Modi's churn of silence is taming the beast of protests

6th February 2020

6th February 2020

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi could well end up taming the beast which hogged the headlines and filled the streets for two months now in protest against a new Citizenship Act.

A seemingly innocuous Act which fast forwards the citizenship process for persecuted minorities of three neighbouring Islamic states of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh was dressed up as one against the Muslims by Modi’s detractors. The propaganda succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

It tapped on the raw anxiety of Indian Muslims who were fed the misinformation the Citizenship Act was the first step towards their disenfranchisement despite various official clarifications.

Political opponents upped the heat by passing resolutions in state assemblies run by them, such as Kerala and Punjab, even though constitutionally Citizenship is a matter which doesn’t fall under their jurisdiction and strictly is a preserve of the Centre.

The Siamese twins of mainstream Indian and Western media fished in the troubled waters with inflammatory headlines. The New York Times wondered if India is becoming a Hindu nation and BBC termed it an anti-Muslim law.

Various cities in the United States staged anti-Citizenship Act protests though there were hardly many Indians discernible in those rallies. A segment of European Union called for a stricture against the Modi government which was withdrawn at the last minute. From United Nations Human Rights office to US senate religious committee, all whipped up a storm.

An Indian Maidan in the making?

A tiny enclave in India’s Capital, Shaheen Bagh bore all the markings of a Maidan of Ukraine or a Tehrir Square of Egypt. It’s the shrine of protests, so to say, well into its eighth week, full of mural arts, revolutionary songs, media briefers, technological deftness to be passed off as spontaneous. It holds the torch to a revolution India never had. This was Modi’s gravest crisis in six years.

Modi has chosen to meet this mushroom of clouds overhead with a churn of silence. He kept his police in the barracks, used a light hand over provocations. People, including his supporters, wondered if he had lost control. Now it appears to be a part of a grand strategy. He always knew the contours of powers, both at home and abroad, at work against him. Now his followers, which are the majority in his country, have been made aware of the gravity. It could lead to consolidation and additions in millions among his supporters.

Rivals are now waking up to Modi’s grand game. They are urging protestors to withdraw and go back home. A leader who was so nuanced in handling Kashmir against international storm, couldn’t have been silent without a reason. They sense a turn in tide. Credible surveys reveal that Modi remains muscularly popular; far from being severely bruised as his opponents had bargained for in the present protests.

Modi’s measures can now be clearly deciphered. On the domestic front, his ministers are linking the protests to a machination by the arch-rivals Pakistan who, unable to whip up support for Kashmir in international arena, are now being linked to causing unrest within India, an insinuation which never fails to get the ire up of a billion-plus people.

Bilateral ties are all which matter

In the world beyond his borders, all that matters is bilateral ties. Modi is yet to hear a move from any of the major nations against the Citizenship Act. The European Union and US Senate and George Soros of the world could make as much noise as they want; the Western press could send its army of correspondents and cameraman to India’s Capital in droves, the  non-state players like NGOs could work its collective noise to a shrill but all of this would materially make no difference to Modi or India’s standing. As long as there are no sanctions; and the majority of his people are behind him, Modi can afford to sit back and let the forces against him play themselves out into a meaningless heap.

Important alignments in Modi’s favour are beginning to emerge. All parties in alliance with him are backing him to the hilt on the Citizenship Act. The Supreme Court is due to take a call on the petitions this month and it’s unlikely to go against the Act.  Shaheen Bagh protests are alienating the rest of the Capital as its causing traffic jams, affecting local business, and rendering schools and hospitals in the area virtually inoperable.

There are now also incriminating videos in public where the prime organizer of Shaheen Bagh was heard hatching plans for India’s northeastern states to secede from the mainland. It has raised the hackles of a nation which has already been severed of its eastern and western arms on the grounds of religion at the stroke of independence seven decades ago.

Politics is not a zero-sum game but Modi is set to harvest a bounty nobody had seen coming out of the present crisis.

 

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