Thursday 6 April 2017

The terrifying rise of nationalist villains in India

Since he assumed national office, Modi has traded open incitement against Muslims for a posture of strategic ambiguity, communicating with his Hindu followers through pregnant silences. When BJP's Hindu "cow vigilantes" (Hindus regard cows as sacred) hauled out an aged Muslim man from bed and bludgeoned him to death for allegedly eating beef, it took Modi several days to issue a lame condemnation (Yogi Adityanath, on the other hand, vociferously defended the killing and even recommended that the dead man's family be prosecuted for possessing the meat). Modi has done nothing to squelch BJP's baseless claims that Muslim men are using "love jihad" to spread their faith by deliberately seducing Hindu girls. Nor has he done a thing about his party's efforts to browbeat Muslims and Christians into converting to Hinduism in large mass public ceremonies. He did, however, declare Christmas "good governance day" when government employees would be required to work while leaving all official Hindu holidays unmolested.

In Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, Modi ran a two-pronged campaign in recent state elections, emphasizing his message of economic prosperity for all before mixed audiences while whipping up Hindu grievances before Hindu crowds. For example, he accused the deposed ruling party of buying Muslim votes by giving free handouts to Muslims but nothing to Hindus. So diabolically effective was Modi's message that the BJP won 325 out of 405 seats in the state legislature simply by unifying the Hindu vote, till now deeply divided along caste lines.

Still, the hope was that after his resounding victory, Modi would start pulling back from his divisive rhetoric. But Yogi Adityanath's appointment suggests that the mask is finally coming off, and Modi is preparing to launch a much more aggressive phase of Hindu nationalism.

Adityanath, who commands a huge Hindu following in his state, has pledged not only to build a temple where the razed mosque stood but also place statues of Hindu gods in every Muslim mosque. But that's not even the worst part. He makes no bones about his ethnic cleansing agenda and speaks openly about the need to reduce Uttar Pradesh's 40 million-strong Muslim population — about 20 percent of the total — by at least half. Nor is he shy about how he plans to accomplish this. He reminds Hindus of their duty to "take out 100 Muslim girls for every Hindu girl they take out" and kill "100 Muslims for every Hindu they kill," and taunts those who have moral qualms as "eunuchs." Such incitement, which is by no means his worst, has landed the yogi, who obscenely ran on a law-and-order agenda, in jail a few times.
Trump's calls for a Muslim ban and "extreme vetting" have emboldened men like Adityanath, who has repeatedly recommended similar steps in India — except that he doesn't have in mind wimpy measures like creating a Muslim registry or barring Muslims from only a few countries. Indeed, within a week of assuming office, he had already embarked on a campaign of anti-Muslim harassment, shutting down and burning "illegal" slaughterhouses, and throwing 650,000 predominantly Muslim men out of work.

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