By Kaplesh Kumar
INDIA New England News Columnist
In my last article I had cautioned Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) against ignoring or permitting the mouthing of hate filled inflammatory statements aimed at India’s minorities by representatives of the BJP and its supporting organizations including, more prominently, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal, Hindu Mahasabha, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (collectively, the “Sangh Parivaar”).
I had stated that “Modi has chosen not to comment on such conduct [and while] people may be willing give Modi the benefit of the doubt in the short term, such •good cop, bad cop’ tactics, if they be such, will in the long term hurt Modi’s image as a statesman and an inclusive leader, and no amount of •good governance’ or improved economic growth will be able to compensate for it. He needs to clamp down firmly on those [in the Sangh Parivaar] who see this as an opportunity to transform India into a Hindu nation. The Founding Fathers gave birth to a democratic and secular India, and the Indian voter will not accept any attempt to undercut its secular identity.”
About a week following the publication of that article, the New York Times noted what it called Mr. Modi’s “deafening silence” on such matters in an editorial piece, observing that “Mr. Modi needs to break his deafening silence on religious intolerance.” Separately, in a speech at a National Prayer (interfaith) Breakfast meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama observed that India’s Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi would have been shocked at the level of religious intolerance in India, a comment that did not sit well with the Indians and drew considerable negative reaction from various quarters in India.
Then came the Delhi elections in which despite Mr. Modi and his team having invested all available political resources, the Modi-led BJP lost ignominiously to the previously discredited Aam Admi Party (AAP). Although in polls conducted only until a few weeks before the election, the BJP was leading the AAP by a slender margin, in the 70 member Delhi assembly, the BJP was able to only win three (3) seats, while the remaining 67 went to the AAP.
The Delhi election saw Mr. Modi and his entire council of ministers and about 120 BJP members of Parliament campaigning hard in the capital, making the loss that much more humiliating. The last minute induction of Ms. Kiran Bedi into the Party and BJP’s declaration of her as its Chief Minister candidate failed to make the mark and, in fact, may well have contributed to BJP’s defeat. Delhi’s poor (dalit) sections and Muslim community, which had only a year ago voted in significant numbers for Mr. Modi’s BJP in the Parliamentary elections (and having given up on the Congress Party since), deserted Mr. Modi this time and voted for the AAP, virtually en masse. In the event, the AAP even made significant inroads in the BJP’s traditional vote banks of the trader, educated, and middle classes.
The massive election loss served as a wake-up call, if one was needed, for Mr. Modi and his BJP. Prior to the shock of the Delhi defeat, the arrogance of power had seemingly taken hold of the BJP. Public and minority protestations against the hate speech and conduct of some BJP leaders, including a Union Minister and certain BJP members of Parliament, were responded to by the typical refrain by BJP spokesmen that “we are focused on development and will not allow to be deviated from it.”
Since the Delhi result, however, Mr.Modi has been more vocal on his “development for all” agenda, and has more emphatically gone on record in Parliament that such conduct is not acceptable under his government. Despite this, however, BJP’s Yogi Adityanath has been reported to have recently stated that “ghar wapsi” (re-conversion of religious minorities to Hinduism), an activity by elements of the Sangh Parivaar that had drawn large negative reactions from the Muslim and Christian communities, will continue until an anti-conversion bill is not passed.
To his credit, Mr. Modi has personally by deed, and not just by words, shown his concern for all Indians, transcending any religious biases attributed to him by his political opponents. He reportedly took a keen and active interest in negotiating the release from captivity in Afghanistan of Indian Jesuit Priest Father Alexis Prem Kumar who had been kidnapped eight months earlier by Islamic militants. Similarly, after a recent incident of theft and vandalism at a Christian girls school in Delhi, which followed several earlier attacks on Christian churches, Modi directed Delhi’s police commissioner to take personal charge of investigating the incident and punishing the guilty.
Upon his election as Prime Minister, Mr. Modi had declared that he represented the aspirations of all Indians. To continue to keep the faith of the electorate, he needs to consistently and proactively rein in those forces, particularly from his own party, that serve to promote divisions along religious lines.