What the Rishi Means to Hindutva

Yes, there is reason for the Hindutva brigade to celebrate Rishi Sunak, a practising Hindu who has “conquered” Britain. But they turn a blind eye to the fact that a formally Christian but liberal UK has received with open arms a practising Hindu as their PM.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s visit to India evoked myriad comments. Modi bhakts went gaga over Rishi being a practising Hindu and paying obeisance at Akshardham temple, while the British media and parliamentarians took this as a sign of the accommodative and large-hearted British system. In today’s India, it reminded me of a comment by Arif Mohammad Khan.

In those days Arif, after splitting with V.P. Singh post-Mandal, had finally made it to the 12th Lok Sabha as a member of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Mayawati. The BJP had just come to power on the back of its militant Hindutva sloganeering of Mandir wahin banayenge and a subtle yet not so blasé anti-Muslim campaign. Nevertheless, the undercurrent was pretty evident even then. In a conversation with some journalist friends, Arif debunked the BJP’s campaign against Muslims: “How can Muslims be any threat to this government? No Muslim can ever aspire to be the Prime Minister of India.”

How true, though I doubt Arif, in his new saffron avatar, would like to be reminded of that comment anymore! But his prognosis has turned out to be truer than probably even he believed then. In any case, much water has flown down the Ganges since that short-lived 12th Lok Sabha, which lasted barely 13 months, as we approach the end of the 17th Lok Sabha with Prime Minister Narendra Modi having reinvented himself as the presiding pujari of Maa Ganga. To Modi’s credit, the number of Muslim members of the Lok Sabha, which rose to a record 34 in the 14the Lok Sabha  (2004-09) dwindled under Modi’s watchful eyes to a record low of 22 in the 16th Lok Sabha. More pertinent, Modi’s choice of UP’s Varanasi as his electoral Hindutva battlefield virtually wiped out Muslim representation from UP, which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. In the 2014 general elections, not a single Muslim was elected from UP. Later, towards the end of the 16th Lok Sabha, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, in alliance with the Samajwadi Party, sent up Begum Tabassum Hasan from its pocket borough of Kairana in May 2018, with exactly a year left for the term of that Lok Sabha to end. And in the 17th Lok Sabha a year later, the BJP recaptured that seat for their candidate Pradeep Kumar Choudhary.

Even in the late 1960s after the rise of the Jana Sangh, soon after Indira Gandhi became PM, the local general merchant would tell my mother, “Aur do Indira Gandhi ko vote, jao poochho Indira Gandhi se (Go and ask Indira Gandhi whom you voted for)” He presumed correctly that my mother, a Muslim government school teacher living in Timarpur Babu colony, would have voted Indira Gandhi. Even way back in the late 1960s, the Sanghis held Muslims responsible for their inability to rule India. That’s why their ultimate ambition was to make the Muslim vote irrelevant.

Till the 12th and 13th Lok Sabha, when the BJP captured power under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, in coalition with other “secular” parties, the Sangh’s dream of jettisoning the Muslim vote did not succeed. There were 27 Muslim MPs in the 12th Lok Sabha, with six from UP, six from West Bengal and five from Bihar. This was considerably higher than in the 11th Lok Sabha, which saw a left-secular United Front (UF) government with merely 24 Muslim members, including just four from UP and three from Bihar.

The 13th Lok Sabha was an even bigger disappointment for Sangh supporters of the Vajpayee-Advani-led NDA. That Lok Sabha threw up 28 Muslim members with seven from UP. Some consolation: there were only two from Bihar. But then Karnataka sent up two Muslims and even Maharashtra sent one to the 13th Lok Sabha.

The 14th Lok Sabha of the UPA, led by Sonia Gandhi, a Catholic by birth, and Dr Manmohan Singh as the country’s first Sikh PM, sent real shock waves among pseudo-nationalists. To make matters worse, Muslim representation touched an all-time high of 34, with nine MPs from UP and six from undivided Bihar, including one from the new state of Jharkhand. Karnataka sent up one, so did Maharashtra and even Tamil Nadu. The results of the 15th Lok Sabha were not so bad, with 25 Muslim MPs, but it was not to the satisfaction of those for whom Muslims are “termites” to be rid from Bharat Desh’ body politic.

With Modi, the Sangh dream finally came true, with not a single Muslim MP from UP and none from Karnataka or Maharashtra, forget Tamil Nadu. That is why when Modi won in May, 2014, the then international president of the VHP Ashok Singhal said in a press conference, “We have finally gained freedom after 1,000 years”. Modi has taken up the refrain, even in his public speeches abroad.

Yes, there is reason for the Hindutva brigade to celebrate Rishi Sunak, a practising Hindu who has “conquered” Britain. But they turn a blind eye to the fact that a formally Christian but liberal UK has received with open arms a practising Hindu as their PM. Forget about Muslims, remember how Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharti announced after the UPA won the general elections in 2004 , that they would shave their heads and sleep like Kaikeyi on the floor if Sonia ever became Prime Minister of India. Never mind whom the people had voted in.

Faraz Ahmad is a senior journalist in Delhi.