Rejoinders / Letters to the Editor

Contesting Mushrif's thesis — "Other side of Modi Muslims should know"

Mr. Mushrif is right (, but unfortunately only partially so. We wish that he were entirely right. That would have helped dispel any reservations over Prime Minister, Mr. Modi. However, Mr. Modi has himself made it difficult to go along fully with Mr. Mushrif. Nevertheless, we could give Mr. Mushrif and Mr. Modi the benefit of doubt, but to ‘bail him out and allow him to breathe freely,’ as Mr. Mushrif would have it, would be naive. Only a call to generosity of spirit can help Mr. Modi past the barriers he has himself assiduously, demonstratively and self-interestedly built. After all, his party built a vote bank of the majority by using the minority as a ‘bogey’.

Mr. Mushrif’s well-argued and well-intentioned thesis is that a political reading of Mr. Modi in his decade and a half sway over Gujarat and a year in New Delhi suggests that he has put a distance between himself and the extremists within the Sangh Parivar.

Mr. Mushrif’s thesis brings to fore the pleasant possibility that Mr. Modi being his own man, and not a creation or puppet of the Sangh, would not necessarily follow the dictates of the Sangh’s ideology, Hindutva. There is, therefore, scope for interfacing with, if not influencing, the Modi agenda. The agenda itself is much wider than ethno-religious triumphalism, but encompassing economy-based rise of India as a political, economic and military power at the global stage.

Mr. Mushrif’s view is very persuasive and, as a credible anti-Hindutva figure, his espousing it indicates that it needs to be reckoned with seriously. If, indeed, India is on an upward trajectory under Mr. Modi’s leadership, it would be very foolish indeed for India’s Muslims not to be on the bandwagon and get left out yet again. Giving Mr. Modi a chance is the subtext. There can be no argument with that. If he succeeds, the gainers must include Muslims.

The question is: Should we put our eggs into his basket?

The Mushrif thesis is contrary to the popular view that the Sangh is his support base and he is their champion. He is, therefore, providing the conditions for implementation of the Hindutva agenda. Many actions of his government – not repeated here for the sake of brevity and knowledge that these would be familiar to the readers of this journal – suggest as much. In fact, his government is but a year old and there is much negative ground that it can yet traverse over the next decade it intends to stay in power at a minimum.

In this more critical view of Mr. Modi, he is in a period of consolidation and can afford not to antagonize the minority any further. His government’s periodic reminder to all of the patriotism of India’s Muslims is a case to point. This belated recognition of objective reality can only be considered remarkable in the highly prejudiced view of Hindutvavadis. This means that it is a political ploy to seemingly retract claws so as to lull those observing the moves of the government into a false sense of complacency.

There are strategic reasons for the Muslim policy of the government. It would not like to have a disaffected minority in addition to the problems that can easily be foreseen ahead. The churning thrown up by the land bill, changes in labour laws, the legal regime surrounding conversions and beef eating etc. are indicators that there are emerging constituencies that are less enamoured of Mr. Modi’s economic and social agenda than his electoral victory implied. Even if Mr. Modi is not held hostage by extremist Hindutva forces, but is instead hostage to the agenda of large corporates, India will not have as untroubled an ascent as Mr. Mushrif might imagine. Anticipating this, Mr. Modi is into preemption mode, building bridges with otherwise suspicious constituencies such as Muslims.

There is also another angle from which the Mushrif thesis needs to be approached. There is an incipient cult phenomenon Mr. Modi is building himself up. He has personalized governance by centralizing government power in his office and indeed in his person. So much so that no government mention of India’s relief operation in Nepal is without reference to the leadership provided by Mr. Modi. While this may be political, intended to set him apart from his predecessor, the somnolent Dr. Manmohan Singh, and the opposition leader in absentia, Rahul Gandhi, it is more likely that Mr. Modi is subverting parliamentary democracy by projecting a presidential image. Mr. Modi has snatched the TINA factor from the Congress.

Mr. Mushrif alludes to the extensive travel schedule of the prime minister, his anti-terrorism international stance and regional outreach to underscore his secular credentials. Firstly, the foreign tours amounting to about 50 days in the year also undergird the personality cult thesis since these are at the cost of the institutional strength of the foreign ministry. Secondly, the international anti-terror stance of the government is not new. His recognition of Indian Muslims as out of international terror ambit is only acknowledgement of facts. Also, India in this will continue to be influenced by its partners, US and Israel. Already evident of Israeli pug marks is India raising an original point in a UN debate contesting the credibility of international organisations based on religious affinity, perhaps alluding to the OIC, as UN partners in international peace and security! Thirdly, the regional outreach is a chimera, with Mr. Nawaz Sharif lamenting that his initiatives have not been reciprocated by India.

Mr. Mushrif argues that there is an extremist portion within the RSS with which Mr. Modi is in an internal battle. He also seems to suggest that there is a schism within the IB, with the extremist side anti Modi.

Mr. Mushrif is guilty of using the extremist RSS portion as a bogey to argue that Mr. Modi, being the better of the two, should be given a second chance. His IB related argument has an internal contradiction. Though he suggests that the extremists within IB have been anti Modi and yet their actions, in particular black operations depicting Muslims as terror perpetrators, have provided the conditions that help the political ascent of Mr. Modi.

Mr. Mushrif, while making an otherwise plausible case for engaging with the government, resorts to avoidable contortions that put paid to the ‘absolutely secular agenda’ Mr. Mushrif credits Mr. Modi with.

The good news from Mr. Mushrif is that many of the initiatives of Mr. Modi appear to distance him from the Parivar and are in the interests of Muslims. After all there can be no arguing against madrasa modernization. These must be profited from and Mr. Modi incentivized to persist down this path by positive engagement by Muslims at all levels with the government he heads. By no means does this mean that Mr. Modi be conceded political or ideological ground. His ascent to and from a regional power base to New Delhi shows him as a consummate political actor. His Muslim outreach is, therefore, at best strategic. Consequently, the response to Mr. Modi cannot be dictated by the heart. Sure, allow Mr. Modi ‘development’, but await the lead of India’s ‘have nots’, that include its Muslims, have on this by end decade.

Even so it must not be forgotten that once Mr. Modi is beyond the reach of impunity of his office, he and the likes of Mr. Shah and Vanzara, require answering for the events of 2002 and subsequently in Gujarat. His ‘change of heart’ since is not self-evident from the ongoing hounding of the likes of Ms. Setalvad. It would be unfortunate for Indian democracy if Padma Vibhushan Advaniji’s getting away for 1990, 1992 and 2002 end up as an indelible precedent against the rule of law.