With India’s general election set to begin on Monday, the BJP is widely expected to secure victory and its controversial leader, Narendra Modi, to become the country’s next prime minister. Amrit Wilson reports.

By Amrit Wilson

‘Modiji, is like Lord Krishna’, an elderly woman admirer of Narendra Modi, the Hindu Right’s Prime Ministerial candidate in India’s forthcoming elections, tells me outside the Hindu temple in Neasden, North London, ‘he is everywhere and everyone loves him  – people like me love him because he is traditional and young people love him too.’ In a way it is true, like Lord Krishna (or the ‘blue god’ as UK’s multicultural school curriculum calls him), Modi is indeed everywhere -at least on the internet. He is on Facebook, twitter, tumblr, stumbleonit. You name it, and he is there: speaking directly to his admirers.

It is true also that he is a traditionalist of sorts. His version of tradition comes largely from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organisation modelled on Mussolini’s Black Brigades, where Modi began his political life, and from the Sangh Parivar the sinister ‘family of organisations’ to which belong both the RSS and Modi’s political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), along with cultural organisations and a number of other violent paramilitary outfits such as the Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal.

In Gujarat, where Modi has been Chief Minister since 2001, these ‘traditions’ led to the state-sponsored massacres of Muslims in February 2002 in which some 2,000 people were murdered and 200,000 displaced. Court cases are still being heard which accuse Modi of complicity, including one filed by Zakia Jafri, whose husband Ahsan Jafri, a former MP, was brutally murdered in the violence. The family of two British citizens, Saeed and Sakil Dawood, who were murdered in Gujarat while on holiday in 2002 are also pursuing a civil case against Modi.

The violence was, as the  British High Commissioner noted at the time in a leaked report,  ‘planned, possibly months in advance, … with the support of the state government…. reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims is impossible while the chief minister [Narendra Modi] remains in Gujarat.’

Women and children were specifically targeted  in the pogrom. As feminist academic Tanika Sarkarwrote:

‘The pattern of cruelty suggests three things. One, the woman’s body was a site of almost inexhaustible violence, with infinitely plural and innovative forms of torture. Second, their sexual and reproductive organs were attacked with a special savagery. Third, their children, born and unborn, shared the attacks and were killed before their eyes’.

The aftermath of the violence, too, was managed by the state. As Sarkar noted:

‘Bodies were not just massacred, they disappeared, as did houses, shrines, mosques. Overnight, roads were laid, and Hindu temples were built where Muslim homes used to be. Identities disappeared as well, for refugees in relief camps have neither documents nor identification papers of any sort to prove that they ever had property, jobs, bank balances, land, families, Indian citizenship.”

In the years that have passed since 2002, Modi has never expressed any regret for what happened in Gujarat, stating, when asked about his feelings, that he felt as sad as an occupant of a car that runs over a puppy. The Sangh Parivar which declared Gujarat ‘the Laboratory of the Hindu State’ has repeated this experiment in Odisha, in 2007, in an anti-Christian pogrom, and again most recently against Muslims in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh during Modi’s election campaign.

In Muzaffarnagar, as in Gujarat, the violence was carefully planned. Here Jat Hindus and Muslims had lived in harmony for decades. But last summer, Amit Shah, Narendra Modi’s right-hand man and the Home Minister of Gujarat state, was put in charge of Modi’s election campaign in Uttar Pradesh (a key swing state) and the forces of the Sangh Parivar began to create conflict between the two communities.

The tension had already built up when the actual trigger for violence occurred. It was a comparatively minor incident the details of which are unclear to most people in the area. As journalist Neha Dixit writes ‘a Muslim boy … ‘eve-teased’ a Jat girl (though some say it was a traffic-related incident)’. The boy was killed by the girl’s cousin and brother and they in turn were killed by Muslims. The storm troopers of the Sangh Parivar then began to whip up a frenzy of anti-Muslim hatred, with inflamatory speeches, fake videos and other materials portraying Muslims as aggressors and potential violators of Jat womanhood. Soon, mass meetings of sword-brandishing Sangh Parivar activists were held where slogans urging Hindus to save their daughters and restore their honour were followed by ones urging Hindu men to abduct and rape Muslim women. The violence against Muslim women in Muzaffarnagar was horrific, following similar patterns of cruelty to events in Gujarat.

What is the history of these organisations of the Hindu Right which are aiming to take control of India as a whole? The origins of their ideas are not in India’s ancient history as they claim, but deeply colonial: they emerged in the 19th century, informed by the British rulers’ ‘scriptural’ and elite-based interpretations of Hinduism, and their deliberate policies of divide-and-rule in response to the first war of independence of 1857. The strategic British rewriting of Indian history as an age-old struggle between Hindus and Muslim ‘invaders’ was adopted wholesale by the ideologues of Hindu supremacy, and continues to be used to target India’s Muslims as ‘enemies’ and ‘outsiders’.

While the RSS was established in the 1920s, in opposition to the anti-colonial movement, the other organisations of the Sangh Parivar have emerged after Indian independence in 1947. However, it is in the period after 1991 – when India, then ruled by the Congress Party (the BJP’s main rival, currently in power at the centre under Manmohan Singh), embraced neoliberalism – that the Hindu Right became a force to be reckoned with. The BJP’s specific form of nationalism, however, was not a reaction to neoliberalism, rather it shaped itself to fit in with it. The Congress’s record – its anti-Muslim communalism for example, and its pogrom against Sikhs in 1984 – had also acclimatised the electorate for the far-right BJP’s more systematic anti-minority politics.

In 1992, the Sangh Parivar launched a campaign to demolish the Babri Masjid, a 500-year-old mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. The actual demolition was planned carefully in advance by the RSS with the knowledge of senior BJP leaders, and in December that year a mob of 15,000 Sangh Parivar activists, led by senior BJP leaders such as L.K.Advani, actually destroyed this beautiful building,sparking violence between Hindus and Muslims across the country that claimed some 900 lives. Against this background, the BJP rose to power and, between 1998 and 2004, ruled India in alliance with a number of other parties. This was a period during which it took the opportunity to systematically penetrate state institutions and build a framework for fascistic interventions that remains intact.

The BJP also continued to try to reshape India’s syncretic culture. Most strikingly, it has attempted  to transform Hinduism itself from a religion which had the capacity to absorb ideas and beliefs, and had no fixed religious book, into a monolithic faith. To this end, the storm troopers of the Hindu Right have demolished not only the shrines of Sufi saints and poets, who had many Hindu followers (the tomb of the well-known 18th century Urdu Poet Wali  Gujarati in Ahmadabad being one example), but also temples to Hindu Gods whose origins are in indigenous religions or those worshipped by the so-called ‘low’ castes.

This new version of Indian history, culture and tradition and Hindu religion is being used in school textbooks in the Indian states ruled by the BJP. It is also increasingly finding its way, in an airbrushed and neatly packaged form, into multicultural aspects of curricula in British schools and other representations of India in the West.

With the election starting on Monday, Modi is desperately trying to play down the many court cases which implicate him and those closest to him. These include not only the cases arising from the Gujarat massacres but the stalking of a young woman through the surveillance machinery of the Gujarat state at the behest of Narendra himself. The stalking was supervised by Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah; and that this happened under the orders of Modi is clear from what are now known in India as the ‘snoopgate tapes’. In one, for example, Amit Shah informs Gujarat Police official G.I.Singhal, who had been given the task of recording the woman’s movements, that ‘Saheb’ has told him she will be going to lunch with a young man and that they must be watched. In another, Shah chides Singhal for his errors, indicating that ‘Saheb’ (Modi) would be displeased.

If this is not considered damaging to Narendra Modi’s reputation, there are other, far more sinister, cases going through the courts too, among them the abduction, torture in a private farmhouse, and murder of 19-year-old college student Ishrat Jahan and three others in a so-called  ’encounter killing’. The Gujarat police alleged that Ishrat and her associates were terrorists involved in a plot to assassinate Modi. But in 2009 an Ahmedabad Metropolitan court finally ruled that the encounter was fabricated and, in July last year, India’s Central Bureau of Intelligence filed its first charge sheet saying that the shooting was a staged encounter carried out in cold blood.

The chilling truth, that Ishrat Jahan and many others were murdered simply to boost Modi’s popularity, is now emerging. As the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association notes, between 2002 and 2007:

‘Modi’s super cop D.G. Vanzara eliminated a series of “terrorists” on mission to Gujarat to assassinate Modi. Sadiq Jamal (2003), Ishrat Jahan (2004), Sohrabuddin Shaikh (2005), Tulsiram Prajapati (2006). Years later it has emerged that these were cold-blooded executions… Vanzara and his gang of men are since then in jail (and Gujarat didn’t see any more attempts on the life of its Chief Minister). These fake encounters however helped Modi build his image as the Hindu Hriday samrat [king of hearts] – forever in the firing line of “Islamic terrorists”‘

These deaths are still haunting Modi, who does not want them discussed in Gujarat. Last week, five jeep-loads of police officers prevented film maker Gopal Menon from showing his documentary about encounter killings in Ahmedabad.

In the eyes of corporate bosses, however, all this does not matter. In fact, Modi’s image as a strong man who can sideline the law is seen by them as an advantage. Currently, transnational companies are targeting India in a massive land-grab. India’s central belt is crawling with mining companies like Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, South Korea’s POSCO, the British multinational Vedanta  and the Indian-owned Essar and Tatas, eager for the coal, iron, aluminium and other minerals under the ground.

Here, forests which are a source of livelihood for local people, fertile agricultural land and sacred sites are being taken over, whole villages uprooted and  thousands of indigenous people are being robbed of their homes, livelihoods and culture. Many of these companies are also ignoring environmental laws and destroying the land itself, not only in the present but for generations to come, as they rip off the topsoil and pollute rivers and streams for miles with toxic effluents and poisonous mud.

The corporates know that if Modi comes to power nationally he will smooth their path far more effectively than the Congress Party has done. They can see from experiences in Gujarat that they will be given land at a pittance, that  tax regulations and environmental and labour laws will be ignored and, more than anything, Modi’s ruthlessness will mean that he will crush all dissent, particularly the people’s movements which have been resisting this massive looting of their land. ‘Encounter killings’ are already widespread in the mineral-rich belt of India, but Modi will have no qualms in intensifying this form of warfare.

Experiences of the communities destroyed in these corporate land-grabs, and the apparently very different experiences of women and children in the context of the Hindu Right’s anti-Muslim and anti-Christian pogroms, may seem worlds apart, but they are  two inseparable aspects of the politics of Narendra Modi. While triumphal Hindu supremacism provides this version of fascism with a base built on fear and intimidation, its ruthlessness on behalf of, and complete identification with, corporate capital means that it can draw sustenance from and be celebrated by financial institutions and western governments.

Amrit Wilson is a writer and activist on issues of race and gender in Britain and South Asian politics. She is a founder member of South Asia Solidarity Group and the Freedom Without Fear Platform, and board member of Imkaan, a Black, South Asian and minority ethnic women’s organisation dedicated to combating violence against women in Britain


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