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A Letter to Mr. Narendra Modi on His Dog-Whistle Politics

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Dear Mr. Narendra Modi,

Namaskar! You must be really busy with the election campaign and would hardly find time to read this. I know that a letter of this sort does not matter to you. Still I thought of repeating to you a few things about India, since you define the contentious issue of secularism as ‘India First’.

You must be aware, and I am sure you are, that India is a multilingual, multicultural, and, more importantly, a multi-religious country. Despite occasional skirmishes, people have co-existed largely peacefully and practiced a syncretic culture. And, probably, that’s why many Muslims colour themselves on the day of Holi or dance during Pujas. As I come from Bengal, I can say with some certainty that the Durga Puja is very well attended by Muslims. Similarly, on the occasion of the Eid, our Hindu friends and neighbours invite themselves to our Muslim homes for partaking delicacies and wishing us. These practices have persisted over the years, as they should in a secular and plural country like India. Despite our differences, Indians are mostly humble, courteous, and respectful towards other religions and customary practices.

That’s why it was such a shock to me when in your Rajat Sharma interview (a ‘fixed’ one, your detractors claim!) you said that you refuse to wear the Muslim cap because you don’t want to be disrespectful to your own religion and traditions. Here, I would not like to go into your party and your party chief’s stand on this issue as your views are contradictory to theirs. I understand that only the cap does not symbolise Islam. Also, it’s true that the Muslim topi has been misused by our opportunistic politicians with impunity. Yet, I am sure you will agree that for many Muslims in the larger Indian-subcontinent, the cap is part of the religio-cultural identity. I do agree with those, including Muslims, who question the wisdom of the Maulana, who offered the cap to you. It must have been purely out of courtesy or keeping with the prevailing political practices. I am sure he was not thinking of converting you to Islam. I don’t know what you told the Maulana while rejecting it. However, you made it very clear during the interview that if you had accepted and worn the cap like other leaders, this would have been interpreted as a tokenism for the community.

Even if I accept your logic that wearing the cap would have suggested that you were pandering to the Muslim community as a votebank, Mr. Modi, I don’t understand why only a Muslim cap becomes a symbol of appeasement for you while you happily wear other cultural and religious symbols. In Assam, you tried the Jaapi; in Tamilnadu, you wore the mund. On various occasions, you wore the Sikh turban in Punjab, and the peacock feather cap, and so on. During your election rallies, you don’t hesitate to hold a sword, a bow, a gada, and so on. (Well, it’s a different debate altogether that it’s often difficult to understand from your rhetoric – hunkaar, vijay, garjan, mahagarjan etc. – if you are an aspirant for the post of Prime Minister in a free country or at war with its citizens.) Why does only the Muslim cap become a symbol of appeasement for you?

Mr. Modi, may I humbly remind you that you have appeased Muslims in other ways, when you felt the need. Sometimes, quite overtly. Earlier, you have been seen hobnobbing with many maulanas. You have sought out the services of the Pathan Brothers (cricketers) to ‘impress’ Muslims. Most recently, you had Salman and Salim Khan endorse you. Did you resort to such stunts because you realized that it’s difficult to sell ‘developments’ alone to Muslims, who valued security to life more?

Mr. Modi, truth be told, you have ushered in a new era of dog-whistle politics in India. As you realize that there is a qualitative difference between 1999 and 2014, you know a blatant communal rhetoric might not go down well even with the majority Hindu community (if there ever were a homogenous Hindu community!). Yet, you would like to appeal to the majority community by subtly indulging in communal polarization.This is dog-whistle politics at its best. Your trusted comrade, Amit Shah, has mastered the art to perfection, managing to get away with a minor reprimand from the Election Commission. First by rejecting the cap and, then, by reviving the issue, you have shown your religious intolerance, prejudice, and hatred towards a particular community. Yet, all this has been done with tact and guile, pretending to be a leader, who does not endorse divisiveness.

Finally, I would like to end with one suggestion. If you eventually end up becoming India’s Prime Minister, I hope you will not greet your countrymen on the occasions of Diwali, Eid, Good Friday, and so on, because that might appear as appeasement. Also, I hope our friends from other religions, too, will stop greeting us because that would amount to appeasement of one’s neighbours and friends. Yes, such blatant appeasement policies of our founding fathers must be discarded for good. Anything for a march toward a New India!

With Regards,

Abu Saleh

Letter Writer:

Abu Saleh is a doctoral student at the Center for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India.

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Lucknow’s Many Muslims”. Edited by Prof. Nadeem Hasnain & Aseem Hasnain. The rich array of essays explores various facets of Lucknow, a ‘Muslim city par excellence.’

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