Dangers of Modi’s ‘Meta-Nationalism’ for India

By Sajjad Shaukat

Indian Prime Minister Nerendar Modi’s extremist party-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had got a land sliding triumph in the Indian elections 2014 on the basis of anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan slogans. Therefore, since the Prime Minister Modi came to power, he has been implementing anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan agenda with the support of fanatic coalition outfits.

General elections 2019, which started in India on April 11 are being held in 7 phases and will continue till May.

It is notable that the Constitution declares India to be a secular state, granting equal rights to the religious minorities, but in practice, ideology of Hindutva prevails. Hindu politics and culture, dominated by the fundamentalists parties such as BJP, RSS, VHP, Shiv Sena and other similar groups have been propagating Hindutva agenda. Under Modi rule, Muslim anxiety in India is multiplying due the fact that during the election campaign, Hindu majority was mobilized on ‘hate Muslim’ slogans.

In fact, Modi’s “New India” is transforming into a “fascist and extremist India” which is intolerant and inflexible to any kind of opposition and criticism. As per reports, in the backdrop of recent Indo-Pak escalation, a professor of civil engineering department in Karnataka namely Wathar, attempted to vent out his frustration on social media. In a Facebook post, he had used expletives to refer to India’s ruling party and said it had endangered millions of lives. Two days later, right-wing Hindu group students/activist gathered outside his office, and forced him to apologize for his “anti-national” comments. He was even forced to beg for forgiveness. In a related activity, Sathiyaraj Balu, a member of a local pro-Tamil party, who posted a picture of Modi with a begging bowl on Facebook, was arrested in Tamil Nadu in January 2019.

Waves of Modi’s ‘meta-nationalism’ (Bhagva or Hindutva plus) have engulfed India more pronouncedly in the backdrop of Pulwama incident starting with Television anchors “calling for revenge” and even not hesitated to portray any questioning of the Indian government or armed forces as equivalent to helping Pakistan.

Many TV newsrooms were transformed into caricatures of military command centers, while anchors were assessing military technology/strategy. Speculation and conjectures were repeated and several journalists even took to Twitter to encourage the Indian Army. Reportedly, one particularly strident channel recently pushed the hashtag #Expose Pak Lovers.

Leading columnist and former editor of the Tribune Harish Khare said that “the recent climate marks a new turn for India. The government had stampeded the country into a volatile, edgy, anxious nationalism.” Reportedly, Mrs Mita Santra whose husband was amongst the persons, killed in the false flag terror attack at the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) had dared to comment that “war should be the last option”, but, she was roundly criticized on social media.

Regrettably, Modi’s ‘meta-nationalism’ in the aftermath of Pulwama incident generated so much pressure on the Indian political parties that initially, they also ascribed to “soft” Hindutva themes and accepted Pakistan’s direct culpability in the attack. However, after the Pakistan’s robust reply, arrest and return of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinanadan and exposure of the false story and exaggerations of the Modi BJP leaders—blatant lies about casualties in Balakot, some elements of India have started daring to raise questions about New Dehi’s falsehood. In this regard, besides other internal entities, Indian National Congress leader Sam Pitroda’s recent remarks igniting Modi and BJP might be cited as instance.

It is mentionable that that various moves and developments in India are part of Modi’s ‘meta-nationalism’. In this connection, since 2014, Modi government has been constantly attempting to weaken and tame institutions for political influences and benefits. In the same regard, he fiddled with judiciary resultantly, four Indian Supreme Court judges held a press conference in January 2018 to raise alarm bells regarding the independence of the judiciary. In 2017, India fell three spots to 136th on the World Press Freedom Index, amid fears of the government strong-arming the media. Resignation of governor Reserve Bank of India Urjit Patel also cast aspersions on the RBI’s autonomy. Modi also fiddled with Central Bureau of Investigation and “Removal of ex-director of CBI Alok Verma episode” has topped the media headlines.

Apart from such fiddling, Modi government also attempted to manipulate laws; nevertheless, sensing signs of defeat, he opted for early retreat. Following are some episodes of Modi’s retreat which has exposed his real face:-

In mid-2014, Modi government proposed an amendment to National Rural Employee Guarantee Act (NREGA) aimed at restricting NREGA. Seeing this as a dilution of the Act, 28 leading economists wrote that Modi and the government had to reconsider its ill-advised move with proposed amendments which were quietly withdrawn without even being introduced in parliament.

In December 2014, Modi-led regime promulgated an ordinance amending Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act 2013. LARR (Amendment) Bill 2015 was introduced; however, the bill generated strong protests by Anna Hazare, farmers, civil society groups and a walkout by the Congress. NDA allies Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and Swabhimani Paksha also expressed opposition to the Bill. In August 2015, ahead of elections in Bihar, Modi announced the lapse of the ordinance.

In May 2017, the Ministry of Environment and Forests notified rules under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act banning sale of cattle in animal markets. The move generated strong resentment and protest from the political parties. West Bengal, Kerala and Meghalaya saw the rules as infringing upon their jurisdiction, while protests in the form of ‘Beef Fests’ were held in Kerala and Karnataka. The ban was deemed to have been imposed on ideological grounds, detrimental to the cattle trade economy and was alleged to be a dog whistle to cow vigilante groups. In July 2017, Indian Supreme Court expanded a stay imposed by the Madras High Court into a nationwide bar on the rules. Following consultation from states, in April 2018, a fresh set of draft rules were brought in to scrap the ban.

In August 2017, Modi government introduced Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill in Lok Sabha. The Bill faced criticism from several opposition parties, and Trinomial Congress held protests outside the parliament. All India Bank Employees’ Union and industry body Assocham also opposed it. Despite vociferous attempts by the government to criticize this opposition, public concerns over security of bank deposits did not die down. The government withdrew the Bill citing need for a comprehensive re-examination.

In early 2018, the government announced its decision to stop printing the last page of the passport, which contains family and address information along with Emigration Check Required (ECR) status. The status was to be signified with an orange-coloured jacket. It was seen as segregating people with low education and economic status. The Congress termed it as equivalent to creating a new caste system. The Kerala high court considered it a violation to the fundamental right to privacy and dignity, issuing a notice to the MEA. In just over two weeks, the MEA announced withdrawal of the proposed changes.

In April 2018, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting put up a ‘Request for Proposal’ to set up a Social Media Communication Hub to monitor online social media data. It proposed a “social media analytical tool” that would deploy 360 degree monitoring to create digital profiles of citizens (bid document said the tool should be able to “listen” to email). The Internet Freedom Foundation sent a legal notice to the ministry asking for withdrawal of the tender. Indian Supreme Court, while hearing a petition also observed that the decision to create the hub will be “like creating a surveillance state”. Following this, the request for proposal was withdrawn.

In April 2018, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry announced that in an attempt to tackle fake news, it had amended the guidelines on accreditation of journalists. It was told that journalists against whom complaints of fake news had been registered would have their accreditation suspended till the complaint had been heard. The guidelines faced political and media outrage on various grounds such as violation of freedom of press and lack of a clear definition of “fake news”. Overwhelmed by the outrage, the guidelines were withdrawn within 24 hours under orders from the PMO itself.

Nevertheless Modi and BJP have been exploiting ‘meta-nationalism’ narrative since last year as a part of “Lok Sabha 2019 preparatory activity. Reports suggest that BJP General Secretary Amit Shah during (September 18) poll gatherings in North Eastern states, has been openly terming Muslim and other migrants to Assam etc. as ‘Termites’. Modi-led BJP government also passed controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill to facilitate Hindu migrants only whereas; the Muslim migrants were deliberately ignored. His remarks attracted criticism from the US, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had expressed concern that “even some of our friends, allies, and partners around the world have human rights violations”. The annual assessment by the US state department of human rights concerns across the world-report 2018 also took notice of the Amit Shah’s remarks.

But, Prime Minister Modi and leadership of the extremist ruling party BJP continue with tirades against the opposition with ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ campaign. RSS and Modi financed media outlets continue to hound against any dissenting voice, while terming them as “internal enemies”. The political intent behind this ultra-nationalist frenzy is patently clear under which every effort is being made to get the voter to think that the nation needs to unite behind one man – a decisive leader who can give a befitting reply to those who threaten the country. It has been a gen feeling in the Indian secular and liberal classes that by making everyone a chowkidar (guard), Modi has issued a national call to citizen vigilantism.

In this respect, Christophe Jaffrelot’s recent book “Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism Is Changing India” has amply exposed the surge of Hindutva (or meta-nationalism). It is statistically analyzed that Muslims participation in Indian politics is shrinking to alarming levels. The author proves that in the period of 1980-2014, the number of Muslim MPs in the lower house of the Indian parliament have shrunk in comparison to the Muslim population in India. In another recent book of famous author A G Noorani titled “The RSS: A Menace of India”, examines and exposes the rise of RSS and Hindu fascism.

However, by inducing the Indian public with Modi’s ‘meta-nationalism’, Indian prime minister has been able to make a significant part of the population of the country to forget the collapse of the economy—the crisis in agriculture, the stagnation of industry—11 million jobs lost by it over the past five years, and the hollowness of the grandiose promises, he made to them when he came to power. It is now up to Indian people, if they are allowing ‘meta-nationalism’ to prevail in the country or they opt for respecting the secular and simple Indian nationalism, as inside India and abroad, dangers of Modi’s ‘meta-nationalism’ has been accelerated

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