A Reply to Washington Post’s Narendra Modi Was Speaking in Code When He Visited America
By Adity Sharma
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to New York City, then Washington D.C. was historic in many respects, and it was covered voraciously by a large section of the media in India and abroad. But there are always the self-style intellectuals who earn their bread and butter by presenting distortions, fervently hoping that just because they were published on a reputable portal, they are now undisputed facts.
In a piece titled,
Narendra Modi was Speaking in Code When he Visited America
the author unleashes a scathing barrage of vitriol against Modi. The author seems to be high on allegations and fancies of the imagination and extremely low on factual data. There are several problems presented in prolix detail.
The first problem that the piece harps on about is Modi’s choice of color. Yes, the author does indeed get the significance of saffron right. But so what if the Prime Minister chooses this color? Modi gave up familial pleasure and amassing wealth in favor of working for India. If it is anyone who deserves to wear this color, it is Modi.
Then, the author accuses supposed “Hindu fundamentalists” of co-opting saffron. Saffron is a sacred color to Hindu Dharma. But the author seems to be muddying the waters by leveling an inane amount of allegations unsubstantiated by an iota of fact. By the way, what Hindu fundamentalists? The ones who were hounded out of Kashmir in the hundreds of thousands? Or, is the author referring to the ones who were burned to death in the Godhra massacre. In a typical but unsurprising manner, the author waxes eloquent about the post-Godhra reaction, but makes no mention of the 59 lives lost.
The second problem the author has with Modi is the project to clean up Ganga called NamamiGange. Again, so what? More than 85 percent of the population in India is Hindu. If Modi’s government has named the project NamamiGange, it does not detract the right of other people who depend on its sacred waters. This argument is as asinine as someone complaining that they cannot reside in Hebron, Moab, or Jericho, which are places with religious names, simply because they denote Christianity. India’s ancient language is Sanskrit, and it is only natural that projects and initiatives will take inspiration from this vast wellspring. Would it not be strange if the French government decided to give a project pertinent to French history and tradition a German name?
The third problem the author points out with a flourish was Modi’s Navaratri Vrat (fast), which coincided with his U.S. trip. This spells poor marks in so far as doing homework, because the author fails to note that Modi was not brandishing his beliefs to show off to his U.S. audience, but he has been observing this Vrat for more than four decades. Why single Modi out for being a Hindu?
In the past, while on the campaign trail, and even securely in office, politicians belonging to powerful democracies have used faith to forge and cement their support base, and further their political ambition. This is seen as normal and part of the pomp and show that is part and parcel of so many election campaigns around the globe. Faulting the Prime for observing a Vrat is utterly preposterous if not downright discriminatory towards Hindus.
The final problem that the author has brashly eluded in the title is that Modi was addressing his purported “Hindu nationalist” base in the U.S. and India. The author claims that symbols Modi supposedly brandished were in fact meant to appease his Hindu support base. It is all too obvious that the author of the piece has either completely missed or paid scant attention to Modi’s very global and unique message to the United Nations General Assembly and to his Madison Square Garden audience, and has instead embarked on the familiar and worn-out path many India watching intellectuals choose to take.
Let us suppose for a minute that Modi did indeed want to exclusively please his Hindu supporters. The fact is that mere token symbols will not suffice. Real action must be taken at the institutional level to actuate a much needed change. For starters, Modi’s government can begin to make a serious effort in remedying the institutionalized discrimination against Hinduism. Next, his government can address the issue of flagrant discrepancies in the Indian Constitution in matters of land acquisition for educational institutions, or the control of religious institutions belonging to the Hindus by the government. Finally, the BJP can address the real danger of complete annihilation faced by Hindus in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh. He has not even taken concrete steps to deal with the illegal Muslims from Bangladesh who are rapaciously changing religious demographics in the Northeastern part of the country. Thus far, Modi’s government has not taken any concrete or even symbolic steps to redress the aforementioned grievances. In fact, he has not so much as paid lip service to these issues.
This piece illustrates in ample detail the bias many India watchers have. Would it have been more urbane if Modi dressed in Islamic green complete with a skullcap to show off his secular credentials? Would the author of the piece have written an impartial analysis if Modi had presented President Obama with a copy of the Quran instead of the Gita?
The unsavory reality is that unlike European nations that were groaning under the heel of Christianity just a few centuries ago, or Islamic nations that are still suffering under Islam, Hindus need not wave their secular credentials around for all to see. The ideal of “live and let live” is woven deep into Hindu philosophy, and nothing can shake that foundation. Over the past so many years however, secularism has become a whip with which to beat the Hindus into submission and guilt. There is no need for that. For the first time in independent India, there is a true leader with a healthy desire to initiate meaningful change. It is also a great opportunity for these self-styled intellectuals to transform their stale anti-Hindu perspective, and become a part of the new narrative on India.
The author is a student at St. John’s University School of Law in New York. Her writings have appeared in HJS, HVK, Ivarta, Beliefnet, Chakranews and Counterpunch.
Source: Adity Sharma