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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 26, New Delhi June 20, 2015

Report on One Year of the Modi Regime

Saturday 20 June 2015

DOCUMENT

Executive summary

The following is the Executive Summary of the Report on One year of the Modi Regime, edited by John Dayal and Shabnam Hashmi. The report was released by Harsh Mander, John Dayal, Apoorvanand, Vidya Bhushan Rawat and Shabnam Hashmi at the Indian Women’s Press Corps, New Delhi on June 18, 2015. The link to the full document—“365 Days Democracy and Secularism Under The Modi Regime—A Report” [PDF]—

[See full report here: https://tinyurl.com/olj2o4x]

On May 26, 2014, Mr Narendra Damodardas Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India at the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. Riding the crest of a popular wave of revulsion against the rampant corruption in national life recent years, Mr Modi promised “development” to the young aspirational gene-ration of voters. But most of all, he marshalled a strong army of activists of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the many organisations of the Sangh Parivar to unleash an election campaign that polarised the electorate through selective targeting of Muslims and Christians.

 A year later, the government admits the development process has not yet commenced despite huge concessions to the corporate sector. The new jobs are yet to materialise. The photo opportunities are of projects started by the previous government, now nearing completion. But several major projects designed to provide a social safety net to the rural poor and other poor have, on the other hand, been toned down, their names changed in symbolic contempt for previous Prime Ministers. Suicides by debt-burdened farmers continue apace. And there is nothing to show for the promise of ending corruption and brining back the “black money” stowed away in Swiss and other foreign banks.

 Something critical to the nation has changed, for the worse. It is India’s social landscape. There has been no massacre of the nature of the Muzaffarnagar rape and killings of Muslims in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. The period May 2014-May 2015 has seen a seamlessness between the government of Mr Modi at the Centre, the State governments ruled by the BJP, and the cadres of the Sangh Parivar. The results are visible from what is called the saffronisation of governance at the Centre to the implementation of the Sangh’s agenda of coercion and isolation of religious minority groups to infiltration of administrative structures, police and education. The incitement to violence and coercion is one facet of it. The other is enforcing the Sangh dictat through orders such as the compulsory Surya Namashkar at mass Yoga camps, the restructuring of national academic institu-tions and the ban, for instance, on eggs in the children’s nutrition programme by Madhya Pradesh are indicative.

 The hate of the election campaign has also mutated to a more coercive and threatening, phenomenon that has percolated to the Universities and colleges on the one hand and the villages and small towns over much of the country on the other. One group even set up a “Hindu Helpline” to assist anyone from the majority community who is being harassed by Muslims, announcing its cadres will come to the help of any Hindu parent who suspects his or her daughter is seeing a Muslim youth.

Former administrator, Member of the National Advisory Council of the Government of India and renowned activist Harsh Mander says: “There is indeed no ambiguity in Modi’s politics, no recourse to poetry and equivocality, unlike the last Prime Minister to be elected from the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpayee himself was not above articulating anti-Muslim or anti-Christian rhetoric from time to time. Yet many still regarded him to be a leader of relative moderation. However, his communal pointers would always be cloaked in a garb of mode-ration. Never in free India has the public discourse been so poisoned by MPs and Ministers of the elected ruling alliance. BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj labels madrassas as ‘hubs of terror’ fostering ‘Love Jihad’ and ‘education of terrorism’. He exhorts Hindu women to bear four children, declaring that in the Modi yug (era), the alleged Muslim practice of having four wives and 40 kids—a fiction of majoritarian paranoia—should be forcefully halted. He further describes Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s assassin, as a ‘patriot’ and ‘martyr’. Another BJP MP, Yogi Adityanath, declares that an India without Ram cannot be imagined, and that those who allegedly torment Hindus with riots will have to pay dearly. Moreover ‘for every Hindu converted, 100 Muslim girls will be converted as retaliation’. Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti describes those who do not worship Ram as ‘haramzade’ or bastards. A Shiv Sena MP force-feeds a Muslim canteen functionary during the latter’s roza fast. Another, Sanjay Raut, calls for the “disenfranchisement of Muslims”.

Such hate, inevitably, lead to violence.

Desecration and destruction of churches, assault on pastors, illegal police detention of church workers, and denial of constitutional rights of Freedom of Faith aggravate the coercion and terror unleashed in campaigns of ghar wapsi and cries of ‘Love Jihad’. In Chhattisgarh, villages are passing orders banning the entry of priests of faiths other than Hinduism.

 At least 43 deaths in over 600 cases of violence, 194 targeting Christians and the rest Muslims, have taken place in between May 26, 2014 and May 13, 2015, marking almost one year of the National Democratic Alliance Government of Mr Narendra Modi. The number of dead is other than the 108 killed in Assam in attacks on Muslims by armed tribal political groups. The number of incidents of communally targeted violence could be very much higher, but official records are not available. The police does not register many other crimes. Victims too are often coerced into reaching a compromise with their attackers. In the very first few weeks of the new government, by its own admission, 113 communal incidents took place in various parts of the country. During just two months May-June 2014, 15 people were killed and 318 others injured, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr Kiren Rijiju, told the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament. Many of the incidents of violence were directed against individuals and places of worship of the Muslim community. Uttar Pradesh, which saw large scale violence in its western district of Muzzafarnagar in the run-up to the general elections, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Assam have been among the States where Muslims have been targeted. The government, which routinely and selectively leaks information to the media to target civil society, does not give monthly reports on communal and targeted violence.

 There is an apparent absence of organised protest. Advocacy groups and NGOs have been crushed and silenced using the notorious Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, which starves voluntary groups of their funds, and the Intelligence Bureau and police that threaten their leadership and activists. Protests have been brutally crushed. Individual activists have been identified, targeted and sought to be neutralised. Those that the state machinery does not touch are left to the mercy of local “nationalist” thugs who have political patronage and the promise of immunity from the local police. Civil society organisations like INSAF, People’s Watch, Sabrang Trust, Citizens for Justice and Peace, Greenpeace India, among others, were systematically targeted, maligned and subject to no end of harassment in this past year. Activists working in areas of religious freedom and communal harmony have been selectively targeted. There have been several others who have been subjected to subtle and indirect intimidations which include pressure on the top management, innuendoes, threats, innumerable governmental enquiries, rumours etc. Such tactics often put those who want to take a stand on the backfoot and several tactfully move into the background, fade into oblivion.

As sinister is the government’s strong push to change the course of education and pedagogy. Delhi University professors Karen Gabriel and P.K. Vijayan say the effort is to convert the people, specially the young, to the “faith” propagated by the Sangh Parivar to consolidate the core constituency. An important aspect of this process is that, with full majority, the Modi Government is now increasingly able to bring changes at the policy and decision-making levels. Coercion alone is unlikely to work. Rather, an incremental balance of coercion and cooption is what is required—and the evidence of the first year of the Modi regime suggests that such an investment-banking approach is exactly what is being undertaken.

 The scientific temperament, which helped create the IITs and the IIMs and propelled an Indian science probe to the planet Mars, is now threatened. During the past one-year we have witnessed an unprecedented attack on the scientific temper, rational thinking and scientific establishments of the country. The assault has been four-pronged: spreading and providing credibility to myths, superstitions, irrational beliefs among the masses; occupying spaces such as Science Congress, workshops and confe-rences and use the official and unofficial plat-forms for anti-science activities; crippling the scientific institutes by political interference, delay in appointing heads of institutions, insulting the most respected scientists/academicians of the country and spreading panic to demoralise the scientific community of the country; arbit-rary budget cuts and reduced allocation to vari-ous science departments and projects of national importance.

 Though the intensity of propagation of irrational, superstitious, illogical and anti-science ideas by various leaders of the Sangh Parivar increased many fold as the new government assumed power, the first major onslaught was unleashed during the 102nd Science Congress. Mr Modi himself set the agenda even before the Science Congress, by declaring that the “Hindu god Ganesh was actually a creation of ancient plastic surgery”. Taking a cue from their leader, party cheerleaders like Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank told Parliament that astrology was more powerful than modern science. Other members of the ruling establishment have claimed that Hindu sages were “well versed in everything from stem cell therapy to nuclear tests”.

 Freedom of expression is inevitably a casualty. An atmosphere of fear had been created systematically by the RSS, its affiliates and other groups over the last decade in which criminal cases had been filed by these bodies against writers and publishers, who have to face physical threats and intimidation. The pressure by the Sangh organisations has been such that publishers have started exercising self-censorship. They are getting books examined by legal experts and shelving those that might face protest from such groups or criminal cases in the courts. Such cases go unreported as both the publisher and the writer refrain from discussing these decisions in public.

 Cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India and the National United Christian Forum, summed up the situation when in a statement this year he said: “The cultural DNA of India of pluralism and diversity is being threatened. We are anxious about the implications of the funda-mentalist political thesis that India is ‘one nation, one people and one culture’. A nation of cultural homogeneity is an impossibility and any effort to impose it is fraught with grave ramifications for the country. We welcome the occasional statements of those in authority of adhering to the Constitution of India and, in particular, to its assurances of the Freedom of Faith. However, these statements fail to have any impact on the leadership of socio-political organisations that are polarising the nation with the language and acts of intolerance, hate and violence.”