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Modi's Forte: Name-Calling

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
29 Apr 2024

It was in 2008 that I attended a friend's sister's marriage at the Catholic Cathedral Church at Goldakhana in New Delhi. The girl, a Malayali, was from Banswara in Rajasthan. Her brother introduced me to all their relatives who came from the Cherrapunji of Rajasthan, as Banswara is known.

What I noticed was that they all belonged to various Christian denominations like the Orthodox, the Jacobite, the Marthoma, and the Pentecostal. There were also Hindus, mostly Nairs and Ezhavas among them. In fact, one of them told me, "All the Malayalis living in Banswara are related to one another in one way or another".

That explained how they were able to build a large church named after St. Thomas, who brought Christianity to India in 52 AD, constructed in Kerala style at Banswara. I always wanted to visit the town, but somehow, the visit never happened. All I need to do to enjoy hospitality in Banswara is to tell the Malayalis there that I am a friend of journalist Santhosh Joy or my son's classmate Shaiju.

Why I mentioned this is to give you an idea of the ethos of Banswara, which also has a fairly large population of Muslims. This otherwise sleepy town shot into infamy on April 21 when, while addressing an election meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi portrayed the Muslim community in the darkest hues possible. His speech was the pits, even by his own standards.

What prompted him to speak like a street-smart politician was, perhaps, the realisation that the voting in the first phase of the polling on April 19, when voters in 102 constituencies exercised their franchise, was not favourable to him. He knew that only a communal divide could help him.

Modi reduced the BJP to a caricature of its former self when the election manifesto of the party was promoted as a litany of Modi's guarantees. What kind of guarantee can a 73-year-old man give when, 10 years ago, he declared that 75 was the cut-off age for politicians like his mentor LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi to hold official positions?

People knew the fate of his guarantees that petrol and gas prices would be brought down, 100 cities would be made smart cities, 2 crore people per year would be given jobs, prices would be controlled, farming would be made profitable, all the corrupt would be punished, and the tens of billions of rupees stashed away in Swiss banks would be brought back and distributed among the people.

He found, to his dismay, that his guarantees were no match for the Congress manifesto, which talked more about justice, fair play, equality, and camaraderie. He had to find fault with it. Like scientist Archimedes who shouted "Eureka," Modi shouted "Muslim League." The burden of his song was that the Congress manifesto was similar to the Muslim League manifesto.

No, it was not the Indian Union Muslim League, which is a constituent of the UDF in Kerala, that Modi referred to. Instead, it was Mohammed Ali Jinnah's Muslim League that he mentioned. Modi may not know that long before Jinnah's Muslim League passed a resolution at Lahore demanding Partition and creation of Pakistan, Savarkar had said that Muslims and Hindus constituted two nations and they could not do-exist.

What's more, Hindu Mahasabha President Syama Prasad Mukherjee was part of the Muslim League-led government in Bengal. Modi would like to read Advani's autobiography where he says that the arrival of the RSS in the Sindh area sowed seeds of fear among the Muslims while it gave a sense of security to the Hindu community. Sooner than later, Advani and Co. had to leave for safety in India.

The point is that the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League were two sides of the same coin. Modi would have done well if he had identified the points in the Congress manifesto that reminded him of the Muslim League.

It was against this backdrop that Modi said at Banswara that if the Congress came to power, it would distribute the national wealth among the Muslims. For this, he used a statement made by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the first claim to national wealth is that of the poor, the women, the farmers, the OBCs, the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, and the minorities.

In fact, Mahatma Gandhi had once advised all those who take decisions in the country to ask themselves whether the decision they were taking would benefit the poorest of the poor in the country or not. "If it does not, don't take that decision".

Did Modi think about the poorest of the poor when he converted a defence aerodrome in Gujarat into an international airport for two weeks to facilitate the coming and going of people like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Bill Gates, who were invitees to Mukesh Ambani's son's pre-wedding function?

Do you think any Congress leader from Jawaharlal Nehru to Mallikarjun Kharge would have allowed such a conversion of a defence airport? By Modi's own admission, nearly 80-85 crore people have to be given virtually free rations to keep them alive. And yet, he talks about the phenomenal growth the country has achieved under his dispensation. By the way, rations were given by all successive governments at the Centre and in the states.

His friends, like Ambani and Adani, have increased their wealth by billions of dollars since he came to power. In contrast, the poor have remained where they were. The Paris-based World Inequality Lab, headed by Thomas Piketty, has, in its report for 2022-23, opined that inequality has grown in India.

To put it in perspective, India was never a poor country. In fact, it was in search of its wealth that invaders from Central Asia and Europe came to India. Unfortunately, the wealth was concentrated in a few hands.

The situation has now worsened. Inequality is now much more pronounced than during the British Raj. Small wonder that the Billionaires Club has been growing exponentially since Modi shifted lock, stock, and barrel to New Delhi. For instance, the wealthiest 10,000 individuals in India have an average wealth of Rs 2260 crore, which is 16,763 times the average Indian's wealth.

Warren Edward Buffett was the richest man in the world for many years, i.e., until he began wearing the garb of a philanthropist and started downsizing himself. He has been arguing that the rich and the super-rich need to be taxed heavily to generate resources for development.

As the Paris Lab pointed out, imposing a super tax of 2 per cent on the net wealth of the 167 wealthiest families in India in 2022-23 would have generated 0.5 per cent of national revenue income. One can imagine how much resources can be raised if all the rich are taxed heavily. The top 1 per cent of the rich own 40 per cent of the national wealth.

While farmers and students who have availed of loans have been crying for loan waivers, the government has been quietly writing off the loans of the rich. If Congress leader Rahul Gandhi can be believed, the government has already written off a staggering Rs 16 lakh crore.

It was against this backdrop that Sam Pitroda, a Congress think-tank who lives abroad, mentioned the need to introduce Inheritance Tax in India. It was not the Congress policy that he announced. It was his personal suggestion.

It is doubtful whether he was fully informed about the Inheritance Tax. In the US, such a tax is levied, but it is not a Federal tax. Rather, it is a state tax levied only in half a dozen states.

In India, Estate Duty used to be levied on properties inherited by the people. This was applicable only in the case of large properties. It was abolished when Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister. Now, Modi has given this decision, taken in 1986, a new twist. It was not to pay Estate Duty on Indira Gandhi's property that her son abolished the Duty. What an atrocious claim he has made!

The fact is that Nehru did not have much property except a large residential building in Allahabad. In any case, Swaraj Bhavan is a museum now. Modi owes it to the nation to explain which are the properties Rajiv Gandhi acquired without paying Estate Duty. The fact of the matter is that he is scared of his friends' children having to pay Inheritance Tax. Incidentally, his finance minister, the late Arun Jaitley was a votary of estate duty.

What he told the voters in Banswara was that even the mangalsutra, which is considered sacred by the married women of this country, including his wife, would be sold by the Congress government and given to the Muslims. Of course, Modi does not consider that Muslims and Christians deserve a say in the running of the country.

There is not a single Muslim or Christian in Modi's Cabinet. The BJP is contesting on its own for 330 seats. Only one Muslim and one Christian have been fielded by the party, and both are contesting from Kerala. The BJP legislature parties in many states, including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, have no Muslim or Christian members. There was KJ Alphons, who was a Rajya Sabha member. He was kept out of the ministry. He finds himself like the curry leaves thrown in the waste bin after they are used once.

One of the flagship programmes of the UPA government was a scholarship scheme for students belonging to minority communities. Modi has money for building statues and temples but not to provide scholarships to children. He stopped the scholarship scheme.

Worse, he fears that if Congress returns to power, it will be revived. That is why he unleashed his propaganda against Muslims. In any case, he is known more as Propaganda Minister than Prime Minister.

In the process, he also abused the Muslim community. He made two accusations against them. That they produce children and are infiltrators. Christians of my generation had many children. I had four siblings. My wife had eight. She studied in a Catholic college and stayed in its hostel. Many of her Catholic friends came from larger families. Today, it is difficult to find a Christian family with more than two children.

The decennial census data show that the growth rate among Muslims has drastically fallen. Yet, an illiterate, poor Muslim is likely to produce as many children as an illiterate, poor Hindu, whether in UP or Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan. Modi himself had six siblings. AB Vajpayee also came from a large family.

More than 100 years ago, a book was published. It was promoted by the RSS. It argued that Muslims would become the majority community in India in 100 years. More than a century later, Muslims constitute only 14.2 per cent of the population. Even if Pakistan and Bangladesh are included, Hindus are still in the majority. Politically, economically and socially, Muslims are so poor that they do not pose any threat to the Hindus in India.

Yet, the Muslims are used as a punching bag by the likes of Modi. As regards infiltration, the living standards in Bangladesh, measured in terms of literacy, infant mortality rate, mothers' mortality rate, and women's literacy, are better than those in India. Even the per capita income in Bangladesh is higher. So, why should the Bangladeshi infiltrate into India?

However, we often hear about Gujaratis being caught by the US immigration authorities for illegally entering the country. I know for sure that the quality of life in Gujarat is far below the quality of life in Kerala, which Modi has been trying to penetrate using all his propaganda tools.

We never had a prime minister who travelled so widely as Modi. Did he ever come across a national leader who calls the largest minority in his country, like the Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh, as baby manufacturers and infiltrators? How one wishes we had a leader who was civilised and knew how to give a speech without offending the defenceless! We will have to wait until the first week of June to know whether there is any redemption or not.

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