Now that he’s Won, What are Narendra Modi’s Priorities?


Now that he’s Won, What are Narendra Modi’s Priorities?

Norbert SchillerNorbert Schiller

Narendra Modi’s recent historic victory was due to his indefatigable energy, his dynamic campaign in all corners of the vast country, his projection of prosperity and optimism, the clever use of Hindu imagery and last but not least, Sonia Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi believed in power without responsibility, power without accountability. She was insulated, surrounded by a coterie of corrupt sycophants and ran the country in a ham-handed manner. She appointed a loyal technocrat as the prime minister, hoping to keep the seat warm for her son, the reluctant crown prince who preferred video games over a responsible role in the government, and who appeared disconnected from the hopes and aspirations of his countrymen.

For their diligent support, toil and treasure in the successful campaign, Rashtriya Swayamsekak Sangh (RSS) is demanding payment. RSS, a notorious right wing outfit, is leaning on Mr. Modi to fulfill their long-cherished dreams. Three issues are dear to the heart of the RSS rank and file: repeal article 370 of the Indian constitution, enact a uniform civil code and the building of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. However, these three are controversial concerns, and should be approached with due deliberation and utmost caution. These are highly intractable, incendiary and if handled improperly, may lead to sectarian violence and bloodshed.

The root cause of the right wing Hindu antipathy towards the Muslims might be traced to the brutal Islamic rule of the subcontinent. The Hindu kings were no match for the mighty Muslim armies. Beginning in the tenth century, successive Muslim armies rode into North and West Indian towns, unleashed an orgy of torture and terror, rape and pillage, arson and agony. Cruelty was the norm—burnings, summary executions, crucifixions, impalements, and other gruesome methods of torture. A mandatory jizya, or tax, on the infidel Hindus was imposed. Those who could not pay the tax were forced to convert to Islam at sword point. Men and boys were circumcised, and forced to eat beef. Hindu temples were destroyed to make way for mosques. Any uprising was immediately repressed, men slaughtered, women taken as slaves, houses burned. The marauding Muslim conquerors were barbaric, ruthless, amoral and obscene in their quest for new lands and new treasure. It was a crusade to crush Hinduism and spread Islam.

Unlike Islam or Christianity, Hinduism—probably the world’s oldest religion, is a culture, a way of life rather than a faith. The roots of Hinduism can be traced back thousands of years, to Indus valley civilization during the third century B.C. Some of the present-day Hindu rituals strongly resemble the traits of ancient Indus valley civilization. So, it was all the more appalling for Hindus to be usurped by the zealots of a relatively recent religion. The vicious assaults on their very way of life humiliated Hindus, and left deep, indelible scars on their collective psyche. Memories are long, neither forgotten nor forgiven. The atrocities of the invading Muslim armies are a part of the oral lore, passed on from one generation to the next. Therefore, it is not surprising that some Hindus still bear a grudge against Muslims, and want to avenge for past indignities.

But, in this land of Akbar and Ashoka, Nehru and Netaji, Gandhi and Gokhale, tolerance is the mantra. Tolerance is the foundation for a strong, peaceful and prosperous country. Is it fair to take this anger on the present-day Muslims for the past crimes committed by their barbaric brethren? Is it fair to marginalize the Muslim minority? Is it fair to victimize them constantly and relentlessly? Is it fair that they face open discrimination in many walks of life—housing, education, and jobs to name a few.

Article 370

Right after independence in 1947, a dispute arose between India and Pakistan about the salubrious hills and valleys of Kashmir territory. Each country claimed that particular piece of land, and the matter was referred to the United Nations. The UN recommended a plebiscite to let the Kashmiris determine their fate—whether to remain a part of India or join Pakistan. The fear that the Muslim majority in Indian-occupied Kashmir might choose to join Pakistan is hanging over the Indian government like a sword of Damocles. Therefore, the Indian government is yet to hold a referendum.

To encourage and entice the Kashmiris to remain within the Indian State, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel gave special status to the Kashmiris, and legislated article 370. Except for defense, foreign affairs, and communications, this special provision in the Indian constitution allows Kashmiris to live under a separate set of laws related to citizenship, ownership of property and other fundamental rights. In essence, Indian taxpayers subsidize and support the way of life in Kashmir. Many Indians from other states resent this law and consider it unfair.

But if the article 370 is repealed, there is bound to be unrest, and possibly even bloodshed, not to speak of an opportunistic Pakistani incursion.

Uniform Civil Code

The clarion call of the right wing has been to demand the enactment of a uniform civil code. They want uniform personal laws that govern matters such as marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption, and inheritance, and applicable to all citizens irrespective of their religious faith. If this law is rammed through the parliament, it will end polygamy, and easy divorce, two things that some Muslim men cherish. The conservative, patriarchal, and powerful mullahs and imams will be sure to mobilize their flock, and fight against such a measure, tooth and nail.

On the other hand, this law will be welcomed by women’s rights groups, and some educated and enlightened Muslim men and women. However, polygamy or divorce at the drop of a hat is extremely rare among educated, mainstream, moderate Muslims. Thus, education and economic empowerment are the keys to end these incongruous practices which disproportionately hurt Muslim women. Passing such a controversial law will not solve these social issues, and moreover, it will be extremely difficult to enforce such measures.

Ram Temple

In an attempt to mobilize moderate Hindus, in 1990, Lal Krishna Advani, a prominent RSS figure, undertook a long journey of about one thousand miles to Ayodhya, the birthplace of Ram—the avatar of Lord Vishnu. Mr. Advani, accompanied by his understudy, the then younger Mr. Modi, began the infamous Rath Yatra (pilgrimage in a chariot; actually a Toyota van was converted into a sort of chariot). The yatra started at Somnath temple on the West coast. The significance of the starting point of the yatra is to remind Hindus of the desecration of this holy temple by Muslim invaders some nine hundred years back. In 1025 A.D., Mahmud Gazni razed the Somnath temple, and personally hammered the temple’s fabulous gilded lingam (a powerful symbol of Hindu piety) to pieces, and shipped the stone fragments to Gazni, to be incorporated into the steps of a new mosque. The symbolism of this desecration of a revered object of Hindu piety sent a clear message to the already terrified Hindus. This temple was damaged and desecrated seventeen times and after each calamity, the pious Hindus regrouped and rebuilt the temple.

Mr. Advani’s chariot made its way through central India and ended at Ayodhya, an equally important Hindu holy place, another reminder of Muslim maleficence. It was at this place, in 1527, Babri mosque was built at the behest of Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India. A pre-existing Ram temple was alleged to have been destroyed and the mosque built on the same site. Recent archeological evidence supports the presence of a temple beneath the demolished Babri mosque.

Mr. Advani’s idea was a great success. Throughout the course of the long journey, Hindu mobs greeted the chariot, people rang temple bells, welcomed the pilgrims by dabbing vermilion on their foreheads, a Hindu custom to welcome guests into their abode. Advani’s yatra succeeded in driving home the point that Muslims are the arch enemies of Hindus, and ultimately culminated in the calamitous destruction of the ancient mosque by a rabid and raucous Hindu mob. The consequent communal backlash led to riots in several states, leaving murder and mayhem, death and destruction in their wake. Construction of a Ram temple at this site will only exacerbate the already fragile relations between Hindus and Muslims.

Mr. Modi’s Options

It is the hope of all Indians that the new prime minister will not yield to the unrelenting demands of RSS. The controversial elements of his party’s manifesto should be shelved. Instead of commissioning a controversial Ram temple, Mr. Modi is well advised to build a Ram rajya, an idealistic regime in the Hindu mythology, ruled by the benevolent Ram, where everything is rosy, where citizens enjoy the fruits of their labor, where law and order prevails, where hunger and poverty is unheard of.

Instead of squandering his hard-earned political capital to repeal article 370 or to enact a uniform civil code, Mr. Modi should expend his considerable leadership skills to more important matters, such as, getting rid of the cancer of corruption that is stunting the country’s growth, focusing on rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure, attracting foreign capital, and eliminating bureaucratic red tape that bedevils the Indian economy.

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