Why Rahul Gandhi says India will 'burn' if BJP returns to power

We don’t want to admit that many of us feel safe from this fire of hatred and violence directed at Muslims, writes Apoorvanand

Rahul Gandhi (foreground) in Telangana (photo: @RahulGandhi/X)
Rahul Gandhi (foreground) in Telangana (photo: @RahulGandhi/X)


Is Rahul Gandhi being an alarmist when he warns that a third term for the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi will see fires raging in the country, that it will be a real catastrophe for India? Is he indulging in ‘unwarranted spectre-peddling’, as a section of big media would have you believe, when he expresses his fear that if the BJP wins this election, it will change the Constitution, which will tear the country apart?

It must have taken great courage for these media players to even cover the rally of the INDIA bloc parties at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, where Rahul Gandhi made this inflammatory reference. To quell the conditioned reflex of keeping the focus on Modi and blocking out the Opposition couldn’t have been easy. But Rahul Gandhi’s ‘apocalyptic’ warning was too much for the commentariat that likes to take a ‘measured’ and ‘balanced’ view of everything.

In a house ravaged by fire, they’d like to assure us that the heavens are not falling, the roof and walls are still intact, and there is no need to panic. So, when Rahul Gandhi presses the panic button, they run him down: after all, it doesn’t behoove a senior leader like him to indulge in such scaremongering.

Poore desh mein aag lagne jaa rahi hai (fires will rage in the country),” he said. Hyperbole, you think? Or justifiably strong words, unpalatable to our delicate bellies that have got used to a diet of ‘balanced’ words? I felt like telling him that the fire is raging already, though sadly a large section of India is not yet feeling the heat.

We don’t want to admit that many of us feel safe from this fire, the fire of hatred and violence directed at the Muslims of this country. If you got close and looked inside the hearts of Muslims, you’d see what this fire is doing to their spirit. Many of us don’t see it, perhaps because Muslims do not trust that their pain is palpable to the rest of us.

Iftar with a difference

Some days ago, I attended an unusual iftar. It was especially for the family members of those who have been in jail for the past four years in the Delhi violence conspiracy case. Javed Mohammad sahab joined us.

News editors who are upset with Rahul Gandhi must have forgotten Javed. He is from Allahabad and was arrested by the UP police after protests against BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s obscene remarks on the Prophet. Javed sahab, who actively worked with the police and administration for peace, was declared a ‘mastermind’ and incarcerated. The house he lived in was demolished. It was not even his house; it had been gifted to his wife by her parents.

Javed was jailed, his family rendered homeless. Did we, sitting in Delhi, inhale the dust that rose from the house when the JCB and bulldozers razed it? It was not a catastrophe even for his mohalla (neighbourhood), or for Allahabad — no, it certainly wasn’t the Apocalypse.

Javed spoke at the iftar. I was shocked to hear his soft, measured voice. He did not sound angry, or bitter. This is what we want. No bitterness from those who are violated, only understanding. He did not sound like he was complaining. Why, he even said spending some time in jail would do us all some good. We would then see that there are people in situations more miserable than ours. He thanked all those present for their solidarity.

We heard from a young woman whose father is spending his fourth year in jail after being arrested by the Delhi Police in the 2020 Delhi violence conspiracy case. She was also not bitter. Then there was Syed Qasim Rasool Ilyas, father of Umar Khalid, a brilliant mind, about to complete his fourth year in jail, for being, in the words of the Delhi Police, one of the ‘masterminds’ of the 2020 Delhi violence.

Ilyas didn’t sound bitter either. He did speak about his son, but also asked us to fight for democracy. No, he wasn’t angry.

Beyond ‘our’ world

There could have been scores of iftars like this one across the country with those whose houses have been bulldozed, whose family members have been arrested or killed. Think Haldwani, in Uttarakhand. Or Assam, where it is a daily experience, especially for Bengali-speaking Muslims, to be evicted from homes they have lived in for decades, to be constantly on tenterhooks. Imagine yourself in the situation of the Muslims of Assam, who have to listen to their chief minister insulting, humiliating, threatening them every day.

I got a call from the lawyers who are trying to revive the case of the murder of Junaid. His face must have faded from the memories of our editors and commentators. A 15-year-old boy murdered by a crowd of Hindus on a moving train. The murderer roams free, boasting of his great feat in disposing of a Muslim.

Imagine yourself as a Muslim switching on the TV and watching anchors spew hate against Muslims and concoct dangerous conspiracy theories. Or as a Muslim who is kicked by policemen while he prays.

Did these editors feel like cancelling their tickets after a policeman, paid to protect passengers, killed three Muslims on a moving train, because they were Muslim? But many Muslims did. Were they being needlessly panicky? After all, was not this triple murder an exception?

Why should the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) alarm Muslims? And why does talk of a National Register of Citizens worry them? Why should they feel slighted by the triple talaq law? And should they feel threatened by a Uniform Civil Code?

Beyond forwarding hate texts

An ex-Navy man visited me recently. He spoke about the two WhatsApp groups of Services people he is part of. He said he was amazed to see the hatred for Muslims on these groups. He had experienced it while in service, but had brushed it aside as an exception.

After reading the messages on these groups, he realised the sentiment, though latent, may always have been there. This regime has now inflamed those prejudices. It has emboldened them to openly peddle hate, they know there are more ready to join them.

Rahul Gandhi was not being an alarmist when he warned of the tragedy a third term for this government will bring to the country. In fact, we should ask why Rahul Gandhi could not bring himself to say what this article baldly states. Why does he seldom use the word ‘Muslim’? Why is a leader of his stature not confident that many of his Hindu constituents will and do empathise with the plight of Muslims?

How did it happen that Hindu society lost its capacity to share the pain of its Muslim neighbours? Why do sections of Hindus feel angry when Junaid’s mother asks for justice for her slain son? How did sections of India start relishing violence against Muslims? Did it happen automatically or do these 10 years of BJP rule have something to do with it?

The central question is: are we ready to have more of this state of affairs? The question also is: who are We? Surely, the idea of ‘We, the People’ must guide us to a more expansive sense of We than we are getting used to these days.

The writer teaches at Delhi University. A longer version of this piece originally appeared in The Wire

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines