With the suspension of Nupur Sharma and the expulsion of Naveen Kumar Jindal after backlash from Gulf countries, we might see the BJP adopt a new secular stance going forward, even if just to save its skin
The government’s instant reaction to the complaints/concerns from a wide array of Muslim countries about the pathetic grotesque statements from the ugly mouths of sundry BJP spokespersons gives me hope that we might be on the cusp of a new beginning.
First of all, nothing the two unworthy ones said was materially different from the horrible things being routinely spouted by several BJP members, including many who were much senior. Indeed, the actions on the ground (beatings, lynchings, imprisonment) condoned by the government/party—silence means consent—were substantively worse than any hate speech could be. Again, regular comments on all of the above from the western media and, indeed, senior government officials from the US and the EU were parried away quite easily, indeed with recently increasing irritation.
But the current government reaction is hugely different, which could indicate a substantive shift in thinking. While the concerns about the potential threat to India’s business and citizens, millions of whom live and work in Islamic countries, are certainly real, could it be that Modi is coming to recognise that he does not need to vilify Muslims anymore to sustain his political juggernaut?
Modi is no fool and he obviously knew all along that his strategy had a downside both in terms of his personal credibility and India’s future. He has, without doubt, been monitoring the negative impact of his divisive policies and balancing it against his perception of the degree of control he feels he can get from this approach. Equally, he must have been watching for some kind of alarm signal—that things were going too far—after which he would change track.
It is well accepted that Modi is a brilliant strategist and everything he does is solely to ensure his greater glory, and, of course, so he can go down in history as India’s greatest leader ever. Other than this focus, he does not seem to have deep personal beliefs in anything; he seldom, if ever, shows emotion (other than packaged anger on the stump); he does not love anybody and he does not hate anybody, not even Muslims. The entire terrifying anti-Muslim construct was merely a political strategy.
Perhaps this instant slapping down of some junior barking dogs is simply the next step of the strategy, where he “magnanimously” and triumphantly turns the party into something less offensive, which will make him even stronger on the ground and India stronger in the world.
It will not be easy, of course—turning trolls off is virtually impossible. But, I would bet that there will be several quiet demotions in the BJP—already (in one day) one more BJP functionary in UP was dismissed and, no less a Muslim-baiter than Yogi Adityanath visited the shrine of a Muslim devotee of Lord Krishna in Mathura. Likely as not, the media will be sent a message and we will begin to hear much less anti-minority blather—Republic TV and Times Now will get quieter.
Surely, there is still considerable prejudice in India (as in all countries); and, as a result of the BJP’s approach over the past decades, there has likely been a substantial increase in people who now believe they can wear their anti-Muslim beliefs on their sleeves, or, worse, act on them. Many of them, encouraged by the Modi administration, are in positions of political power and the most difficult part of implementing this strategy will be to find ways to pull these forces back, particularly because many of these have actually come to believe that Muslims are traitors, etc. But Modi is the man and we will soon see him wearing a skull cap at a public function—the loudest possible communication that the game is changing.
The supporting news is that, despite—or, perhaps, because of—the difficult times of the past few years, there is now a larger constituency of secular Indians, including conservative Muslims, who are more engaged— the CAA protests remain alive in people’s hearts, for instance. We need to rise to the opportunity of this new secularism and demand more—list the most egregious offenders, both in the political establishment and, state-by-state, in the police and the bureaucracy, and demand they be sacked/demoted/imprisoned (where necessary). There is already a huge battery of public interest lawyers who are involved with a range of issues from discrimination in housing, to inadequate representation in civic bodies. Their efforts deserve our praise and continuing support.
Most importantly, Modi’s new secularism will rewrite the rules of the game completely—with 200 million Muslims becoming steadily more accepted and engaged and prosperous, India’s future looks shimmering and bright.
As far as the markets go, as soon as you see the skull cap, buy India; or, given the huge global uncertainties, buy India, sell RoW.
(The author is CEO, Mecklai Financial; http://www.mecklai.com)