In an outspoken and critical interview which will upset the BJP government and enrage its supporters, Tavleen Singh has repeatedly compared the Narendra Modi government, its legislation and its attitude to Muslims to Nazi rule in Germany in the 1930s. She calls the Citizenship Amendment Act “India’s first Nuremberg law”. She repeatedly speaks of Modi’s attitude and treatment of Muslims alongside Hitler’s treatment of jews. She says just as Hitler’s Nuremberg laws singled out jews and treated them differently to other Germans so, too, does the Citizenship Amendment Act single out Muslims and treat them differently to other Indians.
In a 42-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire on her recently published book Messiah Modi?, Singh says that she has known for a long time that anti-Muslim prejudice is part of the DNA of the RSS, whom she calls the “alma mater” of Narendra Modi. She now fears that anti-Muslim prejudice is also part of Narendra Modi’s DNA. She says there were hints of this when he was chief minister of Gujarat and refused to wear a skull cap or compared the killings of Muslims in 2002 to a puppy being run over by a car. Those hints have become hard to refute when you look at his treatment of Muslims, particularly in Kashmir and through the CAA, in his second term.
She concludes the interview by saying that India is “on the verge of becoming an illiberal democracy” and although you can trace the process back to earlier governments it has sharply accelerated in the last six years under Narendra Modi. The change that she hoped for under Modi when he was elected in 2014 is not the change that India has experienced.
Singh says her attitude to Narendra Modi, which was one of admiration and support in 2013-14, became one of disappointment when he announced demonetisation in November 2016. She said this showed his “megalomania”. Worse, it was grounded in his “ignorance”. She says demonetisation was done simply to prove that he could do it without any consideration of its economic consequences and without consulting experts who could have differently advised him. The fact that even the cabinet was not informed was, she says, another illustration of how he was using power like a “megalomaniac”.
However her disappointment in Modi turned to disillusionment with the lynching of Pehlu Khan in April 2017. She said this was “barbarism”. The worst part, she said, was the absolute unbroken silence from the Prime Minister. This suggested that he didn’t want to offend his supporters by criticising what they had done. So rather than speak up and say the right and proper thing, which is what would have been expected from the Prime Minister, he chose to keep silent and not annoy his supporters. Tavleen Singh also said that this reflected the DNA of the RSS who are “his alma mater”. She fears that Modi has absorbed the RSS’s dislike of Muslims. She fears it’s in his “DNA”.
On one occasion when she met the prime minister and asked why he was not speaking up, he told her that if he did he would have to do so on every occasion. She agreed that this meant he was failing to show moral leadership particularly when India needed it. She said this was because “he did not want to”.
She said there were two further developments that converted her initial disappointment with Modi into disillusionment. The first was the suit he wore in January 2015 with his name woven into the cloth. Till then she believed he had a spiritual dimension and was free of acquisitiveness and attachment to possessions. The suit showed that he was vain and even hypocritical.
The second was the appointment of Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The UP CM is unabashedly anti-Muslim and this appointment suggested that either this was not a problem for Modi or even that he agreed with such thinking.
However, it was two political events in the last six months of 2019 which tipped her disappointment into full-fledged disillusionment with Modi. The first was the way Article 370 was abrogated. While she agreed with the need to do so, Singh said Modi should have consulted the Kashmiris. More importantly, he should have taken advice from experts who know the complexity of Kashmir. Instead, he had, like demonetisation “once again, acted in ignorance”.
As a result he had made the Kashmiri people raise questions about their attachment and commitment to India, he had given a fillip to Imran Khan and Pakistan’s anti-India propaganda and badly lowered India’s international image. She also felt that the use of Article 370 “as a test of patriotism” in the Maharashtra and Haryana elections was a big mistake. It also added to the targeting of Kashmiris by the rest of the country.
However, it was the Citizenship Amendment Act which completely shook Tavleen Singh’s faith in Modi. She called it “India’s first Nuremberg law”. She repeatedly spoke of Modi’s treatment of Indian Muslims alongside Hitler’s treatment of German jews in the 1930s. She writes in her book “since the beginning of Modi’s second term it can no longer be said that Muslims have the same rights as other citizens”. In the interview she said that she feared Modi was now exhibiting his antipathy and dislike of Muslims whereas earlier he had been able to cover it up.
Finally, Tavleen Singh firmly and passionately denied that her disappointment and disillusionment with Modi was motivated by his treatment of her son Aatish and the fact he has been stripped of his overseas citizenship. She said all of that happened three-four months ago whereas her book has taken a lot longer to write. She also says that her columns in the Indian Express have shown (over the last three years) how her opinion of Modi has steadily changed. She said that whilst it was not true that she has turned against Modi because of his treatment of Aatish its, at least, partly true to say that Aatish has suffered mistreatment at the hands of the government because of her increasing criticism of the government.
The above is a paraphrased precis of Tavleen Singh’s interview to The Wire. Please watch the full interview for accurate details. Here is the link: