Reports about an indiscriminate crackdown on Muslims across India are a cause for concern. Indian police’s unchecked assault on the life, liberty and basic rights of Muslim citizens will only create further splits in Indian society. In the recent spate of violence, two teenagers have been killed by police in the eastern city of Ranchi while sporadic riots have taken place in northern Uttar Pradesh state, which led to the arrests of over 300 people. The context for this upturn in violence was irresponsible statements against Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The remarks by BJP leadership provoked the Muslims in various parts of India into protests, while a strong response was given by Muslim states, including Pakistan. It is disheartening to note that the political climate of India has not relented from its increasingly inflammatory flirtations with communal agitation. India’s founding party, Congress under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, had imagined the country as a ‘secular heaven’ which would unite its enviably diverse population under the banner of love for motherland. However, there has always a tension between the secularizing tendencies of the Congress and the rightwing Hindutva espousing forces like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since the beginning, and the assassination of India’s spiritual leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1948 by a far-right Hindu nationalist only served to emphasise this tension. Until the 1980s Hindutva as a political movement remained on the margins, but in the recent decade, BJP has come into power due to its ‘commitment’ to hardliner Hindu nationalism and to promote religious fanaticism.
The tide that was unleashed by this religion baiting politics led to the 1992 demolition of the Babri Mosque – an event which set off years of communal strife between Hindus and Muslims as attacks and counterattacks persisted. Now, the second phase of BJP, under more firebrand Narendra Modi, has given birth to another wave of communal riots and the state is headed for what can be an even worse moment of religious conflict. Modi’s denials about being responsible for the escalation of communal violence and India’s increasingly alarming flirtations with fascism because he is sitting at the centre while these actions are taking place on a supposedly local level are ludicrous. Modi, as a product of RSS, is directly responsible for enabling a distinctly anti-democratic and fascist climate in which extremist hardliners flourish. History confirms that he was ‘known’ and ‘respected’ due to Godhra and Ahmedabad – two cities that saw the worst anti-Muslim violence in the 2002 Gujarat riots when Modi was the chief minister. It seems as if India’s descent into full-blown fascism under the premiership of Narendra Modi is frighteningly only a matter of time. When he was elected as PM, many observers hoped against hope that being in charge of a federation would bring out a more tolerant and reasonable Modi but evidence has so far failed to justify that hope. There is still time to step back from this dangerous and divisive path to prevent India from being engulfed in flames.