Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the Opening Plenary at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on January 23, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Denis Balibouse

The master of political rhetoric, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, spoke loudly to international leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week asserting that in his country democracy and diversity were not just a political system, but a way of living.

That statement seems worthy in theory, but in practice, Modi has fallen short of what he claimed at the august World Economic Forum.

Declining representation

What the 19th-century French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville called the “tyranny of the majority” has during the four years of Modi’s rule resulted in a total mockery of democracy. Muslim representation in Parliament is lacking. In the 16th Lok Sabha (lower house) there are just 23 Muslim MPs, or 4.2% of the total, the lowest proportion since 1957. According to the Muslim percentage of the population at 14.2%, there should be 77 MPs.

India’s democracy, in contrast to what the prime minister has claimed, will become non-inclusive if almost one-fifth (19.3%) of the country’s population comprising Muslims, Christians and Buddhists remains underrepresented in Parliament.

In Modi’s own cabinet of 66 ministers, there are only two Muslims. In his 12 years as chief minister of Gujarat, there was never a single Muslim minister in his cabinet.

In Uttar Pradesh state with its 19.2% Muslim population, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not field a single Muslim candidate among the 312 seats that it won in the 2017 state assembly elections.

The BJP – which has been in power in Gujarat for the last two decades – has shown little interest in being inclusive toward Muslims. The party fielded only one Muslim candidate in assembly elections back in 1998. In the state assembly polls in 2012 or even before that in 2007 and 2002, the BJP did not field any Muslim candidates. From 2002-2014, not a single Muslim was fielded by the party. This seems to make hollow Modi’s proclamation of “sabka saath sabka vikas” (collective effort, inclusive growth).

In government agencies

In the leading government organizations, institutions and agencies, minority representation is either nil or negligible. With the arrival of Narendra Modi as prime minister, India saw quick appointments of 14 members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to important positions, including in the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Of the 29 governors of Indian states, democratic India has a lone Muslim, Najma Heptulla (Manipur). Of the 36 directors general of police in Indian states and union territories, there is not a single Muslim DGP. The NITI Aayog, the country’s erstwhile planning commission and a premier institution, has no Muslims among its seven members.

These are but a few examples.

Divisive rhetoric at home

On his home turf, Modi’s political rhetoric has been entirely different from what he stated in Davos, and has been dominated by divisive and communal speeches to secure Hindu votes. During last year’s Gujarat Assembly election campaign, he attacked his rival Rahul Gandhi, linking the success of the Indian National Congress as with the arrival of “Aurangzeb raj” (Aurangzeb rule), clearly a minority-bashing, communal overture.

Modi has been a star orator since the 2002 Gujarat riots. His famous communal diatribe against the suffering Muslims during Gujarat Gaurav Yatra (Gujarat Pride Campaign) in 2002 read thus: “What should we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby-producing centers?” 

In an interview with Reuters, Modi made a metaphorical comment about the Gujarat riots: If “someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not?”

In election rallies, Modi, like a veteran classroom instructor, adopts a question-and-answer style to talk to large audiences to seek endorsement of his opinions and actions.

Speaking at an election rally on February 20, 2017, at Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh, while singling out the appeasement policy toward Muslims, he announced (as translated): “If there is electricity during Ramadan then it must be available during Diwali too,” and If there is a kabaristaan [graveyard], there should be a shamshaan [cremation ground] too.”

On August 20, 2002, Modi delivered an anti-Christian diatribe when he said: “Is James Michael Lyngdoh from Italy? Or is he helping Congress president Sonia Gandhi because he is also a Christian?” During 2002 election campaigns, Lyngdoh, the chief election commissioner of India at the time, had raised objections to Modi’s speeches.

In his paper “The Modi-centric BJP 2014 Election Campaign: New Techniques and Old Tactics” (Contemporary South Asia, 2015), French political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot wrote: “As early as December 2013 he had given a speech in Varanasi that showed that in UP, a crucial state, Hindutva, not democracy, would be the ‘backdrop’ of his campaign.”

Hatred speeches

Modi’s colleagues openly speak of Muslim-mukt Bharat (Muslim-free India). Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, a minister in the Modi cabinet, said at a public rally in December 2014, “It is you who must decide whether the government in Delhi will be run by the sons of Ramzde [followers of Ram, that is, Hindus] or by haraamzaade [bastards, that is, Muslims].

Sakshi Maharaj, an MP of Modi’s party, often delivers vituperative diatribes against minorities. Giriraj Singh, a minister in Modi’s government, threatened that all Muslims who opposed Modi should be sent to Pakistan.

In his article “Modi’s actions fail to live up to his words” in The Japan Times on July 6, 2017, Ramesh Thakur stated that Modi had boasted that 7,000 reforms had made India a place of “minimum government and maximum governance.” Yet in the World Bank’s 2017 report on the ease of doing business, India ranked a dismal 130th out of 190 countries. Three years into his five-year term, it is more accurate to describe Modi’s record as “maximum talk and boast, minimum action and results.”

In his radio program Mann Ki Baat (“Mind’s Voice”), Modi has touched on various topics, but he has never spoken on democracy being put aside during his regime. As a pupil of Guru Golwalkar, who declared in 1939 that Muslims and Christians of India belonged to foreign races and in order to stay in “Hindusthan” they “must either merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture or live at its mercy,” while talking of diversity of languages and cultures, Modi hardly does in practice what he claims.

M Shamsur Rabb Khan

M Shamsur Rabb Khan is assistant professor in the Department of English, King Khalid University, Abha, Saudi Arabia. He specializes in security issues, foreign relations and terrorism. He is writing a book on right-wing terror in India.

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