“Muslims should not stay in India,” if a lawmaker in India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to be believed. This remark from member of Parliament Vinay Katiyar is the latest in a series of provocative statements targeting the nation’s Muslim minority. The lack of any public rebuke from Prime Minister Narendra Modi has added credence to these statements, say political opponents.
Katiyar was quoted by ANI as saying, “Why do the Muslim need to stay in this country when a partition was created based on [the religions of the] population? They were given a separate piece of land. So they should go to Pakistan or Bangladesh; what purpose do they have here?”
Katiyar’s remarks followed a comment from his parliamentarian colleague Asaduddin Owaisi, who is also the president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). Owaisi demanded that a law be created to punish people who call Indian Muslims “Pakistanis,” which he argued was an insult to them.
Just before the latest controversy, Katiyar, a senior BJP member, got into hot water by saying that the Taj Mahal should become the Tejo Mahal, a temple for the Hindu god Shiva. He is the third senior BJP member to spawn the theory that the iconic Taj Mahal was actually a Shiva temple built by a Hindu king and later annexed by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It was another attempt to demonize the Mughal era as inimical to the majority Hindus.
Katiyar’s comments seem to be part of a deliberate campaign to keep voters polarized ahead of next year’s general elections. There is growing violence against religious minorities, especially Muslims. Several top BJP personnel have repeatedly described Muslims as non-Indian along with making the Hindu religion central to Indian identity.
Portraying and treating Muslims as the “other” in India is quite an old ploy and forms the crux of the BJP, which grew out of the Hindu-nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
In 1966, RSS ideologue M S Golwalkar wrote in his book Bunch of Thoughts that “all over the country wherever there is a masjid [mosque] or a Muslim mohalla [colony], the Muslims feel that it is their own independent territory,” and he called such places “miniature Pakistans.” This legacy seems to be back in force under the current regime as more reports of attacks on minorities emerge.
Last year, BJP lawmaker Sakshi Maharaj blamed India’s population boom on Muslims. “The population rise is not because of Hindus. Population has risen due to those who support the concept of four wives and 40 children,” he said, alluding at Muslim families.
The BJP was forced to dissociate itself from his comments. Sakshi Maharaj was echoing the perspective of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia, who had expressed worry at the increasing Muslim population in India and said “Hindus must act immediately so that India remains a Hindu majority nation.” The VHP is an allied organization of the extended Sangh family of RSS, of which the BJP is the de facto political wing.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has also reminded Indians on several occasions that his organization views India as a Hindu nation. “Whose country is Germany? … It is a country of Germans, Britain is a country of Britishers, America is a country of Americans, and in the same way Hindustan is a country of Hindus. It does not mean that Hindustan is not the country of other people,” he said. Other than “Hindu,” every group mentioned by Bhagwat was a nationality, not a religious identity.
There has been an alarming rise in vigilantism under various pretexts since the BJP came to power in May 2014. Several Muslims have been fatally lynched in various parts of the country on the suspicion of eating or transporting beef
In Golwalkar’s book, a chapter titled “Internal Threats” identifies Muslims and Christians as the first and second threats. Communists are mentioned as the third threat to India. The RSS ideologue starts the chapter with the obvious painting of Muslims as enemies of India: “It has been the tragic lesson of the history of many a country in the world that the hostile elements within the country pose a far greater menace to national security then aggressors from outside.”
There has also been an alarming rise in vigilantism under various pretexts since the BJP came to power in May 2014. Several Muslims have been fatally lynched in various parts of the country on the suspicion of eating or transporting beef. Some fundamentalist Hindus see the cow as a holy animal and therefore oppose the consumption of beef. This has led to several cases of violence between Hindus and Muslims.
Official statistics reveal that Muslims were victims of 52% of violence related to issues over beef and cows between 2010 and mid-2017. Muslims also comprised 84% of the 25 Indians who were killed in 60 incidents.
Interestingly, as many as 97% of the bovine-related attacks were reported after the Modi government came to power in May 2014. An Amnesty International report of 2017 says that between April and June of that year, at least 10 Muslim men were killed by lynch mobs or were victims of hate crimes.
Additionally, a joint report by two Indian rights groups shows that there has been steep rise in communal violence, especially directed against Muslims, since the BJP won the 2014 election.
In September 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq, a resident of India’s largest and most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, was killed by a lynch mob who suspected he was storing beef. BJP MP Tarun Vijay asserted that the Hindu community was responsible for maintaining peace in the region, in the aftermath of the lynching. “Why responsibility to keep peace and maintain calm is always put on the Hindus alone? Be a victim and maintain silence in face of assaults!!” He tweeted. He is also a former editor of the RSS’s weekly magazine.
These provocative statements by the BJP’s senior leadership seem to have the tacit approval of the prime minister, Narendra Modi. He has recently been criticized for association with abusive right-wing trolls indulging in hate speech online.
During his stint as the chief minister of Gujarat state, he infamously compared Muslims who had been killed or displaced by the 2002 communal riots under his watch to puppies. This led to outrage, but has never been clarified by the PM.