The “wave” that brought Narendra Modi to power in India last year clearly seems to be over. In the past few months, Modi has had one setback after another. He lost badly in the Delhi state elections in February 2015. But the latest defeat at the polls in Bihar is even more disastrous. Modi had campaigned hard personally in Bihar on his Hindutva ideology, and also dished out promises of financial support for the impoverished but populous state. The cow issue was drummed up to cash in support from extremist Hindu elements. A hard line was adopted towards Pakistan to prove that Modi was tougher than the predecessor Congress government. Even though he addressed the highest number of rallies in any state election, Modi’s old magic based on promises of development and progress has been fading. Since he came to power, economic indicators have been disappointing. Modi’s claim that poverty would be reduced has remained a far dream. In the end, nothing seems to have worked for Modi in Bihar.
As Janata Dal leader Sharad Yadav said, “The BJP made this a national election. They dragged in the cow, beef and the chief of the world’s biggest party said if we win, crackers will go off in Pakistan,” referring to a controversial remark of the BJP chief Amit Shah. The charismatic Bihar leader Lalu Prasad said that “the BJP is not a party. It is just a mask. Efforts were made to communalize the society, but people of Bihar defeated that attempt.” He said that Modi was trying to fool the people of Bihar, but the people of Bihar fooled him. All the tricks that the BJP tried during the campaigning had failed. Chief Ministers of Delhi and West Bengal Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee have congratulated Nitish Kumar, the leader of the anti-BJP alliance in Bihar. Mamata Banerjee has called the Bihar election result as the “victory of tolerance, defeat of intolerance.”
Modi’s rise to power last year has emboldened his party men to openly advocate anti-Muslim policies, including disenfranchisement of the Indian Muslims or their forced sterilization in order to keep Muslim population in check. Muslim-bashing indeed became the norm. A BJP ally, the Shiv Sena, adopted a hard anti-Pakistan stance and used fascist tactics to stop to all contacts with Pakistanis. However, Shiv Sena has also been bickering with the BJP for a larger share of power. After the BJP defeat in Bihar, the jilted Shiv Sena twisted the knife, saying Modi should take responsibility for the result. “When the Congress loses, then it is Soniaji’s responsibility, similarly the BJP must accept that the Bihar result is Modiji’s responsibility”. Shiv Sena even praised Nitish Kumar as a “hero”. Similarly, an estranged BJP leader in Bihar, Shatrugan Sinha, applauded Kumar’s victory. This suggests that there are cracks within the ruling party. However, a BJP Minister said that the Bihar result would have “no impact on BJP and PM Modi” and claimed that “state elections are not a referendum on the central government.”
The intolerant attitude shown by the BJP towards Muslims in particular, as well as towards other minorities, has doneconsiderable harm to India’s long-cherished claim of being a multi-religious and multi-ethnic, secular country. Modi has never been able to overcome his past when, as Chief Minister of Gujarat state, there was mini-genocide of Muslims in Ahmadabad. However, on becoming Prime Minister, Modi had promised that he would work for all Indians, irrespective of creed or caste. Instead, there has been a sharp growth of extremist Hindu policies. His party leaders have openly showed their visceral bias against the Muslims. Despite urging by many observers, Modi has remained silent and failed to condemn or check those in his party who have been mouthing anti-Muslim venom. He did not condemn those who lynched Muslims for allegedly eating beef, nor took exception to the fascist tactics adopted by Shiv Sena against Pakistani singers and film actors performing in India, or the splashing of black paint on a BJP party man who had dared to host a book-launching function for a Pakistani author. Modi has, therefore, been rightly accused of conniving with such rabid anti-Muslim elements in the BJP.
These policies of intolerance by the BJP have produced a backlash. Many eminent authors, scientists, artists and others have recently returned their awards as a protest against the BJP government’s policies that have tarnished India’s image as a secular democracy. Arundhati Roy, a famous novelist, was the latest literary figure to return a top Indian national award in protest against the growing violence and “horrific murders” by rightwing groups in India. Roy added her voice to those artists, film personalities, scientists and historians who have expressed alarm at a series of violent incidents and attacks on Muslims and secular-minded intellectuals, ever since BJP came to power last year. She said that her action was in protest against the growing culture of fear and censorship fostered by the government, who encouraged “lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings”. Roy wrote that millions of people from the minorities – including Muslims, Christians and members of low-caste or tribal communities – were “being forced to live in terror, unsure of when and from where the assault will come”.
Modi visited Indian-occupied Kashmir two days ago and offered a huge financial package to improve the lot of the Kashmiris. At the same time, he made it clear that “on Kashmir, I don’t need anyone’s advice or analysis.” Thus, he rejected the suggestion by Chief Minister Mufti that India should resume dialogue with Pakistan. Modi’s game plan clearly is to purchase the loyalty of Kashmiris. Already, several separatist leaders in Kashmir have warned that a political problem could not have an economic solution. Even Omar Abdullah, a former Chief Minister, said that “PM Modi has made the same mistake of weighing the Kashmir issue in rupees”. Srinagar was held in a state of siege during Modi’s visit and thousands were arrested to prevent anti-India rallies. This was the popular response to Modi’s visit to Indian-held Kashmir. Modi and others in India must understand that the deep yearnings of the Kashmiri people for self-determination and liberation from Indian rule cannot be altered by any economic package.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.