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