Modi talks of diversity in Davos but presides over a regime of hate in India
If you have been led to believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech at the World Economic Forum was an ode to diversity, you need to go through his speech again. His long discourse on democracy and inclusion was indeed surprising but what he essentially did was to unabashedly defend the conduct of his government so far.
There could be multiple interpretations of this year's theme at WEF - ''Creating a shared Future in a Fractured World''. India has seen its own “fractures” in last four years of the Modi government. What the PM chose to highlight at Davos were fractures of “absence of development, of poverty, unemployment, lack of opportunities and control over natural and technical resources”.
It is hard to imagine that the global leadership assembled in the Alpine town wouldn't appreciate that one of the several fractures writ large in many parts of the world is the politics of hate, through the “otherisation” of certain communities. In the USA, Donald Trump came to power playing on this fault-line. In Europe, the electoral prospects of right-wing parties in several nations are going up because of it. In Asia, the United Nations has flagged an ethnic cleansing in Myanmar because of it.
What has been happening in India in the last four years is not exactly ethnic cleansing but is just a step away from it. Religious minorities, Muslims and Christians specifically, are being systematically marginalised. In the mainstream, their political participation is being limited while the fringe is indulging in physical violence against them.
The witch-hunt does not stop at marginalisation and murderous attacks on individuals. Entire cultures are being throttled by questioning their beliefs, practices and even their festivals. The agenda is clear – Muslims and Christians have no place in India. Given the “Vishwa Guru” ambition of the RSS, this agenda can easily be extrapolated to what they would like the world to follow as well.
Modi's words, against that context, sound hollow and dishonest. He should try to answer the question raised by himself - “which are those forces that prioritise divisions over harmony?”
He is right in identifying India's democratic credentials as the basis of the country's stability and progress. Indeed, democracy is not just a political system for the country but a philosophy, a way of life.
Doesn't Modi realise what kind of a rupture that way of life has suffered in the last four years? Not only are the killers of Mohammad Akhlaq of Dadri yet to be held accountable, Modi's ministers and party colleagues who backed the murderers are also yet to be given lessons in India's cultural ethos.
Many Akhlaqs have been attacked and killed since then. Those spared the physical violence are regularly told they have no place in this country. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat reiterated just two days ago that India is a “Hindu rashtra”. How does that square with Modi's assertion at Davos, “An India where enormous diversity exists harmoniously will always be a unifying and harmonising force”.
Or is the real message in what Modi declared towards the end of his speech - “we resolved not to pursue limited development of one section or a few people, but everyone”? “Sabka saath, sabka vikaas” has been his government's avowed motto since day one, but what it actually stands for is “no appeasement of any community”.
That one phrase clearly presents what Modi stands for – that previous governments have appeased religious minorities and this government is not going to do the same. It is a clear dog-whistle message for the followers of the movement Modi is a product of – that Muslims and Christians will be shown their place.
As the country hurtles towards the next Parliamentary elections, this politics of hate is likely to be intensified. Passions will be incited and flames will be lit again. Can Modi lead India to a break from this tradition of his party and its movement?