In the heady first flush of a newly elected government, commentators often compose, as usually unsolicited counsel, optimistic lists of what the government should do in its first 100 days in office.
I am in an entirely different frame of mind after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphatic victory in India’s 2019 midsummer election. Instead of optimism I experience a mounting disquiet. This deepens when I observe Mr. Modi’s choices for India’s Home Minister and for the Minister for Human Resource Development.
I worry when against a backdrop of violent cow vigilantism, Animal Husbandry and Dairying is separated from the Ministry of Agriculture and carved into a separate ministry stewarded by three Ministers who have a history of hate speech and hard-line Hindutva politics.
The messaging is abundantly clear. The signals are of a much more openly ideologically-driven government than even the first tenure of Mr. Modi, one determined to advance its agenda of hard-line majoritarianism at all costs. This will play out variously in its approach to fraught questions such as of citizenship, Kashmir, Hindutva terror, the Ram temple, and dissent. The government will feel mandated to rewrite history, deracinate left-liberal universities, abandon the scientific temper, and amend cow protection laws to make these more draconian.
A possible line of action
Therefore, my list here is different. It is of what I hope this government will not do, but intensely dread that it will. I do not fear that the letter of India’s Constitution will be changed. But what will be torn to fragments would be its practice. I fear, first, an even more frightening rise in hate speech; and the hate violence that this will instigate and encourage. Lynching should not become an indelible part of the broken social contract, pushing Muslims further into underserviced ghettos transacting their lives in everyday dread.
I fear that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam will manufacture statelessness at a scale no country has known. There is no chance of Bangladesh accepting these so-called ‘stateless persons’; so, they will continue to live in Assam: some in concentration camp-like detention centres, but most stripped of rights in local communities. This will create a Rohingya-like situation, with widespread social violence and routinised state repression. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, if passed, will ensure that excluded Bengali Hindus will be absorbed as citizens, thereby barring only Muslims from citizenship. This will create a frightening cleavage between communities, reminiscent of Partition, and will be the most decisive death-blow to the Constitution of which the centre-piece is the idea of equal citizenship to people of every faith.
The suffering to millions of Assam’s most disadvantaged peoples will then be spread to other parts of India, beginning with Bengal, where the lethal combination of the NRC and the Citizenship Bill will push many millions of India’s Muslims into the vortex of dread about their futures as Indian citizens, crushed by merciless and partisan state institutions.
Just as a spurious (and unconstitutional) link of citizenship with religion would be created, another bogus link of religion with terror could be re-established. All cases of Hindutva terror would be whitewashed and alleged perpetrators such as Pragya Thakur and killers of rationalists such as M.M. Kalburgi and progressive journalists such as Gauri Lankesh will be freed from any taint, and the arrest of Muslim youth for terror will mount once again.
The three Ministers who head the newly created Animal Husbandry Ministry could design even more stringent laws against cow slaughter, with draconian punishments and the dilution of evidentiary standards. This would further encourage cow vigilante groups to extort and lynch Muslims and Dalits. Impoverished Muslim dairy farmers such as in Mewat and Uttar Pradesh, will be forced to abandon dairying, but will find it hard to survive with any other livelihood. Dalits will struggle to look for work which does not require them to skin cattle. The agrarian economy will flounder further. Tribal, Dalit and Muslim communities will lose access to their only source of cheap protein, as beef-eating (and even eating meat of buffaloes) will become too high risk an enterprise for poor communities.
The Kashmir Valley would burn with an even more muscular militarist approach to protests. But these smouldering fires could explode into terminal explosions of public rage if the Central government persists with its perilous resolve to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution which accords a special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and Article 35A which flows from this to enable it to sustain the demographic character of the State.
The Central government may use the pathway of legislation to pave the way for the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya at the very spot where the Babri Masjid was demolished. The communal triumphalism which would accompany this could lead to a rash of anti-Muslim violence in every corner of the country like a raging forest-fire in a dry jungle, as in 1992 after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
A relook at history
There could be a massive project to rewrite textbooks country-wide, to plant the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS’s) version of history in literally millions of young minds. Ancient India will become a golden land in which every scientific accomplishment of the 21st century was already anticipated and achieved. Brahmanical violence against Dalits and Buddhists will be air-brushed. Medieval India will become homogenised as an era of unmitigated darkness, in which Muslim rulers oppressed their defenceless Hindu subjects and subdued their religion and culture. India’s freedom struggle will discover many unknown Hindutva patriots, and others like Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and even Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar will be recast as Hindutva icons. Gandhiji’s lifelong struggle for Hindu-Muslim unity and his assassination for this reason in the hands of a Hindutva ideologue will be erased from history.
Progressive thought and dissent in universities will die. Dissenting social movements and civil society institutions will be starved of funds and criminalised. Every public institution including the higher civil services (through lateral entry), institutions such as the Lokpal, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the National Investigation Agency, and even the judiciary will be packed with ideological sympathisers. Even the armed forces won’t remain unaffected. Labour, land acquisition and environmental laws and banking regulations will all be ‘reformed’ to benefit selected big business houses. The media will become even more pliant in its abject metamorphosis into cheerleaders of the government, and its majoritarian and pro-business policies.
We can debate the reasons why so many Indian voters chose Mr. Modi. But there can be no doubt that Mr. Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party view the mandate as one for consolidating the master plan of the RSS — the ideological mentor of the BJP — and thereby changing India forever.
My wish-list for the new government, therefore, is not of what it should do, but what it should not do. If any or all of this is what the new Narendra Modi-Amit Shah government actually accomplishes, then the country we give our children will no longer be a place of freedom and justice, or even ordinary kindness. I have very little hope, but I would be overjoyed if I am proved wrong.