Muslims in India: A minister indulges in smoke and mirrors

Irrespective of whether they succeed in convincing the foreigners, the reactions in India to the minister’s assertion will range from amusement to derision, writes Amulya Ganguli for South Asia Monitor

Amulya Ganguli Apr 23, 2020

The secret behind being economical with the truth is that the falsehood has to be outrageous enough to shock and awe the audience into silence. In Joseph Goebbels’ view, “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”. So the trick is the enormity of the fib.

A substantial number of people are likely to put India's Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s claim that India is a “heaven” for Muslims in the category of the “big lie”. He had earlier said that the Muslims in India - who comprise 14 per cent of the population - are not “majboor” (helpless), but are living in “mauj” (happiness).

That observation five months ago was in the context of the protests against the various citizenship laws that had either been enacted or were in the pipeline. He then trotted out the familiar government line that the Muslims had nothing to fear from these legal measures. The reason was that they were either directed against the non-Muslim minorities in neighbouring Islamic countries or against the illegal Muslim immigrants living in India.

Now, Naqvi has gone a step further to assert that India is a “heaven” for the Muslims because of the prevailing “secularism and harmony”, which, according to him, were not a “political fashion” but a “perfect passion” in the country.

It is believed that this claim has been made in the wake of the accusation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) about the growing Islamophobia in India, especially after the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in a New Delhi mosque was alleged to have spread the coronavirus in various parts of the country.

It is not only the OIC which has expressed concern over the targeting of the minorities  by Hindu zealots, the US state department, too, has noted with disapproval the “corona jehad” charge voiced by the pro-government television channels. Not surprisingly, much of the time of the Indian diplomats has had to be spent on explaining to sceptical foreign officials that India remains committed to its “passion” for secularism.

Irrespective of whether they succeed in convincing the foreigners, the reactions in India to the minister’s assertion will range from amusement to derision. Only the BJP and its supporters are likely to endorse what he has said. Others will wonder whether Naqvi is simply parroting the party line like a faithful apparatchik or whether he really believes in what he has said.

If it is the latter, it means that he is living in a dream world. For one, the saffron brotherhood’s animus towards the Muslims has been the cornerstone of its worldview ever since the Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was set up 95 years ago. Fundamentalist organizations outside the Sangh Parivar like the Hindu Mahasabha also subscribe to the belief that the Muslims constitute “internal enemies No 1”, as M.S. Golwalkar, the second RSS chief, decreed.

For another, the BJP ministers and its netizens have been relentlessly engaged in demonizing the Muslims with ever-increasing ferocity from the time of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the 1990s whey they were accused of crimes ranging from invading India in the 8th century to destroying temples to finally partitioning the country in 1947.

The intensity of the attacks on the Muslims increased in the aftermath of the BJP’s victory in the parliamentary elections of 2014. Initially, the Muslims were the victims of lynching by the gau rakshaks (protectors of cows) and of aggressive campaigns to reconvert them back to Hinduism via homecoming or ghar wapsi programmes or were villified for seducing Hindu women via what the saffronites called “love jehad” operations.

After the BJP’s 2019 success in the parliamentary polls, there was a ratcheting up of the party’s anti-Muslim venom with the protesters against the citizenship measures being described as jehadis who would rape and kill Hindu women and establish Caliphate 2.0. The BJP’s vitriol reached fever-pitch during the campaign for the Delhi assembly elections which were touted by a BJP leader as an India-Pakistan confrontation. This equation of Hindus with India and Muslims with Pakistan was similar to U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s identification of the two communities with Bajrang Balis, or followers of Lord Hanuman, and Alis, a common Musliim surname.

Even the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t dissuaded the BJP from pursuing its belligerent Hindutva agenda as can be seen from the arrests of those accused of having participated in the anti-citizenship law protests or journalists in Kashmir who have posted contents on the social media which have not been to the BJP’s liking.

In an interview before the former vice-president, Hamid Ansari, stepped down from office, he had said that the Muslims were living in fear in India. As a Muslim, he must have had some inkling of the community’s apprehensions. Naqvi, however, has a totally different view although he is also a Muslim. Either Ansari was overstating his case or Naqvi is using smoke and mirrors. It is possible that India at present is neither heaven nor hell for Muslims.

But If the incidents of lynching and the virulent anti-Muslim diatribes which mark the views of the Hindutva netizens are taken into account, Naqvi would appear to be following in the footsteps of the Nazi propaganda minister who believed in the efficacy of the "big lie".

(The writer on current affairs analyst. The views expressed are personal and not necessarily shared by the editors)