After securing an emphatic mandate from the people, Prime Minister Narendra Modi felt emboldened to offer his new mantra to the nation. Speaking to National Democratic Alliance MPs in the central hall of parliament, to his old slogan of inclusivity, “Sabka saath, sabka vikas (in everyone’s support, for everyone’s development),” Modi added, “Sabka vishwas (win everyone’s trust).”
He emphasised the trust factor behind the verdict: “Indians have so much trust in us and as the trust increases, so does responsibility.” Modi acknowledged his obligation to restore trust in people, who reposed their trust in him.
In the same speech, Modi clarified who comprise the “everyone” in whom his government seeks to instil trust: “Those who were with us, we are with them too. Those who will be with us in the future, we are with them as well. Those who have kept their trusted in us today, we are with them too. Those whose trust we have to win in the future, we are with them as well.”
The idea of trust is made a governmental aspiration seeking to deliver its promise of inclusivity. It is meant for establishing political acceptability. Modi turns the economy of trust into a tool that helps to introduce an affective element into the interest-based relationship between political power and community.
In 1909, Gandhi wrote in Hind Swaraj: “There is mutual distrust between the two communities. The Mahomedans, therefore, ask for certain concessions from Lord Morley. Why should the Hindus oppose this? If the Hindus desisted, the English would notice it, the Mahomedans would gradually begin to trust the Hindus, and brotherliness would be the outcome.”
For Gandhi, mutual trust between communities serves as the prime motivation towards solving political disputes. Gandhi is concerned about trust between communities. Unlike Modi, who is trying to turn trust into his political capital, Gandhi’s politics of trust seeks to render trust to where it must truly belong: in societies of distrust.
Trust, in the Gandhian sense, is an endearing and enduring state of confidence between people and communities. In contrast, Modi’s idea of ensuring trust is governmental, where trust is capital in the service of power. It is necessary for Muslims and Hindus to trust each other, instead of the government.
In his May 28 interview to BBC, Pratap Bhanu Mehta succinctly drives home the political issue at stake between what I am arguing is Gandhi’s ethic of trust and Modi’s political interest in trust: “When people trust each other and distrust their leaders, you get democracy. When people distrust each other and completely trust their leaders, you get dictatorship.” In persuading Hindus to trust Muslims, Gandhi was striving for a more democratic society. Modi’s intentions are anti-democratic.
In his parliament address, Modi had a specific word on minorities in relation to trust:
“Deception has kept the minorities deluded and fearful… the deception of vote bank politics produced an imaginary fear, imaginary atmosphere… we must dig a hole into this deception, win their trust.”
It’s a foggy statement. To accuse vote bank politics for the “imaginary fear” of minorities is to unintendedly acknowledge that something else is responsible for the real fear of minorities. What is the name of that other politics that deludes minorities and keeps them in fear?
To answer that question one needs to go to the root of the BJP’s own politics. The party belongs to a larger ideological family comprising the Sangh parivar, with the RSS as its thought-body. Nation and nationalism are not just political ideas for the RSS, but are fundamental to how they conceive of the community. In his book We or Our Nationhood Defined, M.S. Golwalkar, calls the nation “hereditary territory”, with “certain indissoluble bonds of community.” Nation is understood as a territorialised community.
Citing the Nazi example, Golwalkar writes, “Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.” Golwalkar understands culture and race in similar terms, as identical constructs. He forwards an anti-assimilationist idea of the nation, rejecting the idea of living with difference. What does that makes of minorities in India? Golwalkar clearly thinks, apart from Hindus, all others are “traitors and enemies to the National cause.”
The echo of Golwalkar’s ideas can be found in some of the statements made by Modi and his deputy, Amit Shah, during the campaign for the 2019 general elections. In a rally in Guwahati, Modi said, in connection to the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam: India had the responsibility to rehabilitate “Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parses, Christians, and Hindus”, people who “faced persecution” and “came to India seeking refuge”. He made a political distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim refugees.
In September last year, Shah used the word “termites” for Muslim migrants from Bangladesh that caught the attention of the US State Department. People termed insects can be stripped of their natural rights, with no law to protect them. Their alarming predicament finds echo in Golwalkar, who held that minorities are “foreign elements” who deserve “no special protection”.
After election results were declared, Amartya Sen and Pankaj Mishra, among other Indian intellectuals around the world, aired their concern on BJP’s campaign of fear. Sen wrote how Modi “focused on the apprehensions and fears of Indian citizens”. Mishra rued the fact that the prime minister used “fear and loathing as his main political means”.
The apprehensions of fear for the minorities have come alive, as incidents of violence were reported immediately after the BJP regained power. On May 22, three Muslim youth was thrashed by cow vigilantes on the predictable allegation of carrying beef, and forced to say, “Jai Shri ram” in Seoni, Madhya Pradesh. On the same day, a 25-year-old man, Mohammad Barkat, was beaten up, and his skull cap was forcibly removed, and forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’, on his way back to his shop after offering namaz in Gurgaon, Haryana. On May 26, a Muslim man, Mohammad Qasim, was shot at in Begusarai, a district of Bihar, allegedly after the assailant asked him his name.
These incidents of violence and humiliation do not belong to the “imaginary” realm of fear that bothers the prime minister. It is time he spelt how he intends to tackle the real fear that minority face today in public spaces. The government must show political will to stop these gangs from undauntedly committing violence on Muslim citizens. Or else it will mean that the BJP is simply interested in cajoling its Hindu vote bank.
When BJP MP from Delhi, ex-cricketer Gautam Gambhir, took to Twitter to call the Gurgaon incident “deplorable” and stood by his prime minister’s assurance of trust, he was trolled by BJP supporters. He was advised by trolls not to “overreact”, “get carried away” and, most significantly, learn “where to speak and where not to speak”.
This is perhaps the most illuminating aspect of what Hindu-right politics has come to be in India today. Rightwing trolls are a component and symptom of Hindutva politics. They can attack even a BJP parliamentarian, if s/he crosses the political territory that divides Hindu and Muslim, the majority that rules the nation and the minority that deserves no empathy, support or trust.
These trolls are the vigilante of the social media. Along with gangs who attack Muslims in social spaces, the trolls attack anyone with contrarian views. They reduce debate to abuse. In days to come, faced with such intimidatory tactics unleashed by the rightwing machine, to speak or not to speak for minorities will remain the test for all those who are opposed to Hindutva’s politics of fear.
Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee is the author of Looking for the Nation: Towards Another Idea of India, published by Speaking Tiger Books (August 2018).