The letter written by 49 celebrities, mostly representing the film industry, to the prime minister about mob lynching, appears to have created a greater stir among the BJP’s supporters than similar missives penned earlier by groups of retired bureaucrats.
Even the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has stepped into the fray, noting a “conspiracy” to defame the Hindus by the lynch mobs. The letter had referred to incidents of individuals being waylaid and forced to chant the “war cry”, Jai Shri Ram, if they did not want to be beaten up, often to death.
Before Bhagwat’s intervention, there was a rebuttal by more than 60 pro-Narendra Modi film personalities, who condemned the “selective outrage” of the 49 in view of their silence over the acts of atrocities committed by non-BJP groups, such as those which led to the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the valley.
The criticism of the pro-BJP group, who have been dubbed government “stooges” by a prominent social and political worker, has been accompanied by the customary depiction of the 49 as anti-nationals in league with the ubiquitous “tukde tukde gang” of “urban Naxals” who want to break the country into pieces.
A possible reason for the outrage in saffron political circles is the fear that the letter will fuel the belief in the Western media about the deteriorating communal situation in India which has already led to critical comments in publications like the Time and The Economist magazines.
Related to this fear is the apprehension in the Hindutva ranks that the unfavourable comments of the distinguished film personalities as well as historians will deter foreign industries from investing in India. As it is, the economic scene has been a cause of worry with one of the government’s advisors on economic policy speaking of a “silent fiscal crisis” afflicting the country.
Already, there have been reports that as many as 23,000 millionaires have left India since the Modi government’s assumption of power in 2014, with India now standing third in the number of emigrants behind China and Russia. Last year, 5,000 of the “super rich” left India.
This is not a good advertisement for the country, which is now considering imposing a surcharge on this group. For all the claims, therefore, about India’s rapid growth taking it towards a $ 5 trillion economy, the scene is not as bright as the government would like to portray.
What it needs is a favourable image which will attract investors. But if sections of the intelligentsia continue to harbour deep misgivings about the ruling party’s policy towards the minorities, the corporate sector both at home and abroad will not be enthused.
As a step towards assuring the minorities, the government has announced scholarships for five crore Muslim students while the budget allocation for Muslims appearing in Union Public Service Commission examinations has been increased. These endeavours are obviously in keeping with Modi’s new sabka vishwas slogan pledging to earn everyone’s trust.
To what extent these initiatives dispel the disquiet among the minorities, remains to be seen. But side-by-side with them, the occasional lynchings along with the intention of extending the ambit of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) from Assam to the rest of the country carry the threat of proving the onus on Muslims to prove that they are Indian citizens.
Although directed against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, who have undoubtedly created a demographic problem in Assam, the NRC operations have had an unsettling impact on thousands of Muslims – both locals and aliens – who have lived for decades in the state. This is all the more so because of the aggressive language used by the BJP stalwarts, calling the immigrants “termites” or “Jinnahs”.
Taken together with a similar assertive attitude towards abrogating Articles 370 and 35A relating to Kashmir, the government’s outlook on Muslims can hardly seem reassuring to them, scholarships or no scholarships.
It is obvious that on two counts – the economy and the minorities – the government is facing a difficult task of restoring confidence and claiming that all is well. What must be bothering it is that despite securing a huge majority, it is unable to move ahead rapidly in a chosen direction because it is hamstrung by the two major problems.
Of them, the economy is of prime concern, especially when the previously booming automobile sector is feeling the pinch of the downturn with one million job cuts in the offing. With the unemployment figures having touch a four-decade high, the entry of more job seekers into the market will be extremely worrying.
Despite the constraints on the economic front, the BJP won the last general election on the basis of its nationalistic propaganda. The air strikes on Pakistan following the Pulwama tragedy where 40 police personnel were killed undoubtedly boosted the BJP’s electoral prospects. But the party cannot play the same patriotic card too often. It has to find ways and means of defusing the communal situation to enable the economy to find its feet via more investments, both foreign and domestic.