External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar recently dismissed the allegations of ongoing minority persecution in India at a press conference on the last leg of his US visit. He said that India is a country full of diversity and the government here does not discriminate against anyone and he pointed out that all the welfare schemes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government are benefiting all the poor people of the country irrespective of their religious identity.
Jaishankar dismissed the allegation of ongoing minority persecution in India and said that since India has historically believed in debates, its diversity also gives rise to various types of debates, which the West is promoting as discrimination against minorities. He also criticised, although subtly, the hypocrisy and demeaning role of the West when it interferes with the internal affairs of other countries.
But no matter how much propaganda is being spread by the West against the Indian government, mainly due to India’s friendly ties with Russia, the religious minorities, especially Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, are being persecuted in various ways under the Modi government, about which there have been a lot of protests in the last nine years. Members of the minority communities, the Opposition and the handful of media entities that have chosen not to become the dispensation’s lapdogs, have also spoken out against this persecution.
No matter how much Jaishankar denies these facts because of his political and diplomatic obligations, they do not change the reality.
To explain how attacks on minorities have increased in India since the Modi-led far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in the union in 2014 will amount to reiterating what has been already said on several occasions. This information has been repeatedly mentioned for the past nine years in various ways, in multiple newspapers and videos. Anyone can see that information on the internet. What needs focus now is how reasonable Jaishankar’s arguments are.
Who can deny the ongoing minority persecution in India by saying that the Modi government has given free rations of rice and wheat to all poor people irrespective of caste and religion since the time of the COVID-19 pandemic? Is providing rations without any discrimination a licence to spread communal hatred, create fear in various places about minorities and enrage the majority community against them? To put it simply – can the government undermine the self-esteem of a community just because it’s getting a free ration, which it’s entitled to?
The so-called public welfare programmes
How many people in the country have benefited from the public welfare projects hailed by Jaishankar? Ever since Modi’s ascension, government allocations for public welfare projects have been continuously cut. From opposition-ruled states like West Bengal to BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, the Modi government has stopped funding schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), which provides employment for 100 days in a year to the rural poor, for various reasons.
On the other hand, the much-hyped Ujjwala Yojana for women living below the poverty line, through which they are provided with free cooking gas connections, is in a quagmire as poor women are unable to afford the refilling of their cylinders due to the steep rise in cooking gas prices. The minister didn’t mention that during his rebuttals.
Modi and his BJP leaders often talk about free rations introduced during the Covid pandemic. Modi took credit for giving free rice and wheat to 800m poor people in India. But the government does not say anything about why the scheme got nothing but rice and wheat, and how the poor people made food with this free rice or wheat when the prices of everything, from edible oils to vegetables, are on a steep rise.
On top of that, a large number of poor people eligible for free food rations are deprived of it because they failed to authenticate themselves by following a complicated procedure to link their biometric-based Aadhaar card with their ration cards. The Aadhaar-ration-linking has threatened to render a large number of poor people without food.
Apart from this, during the tenure of the Modi government, which talks about the welfare of the poor, the prices of daily necessities, including fuel, have increased on the one hand, and the other hand, unemployment has become severe. Along with urban unemployment, rural unemployment has also increased due to massive cutbacks in public welfare schemes and the overall purchasing power of the people has declined. As a result, how can Muslims or other minorities live well when the country’s poor are facing huge crises?
Do the public welfare projects epitomise the government’s generosity?
The few public welfare projects that the Modi government is continuing do not show the generosity of the government, but its compulsion. If the government had not arranged for free food rations during the COVID-19 pandemic, wouldn’t the poor people have starved to death on a massive scale? How did the people who lost their livelihood due to the lockdown bring food to their families?
Currently, the public welfare projects being run by the Modi government are mainly running on the tax money paid by the people. Running these projects is not a sign of Modi’s generosity but his compulsion, as according to the Constitution of India, the government should work for public welfare and in no way create any discrimination among the citizens of India.
As a result, the non-discriminatory government schemes that Jaishankar boasted about, or other BJP leaders talk about, are there due to the constitution, not Modi. If the Modi government removes the secular and socialist characters of the constitution by amending it, which the Opposition alleges the BJP has already planned, then the members of India’s minority communities, who do not claim to be followers of Hinduism, will have reduced access to all kinds of social and welfare schemes. They will be deprived of their rights in such circumstances.
Jaishankar raised the issue of diversity and debates within the country to refute allegations of ongoing minority persecution in India. But what does this diversity and debate mean for the BJP or its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)?
They do not accept diversity but want the imposition of one language, Hindi, and one religion, Hinduism. They want to impose the North Indian upper-caste Hindu culture on everyone by eradicating the distinctive diverse features of different peoples in different parts of India.
So what did Jaishankar mean by debate? Does he mean that the debate is about trying to impose North Indian upper-caste Hindu customs and culture on all religions and peoples? Does he mean that the country’s minority communities are debating the issue because they are worried about it?
Whatever Jaishankar tries to say, the events of the last nine years in the country indicate that the entire Hindutva camp, inspired by the ideology of the RSS, is trying to destroy India’s diversity, and its people’s diversity in various ways. They have been inciting the majority of Hindus against Muslims and Christians, and sometimes against the Sikhs. As a result, the minorities of India are being repeatedly attacked due to their religious identity.
The ongoing minority persecution in India: The BJP’s only weapon
In future, if the BJP tries to stop the persecution of minorities, if it does not polarise the votes of the majority community by pitting Hindus against Muslims, Christians and Sikhs in various ways, will the party even win elections by talking about “development” and “public welfare schemes”? Can Jaishankar himself become a minister again? Will the BJP ever be able to contest the elections with an account of its work, excluding Islamophobia and anti-minority rhetoric?
A few days ago, a colleague of his in the BJP hurled hateful expletives at a Muslim member of the Parliament (MP) during a discussion inside the new Parliament building. Though the BJP distanced itself from the incident, the party gave the accused MP important responsibility in the forthcoming assembly elections, which shows that the party endorsed his statement. Did Jaishankar forget that or did this veteran diplomat think it better to avoid the subject in the US?
Jaishankar himself knows that this is not possible. He knows that his party can never survive in the arena of politics without creating communal divisions. He knows that Modi’s vote bank is an extremely anti-Islamic vote bank, so even if he doesn’t want to, the BJP has to cultivate hate to appease this vote bank, it has to do politics of discrimination. So he tried to divert attention from the main question, i.e. the ongoing minority persecution in India, by beating around the bush. This is a tragedy for India’s polity.
An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker