Aditya Sinha: Being Muslim in the Yogi yuga
It hasn't been the best of times for Indian Muslims and now, in the age of Modi and Yogi, things aren't likely to improve
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) at the former’s swearing-in ceremony in Lucknow. Pic/PTI
Before the UP election got underway, a friend visited relatives in Lucknow. He is Muslim. His mamu told him categorically that the BJP was coming to power, and he rationalised how the community should react to this: "We had our say for 70 years, now we have to stay quiet for a few years and let them have their say. This had to happen sooner or later."
After the election, another Muslim friend scoffed at "the few years". We have to stay quiet for a long, long time, the second friend said. "Of course Muslims are scared," he added,"But most of us will reconcile, and succumb to whatever demands the larger society demands of us."
It's a fatalistic reaction but hardly a surprise, following Yogi Adityanath's selection as UP chief minister this weekend. He is likely being groomed for a larger, future political role: the Yogi yuga is coming, but for now it is still the Moditva era. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is so strong a brand that even a surrealist exercise like demonetisation cannot dent the Great Leader's feel-good aura.
Modi gives the Hindu society immense pride, and it appreciates Modi's theatrics not for what they deliver, but for what they convey (in the case of demonetisation, uncompromising toughness); the signifier is more important than the signified. Indeed, Moditva has now surpassed Hindutva.
For the Muslim, can it get as bad as America, where, after the election of Donald Trump, there are increasing attacks on non-Whites by people calling them Muslims and screaming "Go back to your own country"? Perhaps, but things aren't that rosy for Muslims in India to begin with. Besides the obvious incidents of large-scale communal violence, the last being in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, there are the unsubtle threats like the various made by Yogi Adityanath during the past 20 years; and it has become a badge of hyper nationalism to beat up Kashmiri Muslim students in hostels, or Muslims suspected of trafficking cattle for slaughter. Leave that rough stuff aside, middle-class Muslims find it hard to rent from Hindus; and how many make it to the top of government departments or private enterprise?
As for Ayodhya: even if the new CM goes ahead and, against the Supreme Court stay of the 2012 Allahabad High Court division of the disputed land, starts construction of a Ram temple, who will stop him? Not Modi. Not the Modi-appointed UP Governor. Not the President of India who, after July, would no doubt be an RSS man. Even the Supreme Court is unlikely to swim against such a strong executive current.
It hasn't been the best of times for Muslims and now in the age of Modi and Yogi, things aren't likely to improve. The Indian Muslim has nowhere to go: nobody in their right mind wants to migrate to Pakistan or even seek asylum in the suffocating Saudi Arabia.
No wonder then, at Modi's campaign roadshows in Varanasi, Muslims had joined in - they weren't fakes, and they didn't join unwillingly. As the old adage goes, if you can't beat them, join them. Moditva looks so strong that it looks likely to outlast Modi. It now looks impossible to unseat the prime minister in 2019 – even if CM Yogi does not build a temple in Ayodhya, he can do enough to keep the pot boiling and consolidate "counter-polarisation" of Hindus to continue the electoral domination of UP that we saw in 2014 and this time around.
Also, there is no opposition. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has zero new ideas and little interest in thinking up new ideas. The way Congressmen high and low keep calling for sister Priyanka to jump into politics, it sounds as if it is just another way of telling Rahul to take a hike (and anyway Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political innings have come to an end).
Arvind Kejriwal's setback in the Punjab election is pretty much a momentum-breaker for him; he returns to square one, his aim of emerging as a rallying point for the opposition pushed back indefinitely. Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has suddenly become silent. And as for Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, the appointment of a CM from Eastern UP - the first in a long time, since Kamalapathi Tripathi - must scare the hell out of him, given Eastern UP's socio-cultural and economic similarities with Bihar.
What is a UP Muslim to do? There's no point in protesting or whining, for that only helps Modi and his "counter-polarisation". However, not complaining also helps Modi - it makes him seem effective.
Muslims have no choice but to lump it, seeing the fever that has gripped Hindu society. Yet, even a fever eventually comes down, though in this case nobody can say how long it will take, or what the cost will be.
Aditya Sinha's crime novel, The CEO Who Lost His Head, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org