the Delhi Election. It Doesn’t Matter.

The Guardian view on Modi’s citizenship law: dangerous for all

Good commentary:

Thousands nationwide have protested against India’s new citizenship law in recent days, facing a brutal police response. This is arguably the biggest display of opposition to Narendra Modi since he took power six years ago, and for good reason. Demonstrators have been urged into action not by the sense of a new direction being established, but of the confirmation of the country’s alarming trajectory. The legislation is the proof that Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist project is not a containable anomaly, but an enterprise that threatens the nation’s very foundations of pluralism and secularism. Fear overshadows the hopes of that seven-decade endeavour.

The prime minister has piously tweeted: “This is the time to maintain peace, unity and brotherhood.” Superficially this is, as the BJP government claims, a law that expands rather than removes rights. It creates a fast-track path to citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsees and Christians arriving from Muslim-majority states, who would otherwise spend years labelled as illegal immigrants. But no one considering either its text or context could seriously regard this as a measure of inclusion. It is inherently one of exclusion, which discriminates against Muslims fleeing persecution, and signals that Muslim citizens are not “truly” Indian. It undermines constitutional protections which apply to foreigners as well as citizens in India.

Source: The Guardian view on Modi’s citizenship law: dangerous for all

And an upcoming court challenge:

India’s controversial religion-based citizenship act will have to pass the scrutiny of the nation’s top court, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government pledged to push ahead and implement the law.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.A.Bobde issued a notice to the government seeking its response. The court agreed to examine the legality of the legislation following more than 50 petitions filed by activists, lawyers, student groups, Muslim bodies, and politicians from across the country. The court will next hear the case on Jan. 22 and may decide in January if the law should be stayed, Bobde said.

The move may calm protesters who have called the law discriminatory because it bars undocumented Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh from seeking citizenship but allows Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who migrated from these regions to do so. On Tuesday, Home Minister Amit Shah, who shepherded the Citizenship Amendment Act through the Parliament last week, defended it and ruled out any possibility of repealing the law.

“When the country was divided on the basis of religion and the minorities are being persecuted there in the name of religion, then will you not give them your citizenship?” Shah said in comments broadcast on Times Now, referring to the partition of India in 1947. “Where will they go?”

Stateless Risks

The new law is seen as a precursor to Shah’s plan to implement a nationwide citizens register to weed out illegal migrants.

Demonstrations first began in the eastern state of Assam where there are fears the new law would allow an influx of migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Some 1.9 million people in Assam — many of them Muslims — risk losing their Indian citizenship after the state enforced the citizens register in August.

Anger soon spread across many parts of India, including the capital New Delhi, over fears it would damage India’s traditional secular ethos enshrined in its Constitution that treats all religions on par.

Meanwhile, police stormed university campuses across the country this week to quell the protests, which have so far been led largely by students of all faiths.

“This isn’t about religion, this is about justice,” said Neha Sareen, a 22-year-old student at Tuesday’s protests outside Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, which faced the worst police crackdown. “The law is against the constitution of India. It discriminates against fellow citizens.”

Repeal Demands

Protesters remain firm on their demand for a repeal of the act, said Shifa Ur Rehman Khan, president of Jamia university’s alumni association. Yet, the government has shown no signs of backing down on the bill. On Tuesday, Shah said no Indian citizen of any faith need worry about the citizenship rules.

The government is now turning its attention to building a temple for the Hindu warrior god Ram on the site of a demolished mosque in northern India, after the country’s top court gave a verdict in the favor of Hindu groups last month.

If the protests continue to gather steam there are fears it will distract the government from its economic problems and undermine efforts to attract foreign investment. Asia’s third-biggest economy is growing at its slowest pace in more than six years and unemployment is the highest in more than four decades.

Shah told industry leaders in Mumbai on Tuesday that the Modi government is working toward fixing a temporary economic slowdown and that it should recover ground in three quarters. Shah, whose interview was broadcast at the Times Network India Economic Conclave in Mumbai, got support from at least one executive.

“The idea of a strong India is important and it is sad that the students are getting sucked into politics,” said Sajjan Jindal, chairman of JSW Steel Ltd.before Shah’s speech. “This law will protect the country from illegal immigrants.”

The last time Shah addressed business leaders in Mumbai billionaire Rahul Bajaj spoke to say corporate India was hesitant about criticizing the current government.

Source: Supreme Court to Examine Contentious India Citizenship Law

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.

India government revokes disputed Kashmir’s special status

Will be interesting to see how this is interpreted by the different Indo-Canadian communities in both mainstream and ethnic media:

The Indian government has used a presidential order to revoke the special constitutional status of Kashmir, in a bid to fully integrate its only Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country, the most far-reaching political move on the troubled Himalayan territory in nearly seven decades.

Some political leaders in Kashmir warned in recent days that any such move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration — through the repeal of the constitution’s Article 370 — will trigger major unrest as it would amount to aggression against the region’s people.

Authorities, meanwhile, have launched a new clampdown in the state of Jammu and Kashmir by suspending telephone and internet services, and putting some leaders under house arrest.

The security measures include thousands of newly deployed soldiers, who are camping in police stations and government buildings in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. The deployment in recent days adds at least 10,000 troops in Kashmir, already one of the world’s most militarized regions.

India also has ordered thousands of tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave.

The decision to repeal Article 370 will mean an end to restrictions on property purchases by people from outside the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and state government jobs and some college places will no longer be reserved for state residents.

The Muslim-majority Himalayan region has been at the heart of more than 70 years of animosity, since the partition of the British colony of India into the separate countries of Muslim Pakistan and majority Hindu India.

Two of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since their independence from British rule were over Kashmir.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has rejected the revocation of a special status for the portion of disputed Kashmir that it controls. The ministry said in a statement Monday that under UN Security Council resolutions, India cannot change the status of Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan.

The ministry said the people of Pakistan and Kashmir will not accept the Indian action, and Pakistan will “exercise all possible options” to block it.

The scenic mountain region is divided between India, which rules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city — Pakistan, which controls a wedge of territory in the west — and China, which holds a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north.

Here are some facts about the region and the constitutional change:

Partition

After partition of the subcontinent in 1947, Kashmir was expected to go to Pakistan, as other Muslim majority regions did. Its Hindu ruler wanted to stay independent, but, faced with an invasion by Muslim tribesmen from Pakistan, acceded to India in October 1947 in return for help against the invaders.

Article 370

This provision of the Indian constitution that provided for Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy — except for matters of defence, finance, communications and foreign affairs — was drafted in 1947 by the then prime minister of the state, Sheikh Abdullah, and accepted by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It was, though, only classified as a temporary provision, and in October 1949 was included in the Indian constitution by the constituent assembly.

Article 35A

This was added to the constitution in 1954 under Article 370, and empowers the Jammu and Kashmir state parliament to provide special rights and privileges to permanent residents of the state. It will die with the repeal of 370, which means outsiders will likely be allowed to buy property in the region and state residents will likely lose their control of state government jobs and college places.

Wars

The dispute over the former princely state sparked the first two of three wars between India and Pakistan after independence 1947. They fought the second in 1965, and a third, largely over what become Bangladesh, in 1971.

Divisions

A UN-monitored ceasefire line agreed in 1972, called the Line of Control (LOC), splits Kashmir into two areas — one administered by India, the other by Pakistan. Their armies have for decades faced off over the LOC. In 1999, the two were involved in a battle along the LOC that some analysts called an undeclared war. Their forces exchanged regular gunfire over the LOC until a truce in late 2003, which has largely held since.

The insurgency

Many Muslims in Indian Kashmir have long resented what they see as heavy-handed New Delhi rule. In 1989, an insurgency by Muslim separatists began. Some fought to join Pakistan, some called for independence for Kashmir. India responded by pouring troops into the region. India also accused Pakistan of backing the separatists, in particular by arming and training fighters in its part of Kashmir and sending them into Indian Kashmir. Pakistan denies that, saying it only offers political support to the Kashmiri people.

Indian Kashmir

Governed as the northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir. It has two capitals, Jammu in winter (November-April), Srinagar in summer (May-October).

New Delhi claims the whole of Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India.

Pakistani Kashmir

Consists of the smaller Azad Kashmir (“Free Kashmir”) and the Northern Areas, which also formed part of the state before independence. Pakistan says a UN-mandated referendum should take place to settle the dispute over the region, expecting that the majority of Kashmiris would opt to join Pakistan.

Geography

Parts of Kashmir are strikingly beautiful, with forest-clad mountains, rivers running through lush valleys and lakes ringed by willow trees. The western Himalayan region is bounded by Pakistan to the west, Afghanistan to the northwest, China to the northeast, and India to the south.

Population and area

Ten million in Indian Kashmir and more than three million in Pakistani Kashmir. About 70 per cent are Muslims and the rest Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. With an area of 222,236 square kilometres, it is slightly bigger than the U.S. state of Utah and almost as big as Britain.

Economy

About 80 per cent agriculture based. Crops include rice, maize, apples and saffron. The area is also known for handicrafts such as carpets, woodcarving, woolens and silk. Tourism, once flourishing, has been badly hit by the conflict.

Source: India government revokes disputed Kashmir’s special status

For India’s Muslims, palpable fear of what another Modi term brings

Of note:

Last week, as results started trickling in from India’s election, I was in Stockholm, delivering a keynote speech on the power of journalism in India. I was speaking to a crowd of 400 Swedish journalists and academics about Indian democracy, its secular character and the importance of investigative journalism under a strongman such as Narendra Modi, when my phone started to beep.

It was a text from my brother: “Modi has won with a massive majority.”

My thoughts drifted as I gazed at the audience, wondering if my words – or career as a journalist in this country – had any significance. As an investigative reporter, covering the politics of Mr. Modi for more than a decade, I have had a front-row seat watching him dehumanize India’s Muslim population.

In 2002, roughly 1,000 Muslims were butchered in the Hindu-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat, which was under Mr. Modi’s leadership.

As a 19-year-old relief worker at the time, I spent days in the relief camps after the riots, watching women who had been traumatized by rape, children who had witnessed the blood bath of their family members. Each relief camp was representative of the hate that had been peddled by leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party leading to the carnage. In one of his speeches, Mr. Modi spokeabout dismantling the relief camps: “Should we run relief camps, open child-producing centres?” The question was a direct reference to Muslim women and children who were affected by the anti-Muslim riots.

In a verdict in one of the riot cases, the Supreme Court of India called the Modi government “modern-day Neros” who “looked the other way as innocent children and women were butchered.” The United States later refused a visa to Mr. Modi after human-rights organizations protested his entry into the country because of his anti-Muslim track record during the riots.

In 2005, I covered the involvement of Amit Shah, the first serving Home Minister of State of Gujarat, in connection to the deaths of two Muslims: Mr. Shah was initially charged with murder and later acquitted.

He has now been reinstated as the president of the ruling party and is now the second-most powerful man in India, after Mr. Modi. In the run-up to the 2019 general election, he not-so-subtly insulted one specific group of migrants – Muslims. In a campaign rally, Mr. Shah said, “the BJP would find these termites and throw them out,” adding that citizenship would, however, be granted to every Hindu and Buddhist refugee. That, of course, leaves just one group to fall into the “termite” category.

But this country’s Muslims have always been acutely aware of how Mr. Modi feels about them.

In 2010, I went undercover to expose complicity of the state in the violence against Muslims. I posed as a Hindu nationalist from the United States, as an American filmmaker seeking to glorify Mr. Modi for an American audience. In a span of eight months I met some of the top bureaucrats, officials who worked under Mr. Modi in 2002. They confessed his complicity in the Gujarat riots; one bragged to me that Mr. Modi let the violence worsen, so it would help him in his re-election.

The last person I met, disguised as Maithili Tyagi (my undercover name) was Narendra Modi. I praised his international image in United States; he blushed. He directed my attention to a copy of a book on Barack Obama and said, “Maithili, one day I want to be like him.” Of course, his political career has proven otherwise.

In 2014, Mr. Modi was voted in as the 14th Prime Minister of India, a campaign he fought the basis of Sabka saath Sabka Vikaas (inclusive leadership for all). Skeptics who had observed his political career were not convinced; Mr. Modi did not disappoint. In the five years of Modi rule, India has turned into a nightmare for Muslims, with routine lynchings for alleged consumption of beef; Mr. Modi’s cabinet minister, Jayant Sinha, has been criticized for garlanding a group of men who had been convicted of murdering a Muslim man.

Further, in the run-up to the elections, Mr. Modi’s party fielded Pragya Thakur, a priestess who has been charged with plotting a bomb attack in a Muslim-dominated area, a bombing that took 10 lives. Recently, she won the parliamentary seat, and will enter the Indian government after a campaign focused on anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The attempts made in the past five years have made Indians fear for the secular character of our republic: a leader with absolute majority, drunk on power and reckless disregard of institutions, with dreams of being a right-wing mascot a generation that is swaying to his majoritarian utopia.

Indians pride themselves on being a diverse country of 1.3 billion, with a culture that has refused nationalist influence, despite attempts by various right wing ideologies. The world’s largest democracy has remained resilient to authoritarian regimes, and yet retained its essential syncretic character envisaged by the founding fathers of independent India.

The Modi regime could choose to restore the cracks it has caused, if the Prime Minister would reveal a moral compass that aims to unite. If he continues to revel in this majoritarian and hyper-nationalist malaise that afflicted his previous term, the wound will fester and the cracks could be well beyond repair.

Source: For India’s Muslims, palpable fear of what another Modi term brings Rana Ayyub

Why giant statues of Hindu gods and leaders are making Muslims in India nervous – The Conversation

Not encouraging:

Statues – big statues, the largest in the world – are being built all across India.

Like many public monuments, they attempt to convey history in a concrete form. But India’s new statues convey something else, too: the power and vision of one dominant group – and the vulnerability of others.

That’s because India’s biggest new public monuments all pay tribute to Hindu gods and leaders.

As a scholar of social change in India, I see statues as a projection of a nation’s values at a particular moment in time. For many Muslims and other religious minorities, then, these hulking public monuments of Hindu icons send an ominous message about their status in society.

Rising Hindu nationalism

The mammoth public shrines to Hindu nationalism are a pet project of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.

Since taking office in 2014, Modi has used his power to promote Hindu nationalism, a polarizing ideology that sees Hindus as India’s dominant group. Yet India is a constitutionally multicultural country with the world’s second largest population of Muslims – comprising over 170 million people.

Twenty percent of its 1.3 billion people are Muslim, Christian or another religion.

By 2021 India, which is already home to the tallest statue in the world – Gujarat state’s 597-foot-tall “Statue of Unity,” commemorating Indian independence hero Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – plans to unveil two more record-breaking monuments, both portraying icons idolized by Hindu rightists.

A 725-foot bronze likeness of the god Ram planned for Uttar Pradesh state will soon surpass the Statue of Unity in size. And in Mumbai construction has been halted on a 695-foot-tall likeness of the medieval Hindu warrior Shivaji, pending the results of an environmental review.

Guinness World Records also recently judged Tamil Nadu state’s 112-foot depiction of the face of the Hindu god Shiva as the world’s largest bust statue.

All this is happening under Modi, who is up for re-election in monthlong general elections that start on April 11.

He was voted into office in 2014 on a platform of “development for all.” Promising to boost the economy in a country where nearly 22% of people live in poverty and millions go hungry, Modi and the BJP won an historic parliamentary majority over the center-left Indian National Congress, its main competitor.

Since then, India has improved in international “ease of doing business” rankings, passing regulations that improve commerce and the protection of property rights.

But some of Modi’s boldest moves to improve cash flow and boost public revenues, including a 2017 tax reform initiative and a ban on saving in certain high-value currencies, have failed. Unemployment has risen under BJP rule, particularly in rural areas, and the national economy suffered during the “demonetization” process.

Over the last five years, under Modi’s administration, India has also seen a startling rise of Hindu vigilante violence.

Indian vigilante ‘cow killings’

The attacks – often called “cow protection” – are sometimes deadly assaults that target Muslims and other Indians who, unlike many Hindus, do not consider cows to be sacred.

Hindu militants killed at least 44 Indians and injured 280 in about 100 attacks between May 2015 and December 2018, according to the international not-for-profit Human Rights Watch. Most of the dead were Muslims in states run by Modi’s political party.

The prime minister and his BJP have faced criticism for being slow to condemn anti-Muslim violence and for prioritizing legislation to safeguard cows, not the victims of vigilantism. Cow protection violence has also crippled India’s beef and leather industries, since they are primarily Muslim-run.

Muslim men who date Hindu women are another common target of vigilante violence, as are students, journalists, academics and artists perceived to be critical of Modi’s leadership.

The Hindu nationalists’ crusade against pluralism takes place even as the Modi administration cracks down on civil liberties. Between 2014 and 2016, 179 people were arrested on charges of sedition for protests, critical blogs or anti-government posts on Facebook, according to government crime statistics.

Fears of religious minority groups

This is the cultural context that has Muslims worried over India’s statue-building spree.

The BJP is not the first party to build public monuments celebrating only one segment of Indian society.

From 2007 to 2012, a top politician named Mayawati built numerous memorials and parks across Uttar Pradesh state commemorating leaders from India’s marginalized Dalit class, formerly known as the “untouchables.” Mayawati, a Dalit, commissioned statues of herself, her political mentor Kanshi Ram and other Dalit icons who fought against India’s caste system.

It was the first time such grand homage had been paid to the Dalit leaders who crusaded against India’s deep-rooted caste system.

But the US$800 million price invited scrutiny, and the courts have asked Mayawati to repay some of those funds.

India’s election commission also insisted that Mayawati’s statues be shrouded ahead of state elections in 2012, saying the visibility of the then-chief minister and her party symbol might sway voters.

In contrast, resistance to India’s giant new statues has been muted. And Hindu nationalists are pushing for more public commemoration of their faith.

In November 2018, tens of thousands of Hindus gathered to demand the construction of a Hindu temple in the Indian city of Ayodhya – at the same spot where, in 1992, Hindu zealots demolished an ancient Muslim-built mosque.

The proposal to build instead an enormous statue of Ram in Ayodhya is widely seen as an effort to placate Hindu nationalists in their decades-long quest for a Ram temple.

Fearing a repeat of the deadly violence that destroyed the ancient mosque, some local Muslims fled the city last November.

Indian elections

Indians will decide whether to give Modi another five years when they vote this spring in the world’s biggest election.

Recent polls show Modi and his BJP leading in a race in which several competitor parties have allied to defeat him.

The prime minister’s public approval got a 7% boost, to 52%, after India’s brief but sharp escalation of recent tension with neighboring Pakistan, a majority Muslim state.

Border disputes are a classic move for a strongman leader during election season. Paying homage to Hindu nationalist icons in the form of giant public monuments, however, is something different. Modi is transforming secular India, one statue at a time.

Source: Why giant statues of Hindu gods and leaders are making Muslims in India nervous – The Conversation

Why Narendra Modi has an enduring Muslim problem in India

Interesting article on some of the underlying and long-standing tensions with and prejudices regarding Muslims in India and how PM Modi has increased them:

Lucille Eichengreen was a school girl in Hamburg. Like most children she had many friends and a carefree childhood. Her world changed overnight. “Hitler came to power in January 1933. The children that lived in the same building…no longer spoke to us. They threw stones at us, they called us names, and that was maybe three months after Hitler came to power, and we could not understand what we had done to deserve this…And when we asked at home the answer pretty much was, ‘Oh it’s a passing phase, it won’t matter, it will normalise.’ What that actually meant we did not know. But we could not understand the change.”

“Well, Levine, have you got your ticket to Palestine?”

She was not alone.  Eugene Levine used to study in a mixed religion school where, one day, he was taunted by a non-Jewish boy, who was his friend, “Well, Levine, have you got your ticket to Palestine?” Eugene was shocked. “But, you see, anti-Semitism’s always there beneath the surface.” These incidents are a part of a history that even the Germans don’t want to remember any longer. Both the statements, together, hint at a fact that is distasteful, dangerous and apocalyptical.

It is a lesserknown fact of history that Hindenburg who appointed Hitler as chancellor, had refused twice before to appoint him to the post. He had said in November 1932, that a presidential cabinet headed by Hitler would inevitably develop into a party dictatorship with all its consequences, resulting in a worsening of the antagonisms within the German people.

Unlike Hindenburg, Indian president Pranab Mukherjee did not have any choice but to obey the will of the people; and at that time if he had any reservations about the turn of events, he did not share it with anyone. But it is to be noted that a section of the intelligentsia had always viewed Modi as a polarising figure who unabashedly pursued Hindutva and did not hide his views vis-a-vis minorities. His image as a Hindutva icon was one of the major reasons for his success and he did not flinch in exploiting it to the hilt, though he did marry it with the utopia of development and the idea of making India great again.

He could succeed only because like in Germany prejudice against Muslims had been lying dormant in a section of Hindus for long. To be fair to Modi and the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), this prejudice against Muslims existed even before the RSS was formed in 1925.

The problem with the RSS is that it has failed to understand, that in independent India, two incidents—the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and the 2002 Gujarat riots—have majorly impacted the Muslims’ collective psyche, scarred them emotionally, and shaken their belief in the Indian legal system.

Modi’s identification with Gujarat riots is too overwhelming in the Muslim community. And his rule since 2014 has not helped lessen the burden of history; rather it has created new fissures in their minds, inflicted much deeper emotional wounds and constructed a regime of alienation, helplessness and betrayal.

Modi’s identification with Gujarat riots is too overwhelming in the Muslim community.

The killing of Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan, Junaid and others by cow vigilantes; the subsequent collaboration of state machinery to save the perpetrators; no urgent and unequivocal condemnation of these incidents from Modi and Bhagwat; felicitation of mob lynching accused and convicted Hindutvavadis by central ministers; provocative statements by BJP/RSS leaders targeting Muslims; sudden closure of abattoirs in UP and other states without any opportunities for alternate ways of livelihood; forced ban on beef in northern and western states by BJP governments at a time when India is the leading beef exporter in the world; the arrest and brutal beatings of Muslim youth in the name of love jihad; insulting and intimidating Muslims who tried to offer namaaz in an open space; regular violations of the symbols of Muslim identity; a nonstop attempt to portray and lampoon them as terrorist and anti-national by the Hindutva Brigade on TV Channels and social media; the Modi government’s effort to abrogate instant triple Talaq and through that to build a narrative that the community is regressive, and so on, has built a perception in the community that the Indian state has become anti-Muslim in its ethos and practice.

Since 2014, a section of Hindus have rediscovered their Hindutva which if scratched a bit, reveals an anti-Muslim point of view. Flaunting an anti-Muslim attitude is definitely massively on the rise. The stereotyping of Muslims has increased manifold. The present status of Muslims in India, reminds me of Silvia Vesela, a Slovakian Jew, who was held in a temporary camp in 1942, where death was staring her in the face. She said, “It hurt, it really hurt when I, for example, saw many schoolmates shouting with fists raised, ‘It serves you right!’ Since that time I do not expect anything of people.”

Since Modi took over the reins of the government a paradigm shift has taken place. Muslims have started feeling that the state had now started interfering in matters of their religion and culture. Anwar Alam writes, “It is the religio-cultural alienation which might strengthen the process of radicalistion among Indian Muslims. The demolition of Babri masjid was a jolt to the faith of the Muslim community. Since 2014 when the present NDA government came into power at the Centre, it has initiated a series of policy measures including the issue of criminalising instant triple talaq and keeping a distance from sharing Muslim/Islamic symbolism in the public domain that deeply concerns the Muslim community: whether they are any longer free to practice their religion freely in this nation.”

“Hindus are not seen as religious enemies. The problem is the RSS and Hindutva.”

During research for this book I met many Muslim intellectuals and leaders. I could sense that there was a definite unease in the Muslim community vis-a-vis the Modi government, guarded by a rather deceptive silence. The present crisis is being perceived as an existential crisis. Therefore a lot of internal churning is going on. It has been acknowledged by the community that the traditional leadership of the Muslim community has let them down. Now, young and educated leaders are taking the lead and trying to organise the community. Older leaders are extremely cautious in articulating their views on issues related to politics, and it has been communicated to all, especially the youth to not get provoked, whatever be the nature of the provocation. Anand Vivek Taneja, assistant professor of anthropology and religious studies at the University of Vanderbilt, USA, had been touring areas such as Aligarh, Lucknow, Kolkata, Patna, Hyderabad and so on, across the country for his research on Muslims. During an interview with me, he said, “[The] Muslim community is definitely in a self -reflective mood and there is an extraordinary amount of restraint but (the) community also makes a clear distinction that the present problems it is facing is because of the current politics. There is no ill feeling against Hindus per se. Hindus are not seen as religious enemies. The problem is the RSS and Hindutva.”

Source: Why Narendra Modi has an enduring Muslim problem in India

Hopes high for Modi’s arrival in the Lower Mainland

Likely correct assessment of how Modi’s visit will be received but nevertheless will be interesting given the large Sikh population in the Vancouver area:

While protests are promised, many in B.C.’s Indo-Canadian community appear to be enthusiastically looking forward to only the third official visit of an Indian prime minister to Canada.

And it doesn’t seem to matter that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will be accompanied by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at April 16 events in the Lower Mainland, is the controversial leader of a Hindu nationalist party coming to a region where Sikhs dominate the Canadian diaspora.

The son of a tea vendor in a society with limited social mobility, Modi’s political rise, his anti-corruption stance, and his economic record as chief minister of Gujarat state from 2002-14 have impressed Indians around the world.

That has some analysts suggesting India holds enormous potential for Canadian exporters, including those in the LNG sector. “He has an image of a person who is able to do things and make decisions,” said Kwantlen Polytechnic University political scientist Shinder Purewal. “And people like the fact that personally he’s not corrupt. Not even his enemies can accuse him of taking a cup of tea.”

One of his B.C. hosts, Khalsa Diwan Society president Sohan Singh Deo, brushed aside suggestions B.C.’s history as a breeding ground for Sikh separatism during the turbulent 1980s might cool Modi’s West Coast reception.

The relationship between India’s dominant Hindu majority and the tiny Sikh minority hit a tragic low point in 1984 when then-prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for the Indian army’s assault on armed Sikh separatists in the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Her assassination led to deadly pogroms involving Hindu mobs targeting Sikhs, and was followed by the Air India bombings orchestrated by B.C.-based Sikh terrorists in 1985 that left 331 dead.

“It means nothing,” Deo, who will greet Modi and Harper at the Ross Street Temple on April 16, told The Vancouver Sun. “The whole community — Hindus, Sikhs — they’re all excited to welcome (Modi) with open hearts.”

And Modi, if the hopes of many are realized, will return the warmth by announcing that foreign visitors from Canada will be able to apply online for travel visas and obtain them at the airport upon arrival in India.

Ujjal Dosanjh, who as a former premier and federal cabinet minister has been the most successful South Asian politician in Canadian history, said the 1984-85 “aberration” can’t erase long-standing goodwill between Sikhs and Hindus in Canada. “I think that the sense of connection Indians have with India makes almost everyone, even the critics, have a sense of pride.”

Canadian Government, of course, views visit on both substantive and diaspora politics grounds.

Hopes high for Modi’s arrival in the Lower Mainland.

Terry Glavin focusses on the Komagata Maru, historical recognition and the broader historical context:

Compounding the awkwardness of just who should be apologizing here, and to whom, and for what, is that the story India tells itself about the Komagata Maru has undergone some significant revision as well. It was not long ago that the 1914 voyage was widely regarded in India as something of an embarrassment, an ill-conceived operation put up by Sikh militants and other Indian radicals who were rather too rash in their patriotism.

The since-revised Indian version, which formally acknowledges the voyagers of 1914 as heroes, is closer to the mark than the contemporary Canadian telling of the Komagata Maru story. It’s not just because Canadians tend to leave out all the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary intrigue, the spies, the provocateurs and double-agents, the terror and counter-terror of the time. Most conspicuously absent in the Canadian version of the Komagata Maru tragedy are the villains of that ethno-religious foreign constituency that was most fervently determined to insinuate its belligerent chauvinisms into Canadian affairs at the time. I refer of course to the British.

For all the racist hysteria animating Canadians in 1914 (in the preceding year, roughly 500,000 immigrants had arrived in Canada, a number not exceeded in any year since) the larger drama that determined the pivotal events in the story of the Komagata Maru arose from the brutal, global reach of the British Empire. Its Canadian champions and shadowy agents were already busy manipulating Canadian immigration law and its enforcement in cunning anticipation of the Komagata Maru long before the ship’s arrival in Burrard Inlet.

It was a time when the British Empire was acutely vulnerable to insurrections among its subject populations. Only weeks after the Komagata Maru was barred from docking in Vancouver, the First World War broke out. To the Indian patriots behind the Komagata Maru expedition, the voyage was a win-win proposition.

… Modi’s problem is that the Punjab Assembly resolution was accompanied by a motion demanding that he apologize to the Punjab Assembly, on behalf of the Government of India, for its bloody 1984 Operation Bluestar campaign in Punjab which so brutally rooted out Khalistani Sikh separatists from Amritsar’s Golden Temple.

Should Canada then turn around and demand that the Punjab Assembly apologize to us for the 1985 murder of 329 people, mostly Canadians, in the bombing of Air India Flight 182? That operation was orchestrated by the Khalistani Sikh terrorist leader Talwinder Singh Parmar, whose Babbar Khalsa organization enjoyed refuge in the Golden Temple prior to Operation Bluestar.

History does not lend itself to being abused and apologized for, especially not at the same time. The endearing Canadian custom of sanitizing history and putting it to innocently uplifting and inclusive purposes, too, is bound to go sideways sooner or later.

Having been involved in the Community Historical Recognition program and some of the community outreach with the Indo-Canadian and other communities (as well as attending the PM’s community picnic apology), it is the recognition part, and the greater awareness that it engenders, more than apologies, that is more important.

But I agree that if a government wishes to issue an apology, the only place for it is in Parliament, not at community events as PM Harper did with Indo-Canadians, or former PM Mulroney did with Italian Canadians.

Terry Glavin: Narendra Modi is coming to Canada. Things might get awkward