Muslims bear the brunt
Communal violence over the last few years under the Modi regime has taken a huge toll on minorities, including Christians and Sikhs in India. But Muslims – who form 15 per cent of the country’s population – have borne the brunt of these hate crimes, such as lynching, threats, attacks on places of worship and forced conversion, says a recent report by HR groups. The report says Hindu extremist groups have been emboldened under his rule. Modi’s reluctance to condemn these attacks is reflected in the stringent, discriminatory laws his government has recently passed, including a ban on cow slaughter. This, along with “long-standing social, economic, and cultural discrimination, has left India’s religious minorities feeling increasingly insecure”, said the report. Islam is the second-largest religion in India with around 189 million adherents making up 14.9 per cent of the population. Muslims have held high offices of state since independence and there have been five Muslim chief ministers of Indian states. Muslims are prominent across the vast Indian bureaucracy. Undeniable as all that is Muslims are a minority and like minorities elsewhere in the world – including Pakistan – suffer at the hands of the majority. The latest area of concern is that Muslims are missing from the political narrative of the ruling BJP, that the problems of Muslims are being ignored or avoided and specifically the demand for due representation in polls. It is fair to say that since the election of the nationalist BJP reports of discrimination and marginalisation have increased, and anti-Muslim rhetoric is a feature in some but not all of the Indian media. No opportunity is missed seemingly to exacerbate old wounds and create new points of irritation. Four Indian Muslim organisations have expressed their anger and frustration, saying that all the mainstream political parties are keen to harvest the Muslim vote and then citing a recent report to Congress that suggests Muslims should keep a low profile during the polling process. A Muslim leader was expelled from the BJP for expressing support for the appallingly-treated Rohingya in Myanmar. There have also been calls for Muslims to abandon their ‘religious attire’ – hardly a prescription for harmony. The list of grievances and areas of discrimination are long, ranging from unfair allocation of low-cost housing, to deceptive videos in circulation designed to foster hate and mistrust to exclusion from selection for certain government posts. The volume of complaints raises the matter above the merely anecdotal and into the realm of fact. On the other hand, the Indian PM Narendra Modi has lashed out at P. Chidambaram, a former Union minister of finance in Congress-led UPA government, for saying most Kashmiris who raise Azaadi slogans are in fact demanding more autonomy. “Why are Congress leaders lending their voice to those who want Azaadi [independence] in Kashmir?” he demanded to know, thereby unwittingly admitting that those wanting Azaadi are indeed local Kashmiri people. In the same vein, the Indian PM averred, “Congress is shamelessly speaking in the language of separatist forces in Kashmir, which is being spoken in Pakistan,” declaring that he and his party, the BJP, would not let anyone threaten India’s ‘sovereignty’, which of course is under no threat, only occupation is. There is a growing recognition in that country that the situation is beyond New Delhi’s control. In fact, recently Modi himself appointed an interlocutor for the Occupied Jammu and Kashmir to “initiate and carry forward a dialogue” with elected representatives, concerned individuals and organisations” though it comes across more as an act of frustration in the prevailing conditions than a meaningful overture considering that New Delhi’s interlocutor neither had a defined agenda nor has the Hurriyat Conference been extended an invitation for talks. As regards Chidambaram’s comments, he has not said something others, including some saner elements in Modi’s own party are not saying. Just days earlier, on October 1, a senior BJP leader and a former minister of finance Yashwant Sinha, who made several visits to the Valley as the head of Concerned Citizens Group, told an interviewer “I am looking at the alienation of the masses of people in Jammu and Kashmir. That is something that bothers me the most. … You just have to visit the Valley to realise they have lost faith in us.” Sinha also said that Pakistan is a “necessary third party” in the dispute which cannot be wished away, and further that killing of people at the Line of Control should stop as nobody is winning there. Pakistan maintains the same position on all the three issues the veteran BJP leader mentioned. He surely cannot be accused of speaking Pakistan’s language. In reacting the way he has to the advice of important opinion leaders in his own country, Modi may be gladdening the hearts of his ultra right Hindu nationalist base, but it will not resolve anything. Kashmir is a political issue and needs to be resolved through negotiations with genuine leadership of the Kashmiri people as well as Pakistan, which as per UN resolutions, is a legitimate party to the dispute. As simple as that.