Muslims Are Alienated From PM Modi, Not the Indian State: Survey

Muslims have a trust problem with the prime minister and the central government run by the BJP.

Published20 May 2020, 01:25 AM IST
Opinion
9 min read

An ongoing nationwide survey during the COVID-19 pandemic by C-Voter reveals that Indian Muslims have a lot of trust in virtually all public institutions of India, except the Prime Minister and the Central government.

The entire world and the global media remains focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and the human and economic devastation caused by it. But when it comes to India, the part of the focus has been on alleged Islamophobia and rising intolerance towards Muslims even during the pandemic.

Top media outlets like Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian and BBC among others have been highlighting this ever since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014. But recently, a US Congressional body on religious freedom the USCRIF has rebuked India for discrimination against Muslims. The Organisation of Islamic Countries has raised similar concerns.

For the first time, even the mainstream and social media in the Middle East seems to have joined the chorus. "Liberal" Indians have anyway held this view for some time now.

A nationwide C-Voter was conducted in the aftermath of Covid to seek answers to some questions:

  • Are Muslims alienated from the ruling regime?
  • Are they alienated even with India?
  • Who and what are responsible for this gulf?
  • Can it be bridged?

Trust Problem

Results of the survey provide two clear answers. The first is that Muslims have a trust problem with the prime minister and the central government run by the BJP and allies. Second, they conclusively demonstrate the perception spread by both Hindutva and secular zealots that Muslims are alienated from India is a blatant lie.

On the face of it, the dictum that citizens rally behind their leader during times of a national crisis seems to hold true. Of alł the Indians polled recently, 76.3 percent said that they had "a lot of trust" in the prime minister while a mere 6.5 percent expressed "no trust at all" in the office. This is a remarkable change over a similar survey in 2018 when 58.6 percent of Indians expressed a lot of trust in the PM while 16.3 percent said they had no trust at all in him.

But these "national approval ratings" hide deeply disturbing differences, particularly when it comes to the Muslim community, the largest minority.

58.4 percent of Muslims have “a lot of trust” in the PM while 13 percent  expressed “no trust at all”.
C-Voter

The corresponding figures for 2018 were 39.3 percent  and 30 percent respectively. The numbers do reveal, that the trust factor among Muslims has grown considerably when it comes to the prime minister. But it is far lower than trust displayed by other categories of Indians.

The fault lines appear even more stark when you look at the numbers for citizens who are considered to be strong BJP supporters during Lok Sabha elections. In 2020, 91.4 per of upper caste Hindus said they had a lot of trust in the PM, while a mere 1.3 percent expressed no trust at all. The corresponding figures for 2018 were 72.3 percent and 10.3 percent.

Similarly, 78.6 percent of other backward castes in 2020 expressed a lot of trust in the PM while just 3.9 percent had no trust at all. The corresponding figures for 2018 were 59.8 percent and 16.7 percent. Remember, this widening gulf is in times of an unprecedented crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

So has the mantra of "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas & Sabka Vishwas" failed specially when it comes to the last part of the slogan?

"I am not surprised by these figures. The disenchantment and mistrust have been building since long," says social scientist Sanjay Kumar who has been mining and analyzing electoral as well as national survey data for decades.

According to him, it doesn't matter if the grievances of the Muslim community are real or exaggerated.

What matters is that they are genuinely convinced they are losing legitimacy under the current regime
Sanjay Kumar, Social Scientist

Senior journalist Kanchan Gupta who was in the Prime Minister's Office during the term of late Atal Bihari Vajpayee is convinced that the claim of increasing discrimination against Muslims in the current regime is hogwash.

"Look at the facts. Every single policy, program or scheme launched by the Modi government since 2014 has delivered welfare and other benefits irrespective of caste, gender, religion and any other identity. Are you telling me Muslim women have not benefited from the Ujjwala Yojana (free gas cylinders for the poor) or PM housing scheme for the poor? I don't see why there should be any grievance. But what can one do if mistrust and grievance becomes a rallying point for forces opposed to Modi?" he says.

The numbers, if you look at trust factor in the central government, are equally if not more depressing. For the nation as a whole, 68.6 percent of Indians expressed a lot of trust in the central government in 2020, up from 50.5 percent in 2018. Those having no trust at all in the central government declined from 14.7 percent in 2018 to 8.6 percent in 2020.

What about the Muslim community?

Those with no trust at all increased from 21.3 percent to 23.2 percent between 2018 and 2020 while those with a lot of trust displayed a modest rise from 36 percent to 39 percent in the same period.

Once again, figures for "traditional" BJP supporters reveals the growing fissures. Among upper caste Hindus, those with a lot of trust in the central government snot up from 62.4 percent to 85 percent between 2018 and 2020 while those with no trust at all declined from 10.6 percent to 2.4 percent in the same period.

Similarly for OBCs, those with a lot of trust in the central government increased from 53.5 percent to 72.2 percent between 2018 and 2020 while those with no trust at all declined from 14.3 percent to 3.7 percent in the same period.

Why the Mistrust?

Social scientists as well as opinion and policy makers have known for decades that the Muslim community in India has remained backward in terms of education, economic and job opportunities. The Sachar Committee Report submitted in 2005 chronicling this has been discussed, debated and analyzed numerous times to bear repetition here. And it seems things haven't really improved.

But if Muslims have been getting a raw deal ever since 1947 as it has been alleged and reported, why their fury at the current regime?

Senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta who was a vocal critic of the UPA regime and is an even more vocal critic of the current regime says, “The reason why Muslims in India are especially disappointed, frustrated and angry at present is because the Narendra Modi government has, over the last six years, has been unrelenting in its endeavor to establish a Hindu Rashtra in India, a project that is almost a century old and integral to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the BJP".

A fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Rahul Verma has a more nuanced view. He says:

A series of measures and events like the Triple Talaq Bill, the abrogation of Article 370, the Ram Mandir verdict and CAA have led to a lot of apprehension and fear about their status in this country.

Kanchan Gupta strongly disagrees with this. He says: " We have seen this since 2014 when Modi became Prime Minister. The so called leaders of the Muslim community are used to encouraging Muslims to think they have a veto over electoral outcomes and hence policy decisions in India. Two successive Lok Sabha verdicts have demolished this so called veto power. The anguish follows from this sense of loss of power".

Scientist Anand Ranganathan who is vocal on these issues has another point when he says: “I think it is a Catch-22 situation. Vested interests and the media have built up this perception for decades that the Congress is secular while the BJP is communal. I would say even the BJP mistrusts Muslims. Look at ticket distribution during elections. In the 2017 UP elections, the BJP did not give a single ticket to a Muslim though Muslims are 20 percent of the population. In Goa that has a 25 percent Christian population, 25 percent of the BJP candidates were Christians and  53 percent of the BJP MLAs are Christian. Someone has to change the perception and the reality that has built around it".

Faith in Other Institutions Remains High

But the C-Voter survey clearly shows there is hope. The Muslim perception of other institutions demolishes the hard line Hindutva propaganda that Muslims are "anti-national". Also demolished is propaganda from extremist liberals that Muslims have given up on India.

When it comes to all other institutions, the Muslim community closely shares the same perceptions with all other categories of Indians; even those considered strong BJP supporters. Take the armed forces. At an all India level, those with a a lot of trust in the armed forces amounted to 89.2 percent while no trust at all amounted to 0.8 percent in 2020. The corresponding figures for 2018 were not very different at 89.5 percent and 1.6 percent respectively.

What about Muslims?

In 2020, 89.4 percent of Muslims expressed a lot of trust in the armed forces while a minuscule 0.4 percent expressed no trust at all.
C-Voter

This was an increase over 2018 when 85.8 percent of Muslims expressed a lot of trust while just 1 percent had no trust at all.

This decisively disproves the agenda spread by Indian liberals and global media outlets that Indian Muslims have a negative view of armed forces, especially their role in Jammu and Kashmir.

You could argue that the armed forces are arguably the last of the "sacrosanct" institutions not touched by the poison of politics. But what about the police, traditionally one of the most feared, disliked and mistrusted institutions in the country?

The public perception of the police since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has improved dramatically as per the C-Voter survey and Muslims share the same feelings as all other categories of Indians. In 2018, for India as a whole, about less than one third of citizens expressed a lot of trust in the police while an almost  equal number expressed no trust at all.

In the same year, more than four out of ten of Muslims had a lot of trust in the police while one in four expressed no trust at all. Things were not very different for traditional BJP supporters. What about 2020 after India was hit by COVID-19?

At a national level, almost 70 percent expressed a lot of trust in the police while 8.1 percent displayed no trust at all. In the case of Muslims, 71.1 percent expressed a lot of trust while 9.8 percent had no trust at all in 2020.

Once again, things were not very different for traditional BJP supporters.

Even when it comes to chief ministers, the Election Commission and social organizations, the perceptions of Muslims are virtually the same as those of traditional BJP supporters. This is reflected even in the ranking of public institutions where, barring the PM and the central government, the Muslims share the same feelings as all other Indians, including giving bottom rank to opposition parties.

Clearly, Indian Muslims are not  unhappy with India as their own country, a place where they were born and will die. Their ire seems reserved primarily for the BJP and the Sangh Parivar.

According to Sanjay Kumar: "You see, institutions are larger than individuals and parties that come and go. It is just that Mr. Modi towers over his opponents and the BJP is becoming a hegemonic force the way the Congress was in the early decades after independence"

Rejection of Opposition

In 2004, against all punditry and poll forecasts, the BJP was unseated. Is something similar possible in the near future? For one, there are four more years of the NDA government. And Muslims appear almost as disenchanted with opposition parties at a national level as BJP supporters and average Indians.

On an all India basis, 16.8 percent had a lot of trust while 38.6 percent had no trust at all in opposition parties in 2018. The same year, 19.9 percent of Muslims expressed a lot of trust in opposition parties while 27.8 percent expressed no trust at all. How has changed in these times of Covid-19?

For India as a whole, there was hardly any change with 19.4 percent expressing a lot of trust while 38.2 percent had no trust. Muslims had a little more trust with 24.5 percent with a lot of trust and 24 percent with no trust at all.

Is there a way out of this dangerous and pernicious impasse? Across all sections of sensible Indians, the hope lies in an honest dialogue between the BJP and the Muslim community. "But how do you have a dialogue", asks Rahul Verma.

"If you keep labeling people different points of views as fascist, dialogue is not going to happen. For 50 years or so, the Hindu right felt that the ‘Nehruvian Consensus’ and its left leaning fellow travelers had completely shut them out of academia, media, arts, culture, history and opinion making. Now they seem to be in a mood for vengeance", he adds. Verma doesn't expect hardliners on either side to seek at least some common ground.

Sanjay Kumar feels the same. "Even if there was no Corona, I would not have been hopeful of a dialogue or a solution in the near future," he says.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta has a solution, though one that will not be acceptable to the hard right.

I believe there is little the BJP can do to ensure a meaningful dialogue with the Muslim community unless its leadership is willing to take stern action against those who fuel the fire of communalism by spreading fear and hatred against Muslims and spreading lies and half truths about them.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

Anand Ranganathan appears more direct and realistic when he says: " People and politicians are scared to broach this issue. As long as we snare the fundamentalists and spare the fundamentals, I don't see light at the end of the tunnel."

And yet, pundit after pundit since 1947 has gloomily (often gleefully) predicted that caste, religious, language and ethnic fault lines would lead soon to a broken India. For more than 70 years, each Cassandra has been proven wrong. Why should they become right this time?

Liked this story? We'll send you more. Subscribe to The Quint's newsletter and get selected stories delivered to your inbox every day. Click to get started.

The Quint is available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, click to join.

Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!