The overwhelming favourite to be the next Indian PM is again risking stirring up inter-religious violence
Narendra Modi is a man with a controversial past. While his term as Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat is generally seen as an economic success, he also presided over riots in 2002 during which a 1000 people mostly Muslims were killed. Modi’s Hindu nationalist government was accused (by amongst others the US State Department) of tolerating or even encouraging the violence. His subsequent reactions have not helped likening his remorse at the incident to what one would feel if you ran over a puppy and saying his main regret was how he handled the media. And as this Vox profile of Modi makes clear this is part of a wider problem:
While tragic, the 2002 riots are merely one reason for the international distrust of Modi. He has made a habit, and in some ways a career, of anti-Muslim rhetoric. He’s accused political opponents, for example, of being “Pakistani agents.” The RSS, of which he is a member and which has endorsed him for prime minister, has been repeatedly banned in India for inciting or causing political or religious violence. The party has grown more moderate in the last few years, but its core Hindu nationalist mission hasn’t changed, and neither has Modi’s.
While Modi has scaled back the rhetoric that’s drawn so much criticism in the current campaign, there are still flashes of it — perhaps in part because he needs Hindu nationalists’ votes. For example, he’s made speeches condemning India’s beef export industry. This may sound innocuous, but within India it’s a clear dogwhistle aimed at the Indian Muslims who dominate the beef industry, and meant to stir up Hindus who find beef consumption religiously objectionable. As the Financial Times pointed out, it’s exactly the kind of rhetoric that has led to communal violence in the past.
More worryingly, a video has surfaced showing Modi’s top lieutenant at a private election gathering in a part of India that has seen recent Hindu-Muslim violence. He told the Hindus gathered that voting for Modi would lead to “honor and revenge” for the killings.
“This is the time to avenge,” he said. It’s like Mitt Romney’s 47 percent video, except instead of belittling welfare recipients the Indian official appeared to be hinting at religious reprisal killings.
And now with riots having broken out in Assam he’s again making comments that put lives at risk. Tensions between members of the Bodi tribe and the Bengali Muslim population of the area seem to be underlying the 31 deaths which resulted. So making comments suggesting that Bengalis from neighbouring Bangladesh have been being infiltrated into Assam for “votebanking” was inflammatory.
It is hard to disagree the comments of Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and a political rival of Modi that “those who cause riots cannot become the leader of the nation. It is because of their comments that innocent minorities are being butchered in Assam. Those who will lead the country if they themselves ignite riots, then what will happen to the nation”.