by Nilofar Suhrawardy 8 June 2019
Paradoxically, despite Narendra Modi has returned to power with his party (Bharatiya Janata Party) having won a massive mandate, neither he nor his party have received positive coverage in international media. Instead, his victory has led to speculations about the dismal fate of Indian democracy and of course, secularism. What can be said about such apprehensions? Opinions have also been expressed about prospects of Indian Constitution being revised in keeping with dictates of the saffron brigade. Undeniably, the hard reality of saffronization of Indian institutions and revision of academic literature to promote what is desired by saffron brigade cannot be sidelined. Indeed, these measures cannot be dismissed lightly. It would not be wrong to view them as serious and direct moves directed at puncturing constitutional and other dictates of Indian secularism as well as democracy. At the same time, it is pertinent to view the same from yet another angle. To what degree can these steps succeed in erasing the basic democratic and secular concepts ingrained in social ethics of the majority of the country’s citizens and the nation as a whole? After all, culturally, the Indian community cannot be confined to any one group along with regional, religious, or any other line.
Undeniably, the communal bias within saffron brigade cannot be ignored. At the same time, divisions within this group to stand out reasonably markedly. These include their casteist divisions. Thus, though saffron brigade is assumed to consist of the majority Indian community, the Hindus, numerous sharp divisions among them cannot be ignored. While the intra-Hindu caste differences stand out, differences in their different worshipping deities, regionally and socially also prevail. Oft and on, disturbances have surfaced over inter-caste marriages within the Hindu community, women and certain castes not allowed to visit some temples and so forth. The hard reality of intra-Hindu communal bias cannot be ignored.
Politically, however, more considerable attention has been paid to communal bias among the saffron brigade towards non-Hindus, that is the other religious groups, referred to as minorities. This is linked with saffron brigade’s move directed towards forming a Hindu India. This is responsible for apprehensions being voiced regarding risks faced by Indian secularism and democracy because of Modi’s return to power. Is that possible? Can saffron drive prevent people of several faiths from gathering as they do regularly at various Sufi places, spread across different parts of the country, particularly at Ajmer (Rajasthan)? Is it possible for the saffron drive to prevent non-Hindus from offering their religious services at their respective places of worship? These include Muslims at mosques, Sikhs-Gurdwaras, Christians at churches and so forth, including Buddhists, Jains, and other religious communities. This may be viewed as impossible. Even the most extremist saffron activist is least likely to consider any such move. India’s traditional culture has been witness to various religious communities living together for centuries, each in command of its own religious beliefs and place of worship. Though oft and on, communal incidents have flared up targeting different religious communities, in recent past, they have not lasted for too long a time nor have been spread over a vast geographical terrain. This is partly proved by cow-lynching cases, targeting Muslims, being mostly isolated incidents. Of course, such nature of any communal incident is not permissible along humanitarian lines and does tarnish the image of this country’s secularism. At the same time, isolated nature of such incidents is also a pointer to communal elements’ apprehension (perhaps “fear”) of indulging in communalism at a larger scale.
They probably fear the “negative” image that such communalism can earn them within the country and abroad. However, communal various saffron activists’ attitude be towards non-Hindus, they cannot afford to tarnish their government’s image across the world. Diplomatically, a communal approach towards Indian minorities is least likely to be welcomed globally. To date, in general, it has not been appreciated within the country or other parts of the world. Not surprisingly, when Modi stepped onto the national stage in the preceding parliamentary polls in 2014, he gave substantial importance to donning a secular mask during his electoral campaign. Subsequently, the nature of his term (2014-2019) strongly indicates the importance he accorded to promoting his diplomatic image. In this context, the question of his taking moves at home which are likely only to spell negative criticism of his political governance may be viewed as quite restricted. Of course, this does not mean that his saffron cadre may be expected to cease its communal moves, including cow-lynching incidents. The difference between what saffron cadres indulge in and that which is pursued officially by the central government cannot be sidelined. Undeniably, the hard reality of minimal importance being given to ensuring punishment for communal extremists cannot be ignored. In addition, the political elevation of communal elements with criminal background stands out markedly.
Clearly, it is as yet too early to expect total elimination of communal elements from the Indian society. Prospects of Modi taking hard steps in this direction may also be viewed as fairly limited. Nevertheless, the fact that he is a shrewd strategist, diplomatically, and politically cannot be missed. Modi’s political rise from literally grassroots, as a committed saffron brigade activist to hold the premier’s post, is definitely a pointer to his being a master strategist. Diplomatically, the importance Modi has accorded to both the occasions of his oath-taking ceremonies in 2014 and 2019 stand out markedly. There is no doubt that Modi has gone overboard in letting the world know of his being India’s prime minister. This clearly suggests that Modi has the tendency of taking every possible step to try and enhance his diplomatic image.
Diplomatic importance accorded by Modi to his premiership bears its own significance. Against this backdrop, Modi’s media team has probably not ignored negative criticism earned by saffron brigade’s communal activities in international media. Modi and his team can certainly take every possible to ensure positive media coverage for him and his policies within the country. But, the prospect of their exercising the same command over international media in other parts of the world may be viewed as practically non-existent.
It is possible, diplomatic image desired by Modi may limit the degree to which hardliners supporting him indulge in communal activities. Chances of their communal activities coming to a total end do not exist. At the same time, in this age of communication boom, international media is least likely to ignore communal activities of any nature, targeting minorities. It is worth noting; international media tends to give greater importance to negative news than to positive news regarding India. This is a hard-hitting reality which cannot be sidelined. In fact, this has always been the case irrespective of which party or leader has been heading the Indian government. Not surprisingly, “news” related to Indian development has hardly figured in international media while that referring to this country’s poverty, communal tension and so forth has been accorded greater coverage. Thus, “news” regarding communal tension, riot, cow-lynching case or similar incidents is likely to be accorded substantial coverage by global media. But, Modi’s policies spelling “development” are least likely to hit international headlines.
Not surprisingly, despite his having returned to power with a stunning mandate, “news” regarding Modi-wave has failed to click in media. His victory has been viewed as “bad for Indian soul,” a danger for Indian democracy and so forth. Clearly, greater attention has been given to prospects of the negative impact of Modi’s return to power. Modi’s hug-diplomacy, clicking selfies abroad and other diplomatic moves have not helped his 2019-victory gain positive image in global media. Instead, international media has taken serious note of saffron brigade’s communal politicking targeting minorities. With Modi being a master strategist and acutely concerned about his diplomatic image, he is least likely to ignore the “negative” news accorded to his victory by international media. This has certainly posed a serious dilemma for him. Can he, Modi, the diplomat afford continuance of communalism within India leading to spread of his negative image? Or will he exercise shrewd political strategy to check the same? It is to be watched as to whether Modi exercises any political wisdom in the interest of promoting his diplomatic image or not!