India’s prime minister Narendra Modi spoke at the joint session of the US Congress on June 23. Modi became the second Indian Prime Minister after Manmohan Singh to be honored with a State Visit to the United States. This visit and speech came after seven years of his last visit in June of 2016 when he said, “Mr. Speaker, our nations may have been shaped by diverse histories, cultures and faiths, yet our belief in democracy for our nations and our liberty for our countrymen is common… Today, across its individuals and institutions, and in its villages and cities, in streets and states, are anchored in equal respect for all faiths.”
This time, in his speech to the US Congress, Modi said, “Now, the US is the oldest and India the largest democracy. Our partnership augurs well for the future of democracy. Together, we shall give a better future to the world, and a better world to the future.”
Modi’s actions since getting reelected belie his claims and aspirations. The US-India partnership is bad for the future of democracy and the entire Indo-Pacific region.
In a rare occurrence though, Modi took questions from journalists during a joint press briefing with US President Joe Biden at the White House. Sabrina Siddiqui, the White House correspondent of the Wall Street Journal, asked Modi a question, “India has long prided itself as the world’s largest democracy, but there are many human rights groups who say that your government has discriminated against religious minorities and sought to silence its critics. As you stand here in the East Room of the White House, where so many world leaders have made commitments to protecting democracy, what steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and to uphold free speech?”
Modi replied, “We are a democracy. India and America both have democracy in their DNA. Democracy is in our spirit, we live it, and it’s written in our Constitution…So no question of discrimination on the grounds of caste, creed, or religion arises. That is why, India believes in sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas, sabka prayaas and walks ahead with it.”
Modi lied once again. It has become obvious that the DNA of lying and deception, and not democracy, is in his veins.
Modi’s lying can deceive the US Congress and the White House that are more interested in the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region than the ground reality faced 24/7 (i.e., 24 hours, 7 days a week) by hundreds of millions of non-Hindus in India. His lies should not and does not fool any keen observer of the Indian politics. China’s meteoric rise in economy and its ever-increasing influence are now perceived as a threat to global security by the US and her allies. In this new Cold War, India is being pampered as a counterweight to China.
Not surprisingly, far from the days of the Nixon administration, tide has shifted in the opposite direction. The United States is India’s largest trade partner now in goods and services, with both countries collaborating closely in areas such as science and technology, health, education, defense, and security.
All the signs on the wall show that with India’s market size and the ‘China factor’ the partnership between the two countries is only going to grow stronger. Much in contrast to Modi’s bloated claim in the joint session of the Congress of sharing democratic values, democracy and human rights have nothing to do with this partnership of convenience.
After all, Indian democracy has always been attached with an adjective like ‘illiberal’ or ‘flawed’ since the time of its first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Over the course of Narendra Modi’s premiership, which began in 2014, India has turned into an increasingly ‘apartheid’ and ‘authoritarian’ democracy. Judiciary has become complacent and is no longer viewed as an independent organ of the state. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, passed in 2019, has made religion the criterion for accessing Indian nationality. New laws were passed to make interreligious marriages more difficult. Vigilante attacks on religious minorities have increased markedly, the ruling party has taken steps to strip citizenship from Indian Muslims, and the historically repressed Muslim-majority state of Kashmir has lost its limited autonomy and faced even harsher crackdowns, entailing a settler-colonial project to alter demographics.
Sabrina Siddiqui’s question was important and relevant. But as we have gotten used to either Modi’s silence or scripted lying, we are not surprised that he chose the second option when he opened his mouth.
Muslims are lynched today because of their faith. Consider, e.g., one of the latest cases of cow vigilantism. India’s so-called image of a democratic and tolerant country has been shattered once again as a group of Hindu ‘cow vigilantes’ beat a Muslim man to death in Maharashtra’s Nashik district on suspicion of smuggling beef. The victim, identified as Afan Ansari, a 32-year-old resident of Mumbai’s Kurla area, was accompanied by his associate Nasir Sheikh, NDTV reported. The report stated that two Muslims were in the process of transporting meat in a car when they were stopped and assaulted by the Hindu vigilantes.
India has created an unequal and apartheid society where Muslims are denied jobs, education and means of livelihood; their homes, worship places and businesses are demolished; their upper mobility in society throttled; they are harassed, raped, maimed, lynched, and killed for just being a Muslim. Prime Minister Modi has chosen to keep mum on such acts of violence directed against Muslims that are almost always perpetrated by his party members. His silence has been seen as an endorsement of such heinous crimes by his savage Hindu thugs.
During Modi’s state visit to the United States, former president Barack H. Obama told CNN that the issue of the “protection of the Muslim minority in a majority-Hindu India” would be worth raising in Modi’s meeting with President Biden.
Obama said that without such protection there was “a strong possibility that India at some point starts pulling apart”.
In light of that interview, an Indian journalist Rohini Singh rhetorically tweeted, “Has an FIR been filed in Guwahati yet against Obama for hurting sentiment? Is Assam police on its way to Washington to get Obama offloaded from some flight and arrest him?”
In response, the chief minister in the Indian state of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, tweeted, “There are many Hussain Obama in India itself. We should prioritize taking care of them before considering going to Washington. The Assam police will act according to our own priorities.”
If this was not a genocidal threat from Sarma against Muslims of Assam, what is? Sarma’s comment reflects the social condition faced by Muslims in today’s India.
The Assam chief minister’s threat came just hours after Modi had claimed at a joint White House press conference with President Biden that “there is no discrimination in India” on the grounds of caste or religion because his government follows the Constitution, which is formed on the basic values of democracy.
Can Modi explain Sarma’s threat against those Hussains in India who are terrorized daily by the biggest statecraft in our time? As duly noted by Suraj Gogoi in the Quint, Muslims are subject to majoritarian (i.e., Hindu) targets. “They are the enemy figure. Food. Family. Property. Religion. Marriage. Everything in their life is scrutinized. Nothing is left to be violated. When such intolerance and prejudice against them become so robust and common, the ground of Islamophobia is not just limited to the state or a party. Such hate and minority-bashing have become part of today’s culture. Such a culture is not a foreign import but has come out of Indian culture,” Gogoi writes.
This Indian toxic culture has produced the monsters like Himanta Sarma who had no trepidations about torpedoing Modi’s hollow claims. Sarma belongs to Modi’s party – the BJP. He is the same BJP leader who in November 2021 said that India belonged to Hindus and also asserted that madrassas (Muslim seminaries) should be shut down. Lest we forget, Sarma also said that he felt proud when Moinul Haque, a Muslim daily wage earner, was brutally killed during an eviction drive in Assam on September 23, 2021.
It is not difficult to understand how empowered the Hindutvadi fascists feel today under Modi’s premiership and why the Genocide Watch had to issue repeated genocide alerts on India.
Indian Congress party spokesperson and social media head Supriya Shrinate tweeted, “‘My friend Barack’ is now Hussain Obama! Actually, Himanta has answered what PM Modi was asked at White House. His insinuation – about President Obama being a Muslim and Indian Muslims need to be taught a lesson – was the question’s premise. What is the PM, MEA and Govt of India’s stand on this?”
Shrinate is right. Modi can’t fool anyone except his mesmerized brain-dead supporters and those who choose to look the other way. Those who protested against Modi during his latest trip to the US included many Hindus who were not fooled by Modi’s rhetoric. “I am Indian. I am a Hindu. I am the PM’s vote bank, but I cannot bear to see the brutal treatment of minority groups in India. If I was treated in the US how Muslims are [treated] in India, I would run back home without a thought. It is intolerable,” they added.
A similar sentiment was imbibed in an open letter to President Biden that was written by an organization called Hindus for Human Rights, which urged him to “push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy” during Modi’s visit.
“We find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law,” an organizer further said.
Under Modi, India’s record as a democracy has been abysmal. According to watchdog Access Now, India leads the world in network shutdowns, and as western tech companies have learned, India browbeats telecom and social media companies to take down content and threatens them with police action if they don’t comply. Freedom House has down-graded India to ‘partly-free’ status. India has fallen from 27 in 2014 to 46 in 2022, as per the Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index. The V-Dem project of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden has relegated India to “electoral autocracy.” The Civicus Monitor calls India’s civil society environment to be “repressed.” The Pew Research Center survey shows India’s social hostility score has worsened. And the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders places India at 161, a historic low, down from 150, of the 180 countries it surveys. In the global impunity index of the Committee to Protect Journalists, India ranks 11th, with 20 unsolved murders of journalists. India’s rank in the U.N.’s Human Development Index has fallen slightly, from 130 the year Modi took office to 132. The International Food Policy Research Institute’s world hunger index shows India ranked at 107 out of 121 surveyed countries. the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index shows India ranked 135th of the 146 surveyed countries. Thomson Reuters Foundation calls India the world’s most dangerous country for women. Unsurprisingly, Cato Institute, which measures human freedom, downgraded India between 2015 and 2022 from 75 to 112.
In the international front, India has become an unabashed supporter of the apartheid states of Israel and Myanmar. It has been supplying weapons to the military that toppled the elected government in Myanmar. Its diplomatic response to Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine has been anything but honest or moral. Its trade with Russia has not stopped, and it is accused of selling Russian oil in international markets undermining sanctions. Mindful of its own culpability against the Kashmiri Muslims, it has abstained U.N. resolutions on the inhuman treatment of Uyghurs in China and the Rohingyas of Burma.
Under Modi, India’s politics has become increasingly fascist, toxic, and xenophobic that has coined new names for Indian Muslims. They are called ‘Babar ki Aulad’ and ‘Aurangzeb ki Aulad’, terms of abuse lobbed against Muslims (referring them as children of the Muslim Emperors of India belonging to the Mughal Dynasty that had ruled India for nearly 350 years). Not surprisingly, this toxic environment is producing the ‘Godse ki Aulad’, i.e., the spiritual children of (Nathuram) Godse (the Hindutvadi killer of M.K. Gandhi), who feel empowered to carry out their Hindutvadi duty to kill and terrorize others. Guys like Sarma are, sadly, not the exceptions but part of the majority today. Modi’s Hindutva has become the national agenda and as such, in this milieu of unfathomable intolerance and hatred, no one – even the opposition party leaders – dares to challenge the ruling party; they are afraid of being perceived as the ‘new Mughals’ opposing the ‘Hindu agenda’ of Modi and his party for ‘Greater’ and ‘New India’. Such a cowardly attitude speaks volumes about the wrong direction India is heading under Modi and his unfinished Hindutvadi agenda for transforming India into a ‘true’ Hindu Rashtra.
Indian history textbooks are altered to paint a damning picture of the Muslim rule of India. Forgotten here, rather very conveniently, is the mere fact that by 1700 Mughal India’s GDP had grown to 25% of the world’s economy, becoming the largest in the world, and that under Modi, India accounted for only 3.4% (GDP in nominal terms in 2022) of the world economy.
So emboldened today are the Hindutvadis, inside and outside India, one just has to see the hostile responses that WSJ journalist Sabrina Siddiqui has been receiving since questioning Modi in that joint press conference in the White House. She has been subject to “intense online harassment from people inside India,” some of them politicians associated with Modi’s own government because of her Muslim faith. Biden administration officials on Monday (June 26,2023) denounced online harassment against the reporter. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in response that the White House is aware of the reports of harassment and called it “unacceptable.”
If this be the attitude of Modi’s Hindutvadi supporters towards a former US President and a White House journalist – both having Muslim names – how does an ordinary Indian Muslim fare?
Under Modi’s watch, the brave Hussains are hunted down, beaten, arrested or killed to make examples of fear. Others are taunted to leave India and settle in Pakistan. The law of the country has been weaponized to terrorize and marginalize Muslims. Tens of millions of Muslims who traditionally were engaged in cattle farming and leather industry are now out of job. And yet, Modi boasted in the US Congress, “Our vision is सबका साथ, सबका विकास, सबका विश्वास, सबका प्रयास. It means: Together, for everyone’s growth, with everyone’s trust and everyone’s efforts.” Modi claimed, “A spirit of democracy, inclusion and sustainability defines us. It also shapes our outlook to the world.”
What a hogwash! Hundreds of millions of Muslims and Dalits are excluded from the grand scheme of prosperity and are being stopped from climbing up the ladder and, instead, are punished for maintaining their traditional customs and trades, and undertakings to put food to their hungry and thirsty family members in Modi’s India. Whom is he trying to fool with his phony tales of inclusion and sustainability?
Modi can lie to his teeth about diversity and democracy that have lost meanings under his watch. He can talk about Indian cuisines from Dosa to Aloo Prantha and from Srikhand to Sandesh and ignore mentioning Biryani and other delicious cuisines brought by Muslims from the west. But his lies cannot obliterate either the past history or the present reality.
Modi is keenly aware of western hypocrisy and that despite the poor report card on India’s failing democracy and human rights, the western powers are not going to challenge him on such matters. By raising the toast for Modi, the US has helped him write the script of his re-election campaign for 2024.
It is simply disgusting to see a genocidal maniac invited to the White House and the US Congress – not once but twice.
Partnerships that are built on deceit and hypocrisy are bound to collapse sooner or later.
Habib Siddiqui has a long history of a peaceful activism in his effort towards improving human rights and creating a just and equitable world. He has written extensively in the arena of humanity, global politics, social conscience and human rights since his student days in the 1980s. He offers a fresh and insightful perspective on a whole generation of a misunderstood and displaced people with little or no voice of their own.