Opposition's Silence on Hate Crimes Against Muslims Will Prove Counterproductive

It won't be an exaggeration to call the silence of secular parties on these anti-Muslim hate crimes a betrayal.

6 min read

The euphoria of the 2024 Lok Sabha election results is over. Many perceived the BJP’s electoral decline as a breather for Indian democracy. This excitement was but natural as these results marked the end of a decade of absolute domination by Hindutva politics and the invincible cult figure of PM Modi. Indian politics took a miraculous U-turn from what was widely considered a point of no return from a one-party and one-man rule.

There was a silver lining for dissidents, civil society, and the legal fraternity defending the rights of marginalised groups, writers, scholars, and the critical alternative media, who might not have survived another five years of onslaught by an almighty authoritarian executive. With the INDIA bloc winning 234 seats, we now have a political landscape where Opposition voices cannot be easily muzzled or ignored.

The Opposition’s sharp attack on paper leaks and the NEET scandal is just one example that effective criticism of the government is possible now. There was just one question in skeptical minds — would this apply to all kinds of criticisms?

They got their answer very soon when the new government decided to go after Arundhati Roy for a speech she delivered 14 years ago. She has been booked under the draconian anti-terror law, the UAPA. The message was loud and clear that even if PM Modi has been cut to size, he won't change the way he deals with his critics. Roy has found little support from the Opposition.

More worryingly, we have witnessed a flood of hate crimes and increased hostility against Muslims, the group that was most viciously targeted in the past decade by the Modi government and the innumerable Hindu right-wing groups under the umbrella of the Sangh Parivar. Every aspect of Muslim life in India was under scrutiny and attack—their food habits, their places of worship, their clothes, their language, their homes, and even their children. The words JCB and mob lynching became associated with the community like a cruel joke.

This is why Muslims felt most relieved by the BJP’s diminished authority. Right-wing ideologues are arguing that one of the major reasons for the BJP's loss is Modi's extreme appeasement of Muslims. Funny as it may sound, the Muslims are being blamed for backstabbing Modi, who they say did everything to uplift them. This is not a stray thought of random social media users but a dominant opinion in right-wing circles. The underlying anger behind this disappointment is due to the ferocity with which Muslims consolidated to defeat Modi despite all attempts to make Muslims a political pariah.

A dangerously anti-constitutional and fascist idea is being normalised that those who didn't vote for Modi deserve no rights and governance benefits as citizens. So, the real feeling is not that of betrayal but revenge.

A Spate of Hate Crimes Against Muslims and Little Outrage

In the two weeks since the election results were declared on 4 June, at least four Muslim men have been brutally lynched in UP and Chhattisgarh. A dozen Muslim homes have been demolished in Madhya Pradesh for allegedly storing beef, and Muslim men have been jailed under the NSA (National Security Act) in a vengeful action by the state government. An angry mob ransacked a shop owned by a Muslim man on suspicion of cow killing in Himachal Pradesh, and there are reports of communal disturbances from Telangana.

This was a rude reminder that not much has changed, at least for India's largest religious minority.

Unsurprisingly, there is little coverage and outrage about any of these incidents in the mainstream media. Meanwhile, a blasphemy murder case from Pakistan has received more coverage and condemnation in Indian media and right-wing circles. Those right-wingers angry at the archaic blasphemy killing in Pakistan need to be reminded that the beef lynchings in India are exactly the same, something that they unapologetically justify all the time. The only difference is that Pakistani influencers can openly condemn it and their ministers can also speak up against it.

Why do you think mobs murder people and the state demolishes homes and jails the accused under the NSA? It is because the accused are perceived to be committing blasphemy. In most such cases, there is no investigation and summary justice is served to innocent Muslim men. The existence of vigilante groups and their state-backed leaders like Monu Manesar only testifies to how serious India is about mob violence.

This is why Muslims have little expectation from the ruling party and PM Modi to put an end to these hostilities. In fact, it's Modi's own polarising election speeches that can be blamed for this escalation.

What has actually anguished many Muslims and other secular-minded citizens is the Opposition’s response to these hate crimes. The secular parties, for whom Muslims voted in a totally one-sided way, have maintained radio silence on these crimes. It won't be an exaggeration to call this a betrayal. Muslims voted for the Opposition to reclaim their citizenship from constant attacks. Muslims voted this way to put a halt to the mobs ambushing their dignity. For Muslims, this was largely a vote for safety and a veto against hate. But the Opposition is still scared to call a spade a spade even in vague and abstract terms, fearing that speaking up for Muslims might push away their Hindu votes.


Opposition's Silence Will Prove to be Counterproductive

One can't be sure if this strategy will get them any new Hindu votes, but the Opposition must not think that Muslim voters will endure their silence for a long time and vote for them, election after election, only to be betrayed, especially when their disillusionment and fatigue are increasing every day. Despite this, It is still inaccurate to think that there is no change with the BJP losing over 60 seats and falling below the majority mark.

A BJP with 303 or 370 seats would have fastened the process of Muslim marginalisation through majoritarian legislation similar to what we saw between 2019 and 2024. For the Muslims, it's time to reassert their place in India's democracy and reclaim their robbed sense of belonging to the nation. This is the time for pressure politics and to not let their votes go in vain.

For the Opposition, It's not only cowardly and immoral but also a strategic blunder to look away from the Muslims’ cry for help. The Opposition needs to understand that anti-Muslim hatred is the ultimate weapon in the BJP’s arsenal, using which they have deflected attention from almost every issue that the opposition tried to raise in the last ten years. It's true that Modi's stature has taken a massive body blow, and there is a very slim possibility that he can bounce back from this, but we can't say the same for Hindutva politics, which can very well escalate from here.

Hindutva is still the most dominant ideology in India today. Had it not been true, then the Opposition would be in a position to speak up for Muslims. Anti-Muslim hatred is not only a political issue but also a social malaise. From films to memes to merchandise, there's no dearth of material evidence to show that it is the lifeblood of the entire right-wing creator economy. Modi or no Modi, the genie is out of the bottle, and it's an uphill task to disincentivise this hostility. However, it is crucial to do so.

We now know that Hindutva politics is not invincible. We've also seen that if the Opposition and civil society want, they can push back the anti-Muslim hate. In the case of the Dharam Sansads and Jantar Mantar hate events, the Opposition spoke up and pushed the government on the back foot. If the Opposition thinks that their silence pays off in any way, they are wrong. Rahul Gandhi and his family are already considered Muslims, Kejriwal is Kejruddin, and Mamata is Mamata Bano in the Hindutva universe. Their silence won't stop these associations and will only harm them further.

If silence was the best option then the silence of the Congress in Gujarat should have stopped Modi's ascent to power. On the contrary, this silence and walkover to Hindutva only established the BJP’s unquestionable hegemony in Gujarat. It's logical to say that if the wave of anti-Muslim crimes and hate rejuvenates Hindutva’s lost vigour then there's no way that people who are guilty by association with Muslims, won't face the brunt.

The Lok Sabha results have paused the timer of a ticking time bomb. It has given the Opposition room to resist. If civil society and the political Opposition have learned any lessons from the last decade, then they must not become complacent. The reluctance to speak against the core agenda of the Sangh Parivar and the BJP must be given up, at least now. The conversation on the economy, jobs, and the NEET scam is important but it's futile to think that only this can corner the BJP.

One shocking communal incident can bring the Opposition back to square one. It's redundant to have these conversations without being the real alternative for the people and offering them an inclusive political culture and secular patriotism that challenges Hindutva’s dominance without fear.

(Alishan Jafri is a journalist based in New Delhi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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