On 28 May, upon the completion of the third year of his second term in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “I have spared no effort in my service to the nation in the last eight years. I have neither allowed, nor personally done any such work that will make you or even a single person of India hang their head in shame.”
Modi may not have personally done anything, but he has certainly allowed a series of things to happen under his prime ministerial watch. It has now reached a flashpoint and brought India – not just his government – unprecedented humiliation globally. Furthermore, the country is becoming communally combustible. God forbid, it could flare up with the touch of a matchstick.
Indian Muslims’ anger, which erupted last week in the form of protests across the country, is not only due to Nupur Sharma’s offensive comments on Prophet Muhammed. The anger had been building up.
The UP government has taken the law into its own hands to impose community punishment on Muslims.
One cannot rule out a stronger backlash against Indians working in Gulf countries if the situation does not improve in our country.
If the rising communal temperature is not lowered, India will have to pay a heavy price both domestically and globally.
Why BJP's 'Commitment' to Pluralism Rings Hollow
Consider this: it took just two Gulf countries, Qatar and Kuwait, with a combined population of only 74 lakh, to suddenly make the Modi government and all of India realise that we cannot altogether ignore the concerns in the Muslim world if Islam and Indian Muslims continue being made targets of a hate campaign in our own country.
Qatar and Kuwait, soon joined by many Muslim nations across the world – from Iran to Indonesia, Azerbaijan and the UAE – officially protested the objectionable remarks on Prophet Muhammed by two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders. Simultaneously, a campaign began to call for a boycott of Indian products in Gulf markets. Qatar also cancelled a scheduled dinner programme in honour of India’s visiting Vice-President, M Venkaiah Naidu.
This was enough for the Modi government to immediately swing into damage control mode. Indian embassies issued a clarification saying that those who made unacceptable comments about Prophet Muhammad were “fringe elements” and that their remarks did not in any manner reflect the views of the government of India. None within India or outside believed that the two offenders were “fringe elements” who had nothing to do with the Modi government. Nupur Sharma, until her suspension from the party, was a highly visible and voluble national spokesperson. Navin Kumar Jindal, until his expulsion from the party, was the media head and spokesman of the Delhi unit of the BJP.
Also unbelievable for the international community, especially the global Muslim community, was the claim of the Indian foreign office, communicated through its embassies in the Gulf, that India under Modi remained committed to ensuring religious pluralism.
In particular, its affirmation – “In line with our civilisational heritage and strong cultural traditions of unity in diversity, Government of India accords the highest respect to all religions” – rang hollow both within the country and around the world.
Neither the Prime Minister nor his party, nor the wider ideological ecosystem of the Sangh Parivar that aggressively supports him, has so far given credible evidence that they “accord the highest respect to all religions”.
Wrongdoers Go Scot-Free – Or Become Ministers
On the contrary, there is mounting evidence of a hate campaign against Muslims and Islam that has been ceaseless for the past eight years. This could not have continued without the overt and covert support of the leadership at the highest levels of the government and the ruling party. Mob lynchings, calls for genocide of Muslims at so-called ‘Dharam Sansads’, offensive slogans (“Hindustan mein rehana hai to Jai Shri Ram kehna hoga”) near mosques by sword-wielding Hindu vigilante groups, questioning the patriotism of Indian Muslims in Kashmir and elsewhere on prime-time television – nothing has not remained hidden from the world. Many participants of this hate campaign belong to the ruling party.
Some are even rewarded for their contribution, as is exemplified by a minister in Modi’s cabinet who publicly raised the slogan “Desh ke gaddaron ko, Goli maaro saalon ko” (Shoot the traitors of the nation) in front of a raucous crowd of party supporters. Not only was he not reprimanded, but he got a promotion.
The Prime Minister perhaps has a different yardstick for measuring national shame, but when the police, administration and the judiciary in state after BJP-ruled state act in a patently biased manner to target Muslims, it certainly puts a black spot on Indian democracy. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, which is prohibited by the Indian Constitution, is getting increasingly normalised.
The government hardly takes any action against wrongdoers belonging to the majority community, even as many Muslims languish in jails for hundreds of days without trial and without any recourse to justice. Custodial brutality against Muslims has become common. Muslim homes and properties have been bulldozed by local administrations in the national capital, and most recently in several cities in Uttar Pradesh, with scant respect for the rule of law.
Taking Law Into Hands
Equality before law is the first principle of the rule of law. This principle is being violated with impunity. If illegal construction is the stated reason for the administration’s action, then a truly law-enforcing government would have to conduct a demolition drive in city after city against tens of thousands of illegal structures. Not an insignificant number of these structures are owned by the rich and powerful. Such a drive could go on for years. Clearly, the bulldozing of Muslim properties has little to do with their legality. It’s the intent of those in power to “teach the Muslim community a lesson”.
As Kanak Mani Dixit, a reputed Nepali publisher, founder-editor of Himal magazine and an influential voice on South-Asian affairs, wrote in a blog, “Beyond the bulldozing of human rights happening in Uttar Pradesh, this is the application of collective punishment that goes against international law and Geneva Conventions. Criminal liability is limited to individuals in modern legal systems.”
It is rightly said that no citizen and no group should take the law into their hands. But doesn’t the same principle apply to the Uttar Pradesh government?
It has taken the law into its own hands to impose community punishment on Muslims; the state government is secure in the knowledge that the High Court and the Supreme Court would do nothing to punish it.
Therefore, Indian Muslims’ anger, which erupted last week in the form of protests after Friday prayers in dozens of cities across the country, is not only due to Nupur Sharma’s offensive comments on Prophet Muhammed. These comments certainly acted as a trigger, but the ire had been building up over the years on account of a pattern of events, a deliberate political plan to polarise Indian society, and the abyss of Hindu supremacy into which the Modi government is seeking to carry India.
Violence Is Not the Answer For Any Side
Undoubtedly, our Muslim brethren have a right to protest, being equal citizens in a democratic and secular India. They also have a reason to protest because equality, dignity and justice are denied to them. However, they have a duty, too, when they protest – to protest peacefully. Friday protests in most places were peaceful, but some were not. A few fanatical Muslim leaders have given death threats to Nupur Sharma, which must be condemned unreservedly. Some have made communally offensive statements that hurt Hindu religious sentiments, which, too, is condemnable.
It is the responsibility of those leading Muslim protests that they should neither provoke nor fall for any provocation, because violence is the inevitable outcome in either case. They must especially beware of the extremist and radicalised elements within the community that create conditions for violence.
However, it is not Muslims alone who must protest what is being done to them. It is equally the responsibility of Hindus to question the Modi government, the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar over the communal polarisation of Indian society they are hell-bent on achieving. The BJP may benefit electorally for a short while, but India will have to bear the disastrous consequences of its actions for a long time to come. We saw a small example of this last fortnight when Muslim countries around the world collectively condemned India over Nupur Sharma’s remarks on Prophet Muhammed. But one cannot rule out a stronger backlash against Indians working in Gulf countries if the situation does not improve in our country.
India Is Becoming a Communal Tinderbox
Hence, this is an hour of reckoning for all of us, irrespective of our religion or political affiliation. If the rising communal temperature in India is not lowered, if hate propaganda against Muslims is not stopped, if the government fails to perform its constitutional duty to be non-discriminatory in dealing with law-breakers, if the courts continue to abdicate their responsibility, and if large-scale violence erupts in our country, then there will surely be very unpleasant consequences for India both domestically and globally.
Therefore, let’s stop India from becoming a communal tinderbox. And let’s take the matchstick off the hands of those who want to profit by putting India on fire. It’s our collective responsibility.
(Sudheendra Kulkarni served as an aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and is the founder of the Forum for a New South Asia – Powered by India-Pakistan-China Cooperation. His Twitter handle is and he welcomes comments at .)