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A former close associate of Indian prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has reportedly urged that Muslims be forced out of ‘Hindu areas’. This follows other threats by leaders of the far-right Bharati Janata Party (BJP), intensifying fears about what might happen if he wins power.
Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) president Pravin Togadia joined a street protest outside a house bought by a Muslim businessman in Bhavnagar in Gujarat, the Times of India reported. He gave the occupant two days to vacate the house.
"If he does not relent, go with stones, tyres and tomatoes to his office. There is nothing wrong in it,” Togadia supposedly told the mob. "I have done it in the past and Muslims have lost both property and money." After wide condemnation, he claimed he had been misquoted.
He and Modi once worked closely together in the Hindutva movement, which uses a distorted form of religion in seeking power. They rode on the same motorcycle, drumming up support for the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Togadia later helped to propel Modi to office as chief minister of Gujarat where, in 2002, an estimated 1,500-2,000 Muslims were massacred.
Togadia remains outspoken, for instance calling in 2011 for a new Indian constitution allowing for "anyone who converts Hindus to be beheaded". Modi has distanced himself from such talk, at least for the time being, attempting to cultivate an image as a regional and national statesperson and thus widening his electoral appeal.
Shortly before the latest Togadia controversy, Bihar BJP leader Giriraj Singh warned, in the presence of a former party president, that “Those who want to stop Narendra Modi are looking to Pakistan for support. In the coming days, there won’t be place for such people in India” because “their place will be in Pakistan”.
The BJP top brass expressed their disapproval, though it is hard to tell whether Singh was speaking out of turn or as part of a twin-track strategy to appeal to both fanatics and a wider support base.
The Electoral Commission had just lifted a ban on Amit Shah, Modi's campaign manager in Uttar Pradesh, for saying that the election was an opportunity to “take revenge” after communal violence last year, which Shah had allegedly helped to provoke.
Shah had been Modi’s right-hand man in Gujarat. He was forced to resign as home minister in 2010 after being arrested on charges of involvement in orchestrating fake ‘encounter’ killings by police. He is currently on bail.
While some people claim that Modi has distanced himself from his past and would anyway be constrained by India’s democratic system if he were to gain power, this is by no means certain. Historically, some extremist politicians such as Serbian nationalist Slobodan Miloševi? have shown even less restraint when in office.
In any case, if Narendra Modi were to win, he would have to deal with the expectations of his core support base, including highly-organised militia-type forces. Reining in the most extreme would prove difficult. India’s status as a regional power with atomic weapons increases the dangers.
The public relations efforts of American lobbying firm Apco (which extolled the success of ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ under Modi’s leadership), along with those of the BJP’s own strategists, have been largely effective in portraying Modi as a trustworthy figure, despite his past. This has helped to win him approval, or at least acceptance, among many in the media, politics and business who would be put off by blatant extremism.
Yet after the election, when the support of floating voters is no longer needed, it is hard to predict what will happen. Many people who care about justice, communal harmony and peace are afraid for India’s future.
© Savitri Hensman is a widely published Christian commentator on politics, welfare, religion and more. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector.Tweet