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India on the Verge of Becoming Dictatorship

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 By Sajjad Shaukat

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched its large-scale, state-funded election campaign long before the date for the elections of the Lok Sabha to be held between April 19 and June 1, this year across the country.

Just before the announcement of the dates for the 2024 elections, the government amended the rules for selecting members of the Election Commission overseeing the vote. The government removed the chief justice from the committee and replaced him with a minister to be appointed by the PM—the government’s opinion would be paramount in the selection of the Election Commission. What is then left to say about the impartiality of the Election Commission?

Just after the announcement of elections, on March 21, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the opposition Aam Aadmi Party, was arrested by India’s financial crime agency, including other ministers and various entities of the opposition parties. 

These arrests are bound to have an impact on the opposition’s election campaign. And these are not the only opposition figures facing threats of incarceration and legal warfare in the run-up to the election. Many opposition party leaders have received notices and arrest warrants relating to various current and historical cases in the past few months.

India’s main opposition party Congress on May 16, 2024 condemned Premier Modi for anti-Muslim comments in election campaign speeches, which has heightened concerns over sectarian tensions.

Since voting began last month, PM Modi has stepped up his rhetoric targeting India’s main religious divide in a bid to rally voters. He has referred in campaign rallies to Muslims as “infiltrators” and claimed that the main opposition Congress party would redistribute the nation’s wealth to Muslims if it won. Modi accused Congress of planning to commit “vote jihad”, an implied suggestion that his opponents were rallying Muslims to vote against him.

P. Chidambaram, a former Indian finance minister and senior lawmaker for Congress, said on May 16, 2024 that Modi was playing “his usual game of dividing Hindus and Muslims.”  After Modi allegedly suggested that a former prime minister from Congress had planned for a separate “Muslim budget”, the party’s general secretary Jairam Ramesh condemned his statements as “nonsensical”. 

Since swept to power a decade ago, Modi has sought to align India’s politics more closely with its majority faith. His cultivated image as a champion of Hinduism has made him roundly popular, but has left many among the country’s 200-million-plus Muslim minority uneasy about their status and anxious about their futures.

While, India’s poll code prohibits sectarian campaigning and opposition parties lodged a complaint about an earlier Modi speech last month with the election commission, which has yet to announce any sanctions against the premier.

BBC reported on May 7, 2024: “Police in India have opened a case against senior leaders of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party over a social media post that opposition leaders say “demonises Muslims…It said the post violated Indian law…But opposition leaders and political commentators say PM Modi, who’s seeking a rare third term…other leaders from his Hindu nationalist party are resorting to blatant Islamophobia”.

The Independent reported on May 14, 2024: “Indian comedian Shyam Rangeela seeking to take on Narendra Modi as an independent candidate in India’s general election said his application was rejected by the authorities on a technicality…Democracy was murdered today”.

The Independent reported on May 15, 2024: “India grants first citizenships under new law criticised for discriminating against Muslims…The citizenship was granted to 14 people on Wednesday amid the ongoing general elections, even as anxious people living in Bangladesh-bordering states continued to protest the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act …has been one of the key manifesto promises of Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party…The law, implemented in March, grants the right to apply for Indian citizenship to refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who arrived in India before 31 December 2014”.

Modi’s critics say the law violates India’s secular constitution. They have accused the right-wing government of targeting the Muslim community and systematically discriminating against them to further the party’s Hindu-first agenda.

However, some other discriminatory policies and moves against the Muslims such as the Indian Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) coupled with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are mainly against the Muslim immigrants particularly from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan—In December 15, 2019, despite daily mass protests, across every state against the CAA and the NRC, which resulted into killing of more than 300 persons-mostly Muslims by the police and prejudiced Hindus, Modi-led regime has not withdrawn the CAA/NRC—attacks on Muslims, their shops, burning of their houses and  mosque etc. might also be cited as example.

Most of the world media entities, especially Al Jazeera pointed out: “Most of the Indian media is openly promoting BJP and Narendra Modi. Since the announcement of elections, media platforms have been organising events featuring the prime minister and other ministers and BJP leaders, giving them every opportunity to promote themselves and their agenda. This courtesy has not been extended to opposition leaders. Media has also been pushing the narrative that the opposition is weak, the PM remains popular and there is no real alternative to him or the BJP. Any independent media organisation or new media platform that dares to move away from the government narratives is facing attacks and intimidation from the government…who is to police their actions and censure them for making a mockery of Indian democracy?…The international community is watching all this with concern”.

It is mentionable that BBC under the title India: The Rising Signs of Dictatorship, had indicated on January 27, 2023: “A suppressed media, a voiceless minority and a dictator-in-chief…India, the largest “democracy” and now the most populated country in the world, is backsliding further towards authoritarianism. The BBC documentary, India: The Modi Question, aired in the United Kingdom on Jan. 17. Despite the documentary not being officially aired in India, the government banned the two-part documentary calling out the broadcasting station for a “colonial mindset.”

BBC also explored the circumstances surrounding the 2002 communal riots in the Indian state of Gujarat when PM Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister. BBC especially discussed Modi’s role behind massacre of the Muslim. A secret UK government inquiry had found Modi ‘directly responsible’ for riots.

In fact, the politics of right-wing Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) that seek to make the Indian state adopt policies that recall and glorify Hindu cultural history and heritage of India at the expense of other religious traditions amounts to saffron terror.

Under Modi regime, other biased parties also started acting upon the Ideology of Hindutva as various developments like unprecedented rise of Hindu fanaticism, persecution of religious minorities such as Muslims Christians, Sikhs etc., and even lower-caste Hindus like Dalits have been intensified by the prejudiced Hindus. But, Muslims have become special target of extremist Hindus.

Notably, Indian Constitution declares India to be a secular and democratic state, which safeguards the rights of religious minorities, but, under the Modi-led regime, discrimination particularly against the Muslims—assaults on their places of worships and property—ban on beef and cow slaughter, creation of war-like situation with Pakistan etc. have clearly proved that Hindu fundamentalist outfits such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena especially associated with RSS have been promoting religious and ethnic chauvinism in India by propagating the Hindutva ideology.

It is pointed out that in March-April 2022; “Multiple calls by Hindu organisations were made to boycott Muslim and some Christian owned businesses in the states of Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Particularly, these calls for the economic boycott of Muslim minority have been supported by state representatives and respective state governments.

And protests by members of the Muslim minority in response to the decision of the Karnataka High Court to uphold a governmental ban on Muslim girls, wearing the hijab in educational institutions are also notable.

Meanwhile, drastic situation against the Muslims in the state of Haryana is of particular attention. Indian authorities had imposed a curfew in various parts of northern Haryana state after the violence began on July 31, last year. Nonetheless, a bloody game was being played by the biased Hindus against the Muslims.

It is of particular attention that on August 5, 2019, Modi-led government abrogated articles 35A and 370 of the Constitution, which gave a special status to the disputed territory of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). New Delhi bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories—Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to be ruled by the federal government. On the same day, strict military lockdown was imposed in the IIOJK which continues unabated.

In this respect, the deployment of more than 900,000 military troops in the IIOJK, who have martyred tens of thousands of the Kashmiris, including women and children through brutal tactics-fake encounters, while closure of mosques, shortage of foods, medicines for the patients have further increased the plight of the Kashmiris.

Besides, under a well-planned hidden agenda, Modi-led regime has intensified, bringing ethno- demographic changes in IIOJK. In this context, Indian various moves such as introduction of new laws, amendment of the laws to facilitate non-Kashmiris and outsiders in order to usurp the rights of the Muslim Kashmiris—issuance of domicile certificates to more than 800000 non-Kashmiris, registration of almost 2.5 million new non-local voters in the IIOJK—failure of fake drama to host G-20 summit on May 22-24, 2023 in the IIOJK, from time to time, violations of the Line of Control (LoC) by shelling inside Pakistanis side of Kashmir—in violation of the ceasefire agreement of 2003 might be cited as instance.

These anti-Muslim developments and moves are part of the Indian saffron politics, which has also enveloped Indian key state institutions, especially judiciary.

In this context, top Indian court closed all proceedings relating to the 2002 riots in the western state of Gujarat, which killed over a thousand Muslims as well as the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid (Mosque), as leaders of the Hindu fanatic parties and Modi were involved in these tragedies. 

In its biased verdict, the court even neglected the authenticity of audio and video evidence submitted in the case of demolition of the Babri Mosque.

On the same day, the judgment was announced, Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) Spokesperson Zahid Hafeez, in a statement, strongly condemned shameful acquittal of those responsible for demolishing the historic Babri Masjid.

The Spokesperson elaborated: “The Hindutva-inspired Indian judiciary miserably failed to deliver the justice again…if there was a semblance of justice in the so-called largest democracy, the individuals, who had boasted of the criminal act publicly, could not have been set free…this is yet another manifestation of the pliant judiciary under the extremist BJP-RSS regime in which extremist Hindutva’ ideology takes precedence over all principles of justice and international norms.

He further stated: “These reprehensible developments with state complicity, coupled with RSS-BJP’s deep-rooted hatred against minorities, particularly Muslims, point to India’s fast descent into a Hindu Rashtra…willful targeting of Muslims is rampant in today’s India…the RSS-BJP regime and the Sangh Parivar are responsible for the continued desecration and demolition of mosques in India in an organised manner as they did during the Gujarat massacre of 2002 and Delhi programme in 2020”.

Modi’s anti-Muslim chauvinism took a dangerous turn on August 5, 2020 when he laid the foundation stone for the Hindu Ram temple at bhoomi pujan ceremony at the site of the demolished Babri mosque in Ayodhya.

Nevertheless, BJP not only embraces act and policies which discriminate against Muslims and other non-Hindu religious minorities, but also turns up its pressure on media and judiciary.

Modi’s pressure on judiciary can be judged from the verdict of the Indian Supreme Court which on December 11, last year upheld the Modi-led government’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status (Article 370) in 2019.

It is also noteworthy that on the midnight of 18-19 February 2007, India-Pakistan Samjhota Express train was bombed in which 68 Pakistani nationals were killed. A Hindu extremist Swami Aseemanand, a leader of the RSS had confessed that he was involved in several bombings incidents. He also claimed to have been a part of the incident, including some other offenders.

Instead of taking action against the culprits of the Samjhota Express explosion, the Supreme Court of India accepted the bail of Swami Aseemanand after the covert interference of the Modi-led authorities who changed the investigations in this respect in order to weaken the case.

Undoubtedly, these anti-Muslim developments and moves are part of the Indian saffron politics, which has enveloped Indian key state institutions, especially judiciary, while other religious minorities are also being targeted.

Results of the elections 2024 around will be announced alongside the rest of the country on 4 June, as these are very important for the future of democracy in India. It is clear that all the constitutional institutions in the country have now decided that they are working for the BJP, not the people.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations

Email: [email protected]

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