Fear and Hate: Washington Post Opinions Sum Up 2019 Elections
The international media’s coverage of India’s elections continues to be bad publicity for Modi and the BJP.
The final phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections takes place on Sunday, 19 May, bringing to a close the long season of political campaigning, and the world’s largest democratic exercise.
In the lead-up to the big day, The Washington Post ran two ‘Global Opinions’ pieces on the elections, and what they could mean for India. The articles, by Rana Ayyub and Barkha Dutt, examine the underlying themes of the ruling BJP’s election campaign and what they mean for the future of the country.
Here’s what they had to say.
‘Something Fundamental is Broken’
Ayyub’s piece delves into the fear among Muslims in the country, and what this means for the democratic project in India.
She cites the example of Danish, whose father Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Dadri in 2015, and who was himself attacked by the mob, requiring two brain surgeries. A year ago, Danish had spoken of the sense of exclusion Muslims were feeling, and said that if the BJP comes back to power, “something will break in our country and we will not be able to fix it.”
She then goes on to describe how this fear has arisen because of ethnic and religious mob violence in recent years, and how it’s been played upon during the BJP’s election campaign. As an example, Ayyub refers to Amit Shah’s comments on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and how all infiltrators “except Buddha (sic), Hindus and Sikhs” would be removed, as well as his promise to throw the “termites” in the Bay of Bengal.
She points out that what started as dog whistles escalated to “brazen anti-Muslim polarisation” with the nomination of Pragya Thakur as a BJP candidate.
Ayyub’s article describes how the policy of hate and discrimination has affected the everyday lives of Muslims in India, including her brother, who was forced to vacate his apartment in Mumbai because “his Muslim family was making other tenants uncomfortable.”
She writes that in the last year, she has also heard other Muslim friends, relatives and acquaintances discuss plans to shift to “friendlier countries” and send their children to foreign universities if Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reelected – though she notes this is an option for only a privileged few.
For most of the 190 million Muslims in India, however, they are faced with having to “accept living as second-class citizens in their own country.”
What is most disturbing, she concludes, is not just that hate and anxiety have become commonplace, but that so many other citizens consider this acceptable.
“If they allow themselves to be blinded permanently, Indian democracy will cease to exist. And that is reason enough for each one of us to heed Danish’s words. Because if the world’s most populous democracy goes under, ripples will be felt across the world.”Rana Ayyub
‘Thakur is a Blot on India’s Democracy’
Barkha Dutt’s opinion focuses on BJP candidate Pragya Thakur, and how her selection and comments stand out even in a campaign by Modi and the BJP that has been based on “some of the coarsest rhetoric that India’s elections have ever seen.”
Dutt takes exception to Thakur’s now-notorious reference to Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, as a “deshbhakt” (patriot).
“After the BJP distanced itself from her statement, she issued a reluctant retraction. But given how passionately Modi himself has defended her candidacy, this is simply not good enough. Thakur is a blot on India’s democracy. If Modi does not withdraw her as a nominee now, it will stain his reputation as well.”Barkha Dutt
Dutt then examines how Thakur’s comment, which came in response to Kamal Haasan’s remark – that the first terrorist in independent India was a Hindu (Godse) – is part of a larger strategy of creating a sense of injustice among Hindus by the BJP, which she argues is a “post-truth appropriation of victimhood.”
She also dismisses the ‘retraction’ by Thakur and the BJP’s distancing of itself from the comments as “farcical” given that this has happened before, including with Thakur’s comments on Hemant Karkare.
She concludes by pointing out that people like Pragya can no longer be considered a fringe element, much like Yogi Adityanath, and asks if Modi will continue to defend the hate-mongers – though there does not appear to be any other side to the ruling party.
“Both the Thakur and Yogi campaigns illustrate how the moderate faction of the BJP is all but dead.”Barkha Dutt
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