OPINION: From saffron to red: Welcome to Modi’s India

LAHORE, Pakistan (Dawn/ANN) - The way radicalism is rearing its ugly head in Indian society, many are worried about the future.

Last year, the world was fixated upon India when the general elections brought to power Narendra Modi, the former chief minister of the prosperous Indian state of Gujarat.

Enthusiasts didn't tire of pointing out at the time that the story of Indian democracy could not have gotten any better; the new premier used to sell tea as a young boy at a stall at a local railway station, so the system was inclusive alright.

Many surmised that the days of socio-economic schisms were numbered in India, and that Modi would be the leader that rids the country of its problems once and for all.

The message was loud and clear: The saffron tide cometh and with it, prosperity and greatness too.

A year and a half on, though, that very tide has taken a deadly turn, and it threatens to engulf the entire Indian society.

Of course, the first casualty of such a turning tide is always the Pakistan-India peace process.

After extending an olive branch towards Pakistan at the time of the new government’s inauguration, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) line has quickly switched to a much more extremist tenor.

Charged rhetoric aside, escalation in violence along the Pakistan-India border over the past months has resulted in loss of innocent lives, and the radical bandwagon in India does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

The second casualty, of course, is cricket.

Pakistan-bashing is lucrative

Emboldened by the government’s actions, members of Shiv Sena (the extremist Indian organisation notoriously remembered for digging up the pitch in Agra in 2003), stormed the BCCI headquarters on Monday to disrupt a meeting between the Pakistani and Indian cricket officials scheduled to discuss the bilateral series that had been shelved following skirmishes along the Line of Control (LoC).

Such is the threat from the far-right elements within India that Aleem Dar, the exceptional cricket umpire hailing from Pakistan, has been relieved of his officiating duties for the upcoming India-South Africa match, lest he become the target of the anti-Pakistan sentiment.

Today, Shoaib Akhtar and Wasim Akram met the same end.

No sooner had that happened when Shiv Sena's threats extended to Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan, Pakistani actors currently in India for film projects.

Meanwhile, reports are pouring in that this year's Kabaddi World Cup, previously scheduled to be held in India, has now been cancelled.

Last week, Sudheendra Kulkarni, himself a member of the BJP, was publicly shamed and covered with black soot and ink when he organised a book launch for former Pakistani Foreign Minister, Khurshid Kasuri.

Earlier, the legendary artist Ghulam Ali was denied entry into India citing his Pakistani identity.

Pakistan-bashing apparently reaps many benefits, electoral or otherwise, and the far right in India is counting on that.

An unsurprising radicalism

Domestically, the Muslim community in India is having a tough time under the BJP government as well.

In a tragic incident, a Muslim resident of Uttar Pradesh, Mohammed Akhlaq, was lynched by a mob that alleged he had consumed beef, since cows are considered holy animals in Hinduism.

Beef has always been a thorny issue between the Muslim and Hindu communities in India, but the tensions over the beef ban have peaked in the past few days, and there is possibility of even more violence erupting.

In Akhlaq's case, it turned out the poor guy was not having beef, but mutton. Additionally, it took weeks for Modi – who becomes emotional remembering his childhood struggles but conveniently forgets about the plight of other Indians – to address this incident.

It’s not just the Muslim community who is suffering from governance under the Modi-led BJP government. A few weeks ago, the Patel community – instrumental towards Modi’s rise to premiership – found itself face-to-face with a government bent on sparing no rods in dealing with frustrated Patel protesters.

Before Modi took oath of office, many were wary of his extremist past. However, the Twitter-friendly, kurta-wearing, camera-tracking, cheerleader-in-chief assuaged some dissenting voices through political showboating focused more on spectacle rather than substance.

The current outbreak of radicalism in India shouldn't be surprising. After all, how should the same person who presided over one of the worst incidents of communal violence in recent memory now somehow turn compassionate towards the affected once elected to the country's highest political office?

If there is one lesson to learn from history, it’s that charismatic leaders have done more harm than good in their respective countries, and the Indian audience just seems to be realising the same.

The way radicalism – played out along caste and religious lines – is rearing its ugly head in Indian society, many are worried about the future.

Of course, there remain sane voices in India to identify the abyss of radicalism which the Indian society seems to be staring into. But when the hawks are having a feast, with the vultures in close proximity, it is unsurprising that the doves have decided to stay quiet for now.

This silence, however, will do nothing to impede India’s slide into radicalism.

The tide indeed cometh, but instead of being a hue of soothing saffron, it is a menacing, bloody red.


  • From saffron to red: Welcome to Modi’s India


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