In an interview where he reveals his position on many critical and even controversial political issues, the best-selling author Chetan Bhagat has said that ‘love jihad’ is “an urban myth”. He says, “Statistically, it’s not happening.” He adds that he “doesn’t support this term”.
However, the author maintains that belief in ‘love jihad’ is born out of very real fears that many Hindus have and these fears need to be understood. Without offering any substantial proof, Bhagat said the Islamic religion or Muslim culture seeks to convert, whilst Hindus are not interested in doing so. Although he accepted there are very few interfaith marriages he, nonetheless, maintained that when the groom is Muslim, his family insists that the bride convert to Islam.
In a wide ranging and at times rambling 55-minute interview to The Wire, Bhagat said the hard Right – which he said is different from the Hindu Right – threatens India’s interests. This is because they want things “that (will) truly harm India’s growth prospects”. He said, “They are noisy and unruly. They want permanent conflict, frequent bashing of Muslims and frankly things that truly harm India’s growth prospects.”
Bhagat told The Wire that becoming a Hindu rashtra will not give India a glorious future. He said attempts to create one “will destroy investment, business sentiment and harmony”. More importantly, he added, “a prosperous Hindu rashtra is an impossibility”. The Hindu rashtra concept harkens back to an alleged golden age and turns it back on science, modern thinking and economic development.
The author said that the hard Right is “managing to destroy the legacy of this government” and the government needs to check it. He said the Narendra Modi government is caught in a dilemma. The same hard Right has worked diligently to secure the government’s election, and Modi feels a sense of gratitude to them. He, therefore, finds it hard to criticise them. Instead, he is hoping they will see the damage they are doing and correct themselves.
Bhagat also talked about the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). He accepted that a combination of the two appears to be prejudiced against Muslims.
Speaking of the NRC, he said it must be “officially withdrawn or put into long-term cold storage”. This is because it’s both impractical to execute and, secondly, its outcome will create a huge problem for the country. If, say, 5% of the population is deemed illegal, i.e. six crore people, what will we do with them, he asked.
Bhagat said that he does not approve of the home minister’s term “termites” for referring to infiltrators. He also pointed out that regardless of their legal status, it’s undeniable that infiltrators contribute to the GDP.
Speaking about the CAA, Bhagat said it required “a longer period of public consultations to build consensus”. More importantly, he said it required “better intentions”. Pointing out that the CAA happened after the abrogation of Article 370 and the Ram Mandir judgement, he asked, “Was it really necessary to shove another one down Muslim throats? Is that the deal the BJP has with its base? Every week is insult-a-Muslim week.”
Bhagat said that the combination of NRC and CAA can clearly be perceived as anti-Muslim or prejudiced against Muslims, because the CAA will provide everyone else a safety net if they are not included in the NRC but that safety net does not exist for Muslims.
Asked if despite the slogan ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas’ the BJP treats Muslims unfairly, Bhagat responded by saying that 85% of Hindus do not treat Muslims equals or fairly. He said they look upon Muslims as “the other”. He clearly accepted there is anti-Muslim prejudice, but insisted this must be seen in the context of the historical relationship between Hindus and Muslims.
Bhagat also spoke about what he called India’s obsession with Pakistan. He said, “It is harming us…When we compare ourselves to them we also equate ourselves to them. And if we consider Pakistan an equal aren’t we only insulting ourselves?”
The author also said that for many people, “hating Pakistan is an acceptable surrogate for hating Muslims”. He said there are many who, for reasons of etiquette and decorum, cannot express their dislike or antipathy for Muslims and instead, convert it into an attack on Pakistan.
Asked if anti-Muslim prejudice is growing, Bhagat said that it isn’t growing but it has come into the open and people are no longer hesitant or worried about expressing it freely. Asked if this public expression of anti-Muslim sentiment has increased after the election of 2014, Bhagat said it was probably due to the growth of social media, where people feel empowered to express views that otherwise they would have withheld.
Bhagat also spoke about Indian liberals. He said they have failed “to express themselves in a way India understands”. He said liberals see themselves as “superior” and “better” than others. He suggested they are transferring Western concepts and patterns of thinking on to Indian people without realising that these thoughts and ideas don’t work with an Indian population.
Speaking about the Congress party, Bhagat said, “The Congress was, is and will be the only real opposition to the BJP.” He said the party has to invigorate itself and become more challenging, and it can only do so by throwing up a popular democratically elected leader. He said the Congress needs its equivalent of Narendra Modi – a person who has the full support of the party as well as the qualities and capacity to appeal to the nation.
Bhagat said it was essential such a democratically elected leader also have the blessings of the Gandhi family.
Finally, asked for his assessment of Modi as prime minister, Bhagat particularly praised his handling of the COVID-19 crisis. However, he accepted that prior to COVID-19, the handling of the economy was “disappointing”. He refused to accept that under Modi, India is a more divided country.