Combat Zone

Narendra Modi is Milking the Sacred Cow

By Ishaan Gollamudi


  On paper, India is a secular country. The deliberate lack of a national religion was meant to reconcile India’s newfound nationhood with the fact that the only thing most of its population had in common was being subjugated by uniformed men with pasty skin and weak stomachs. That is why it was so jarring to see Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi not only breaking ground on the site of a demolished mosque – the Babri Masjid – but also inaugurating the Hindu temple constructed there. It was especially jarring because the paper mentioned in the first sentence is the Indian Constitution.

  But Modi’s political ascent is deeply intertwined with the Babri Masjid, so let’s start with the latter. This mosque was first constructed in 1528, under the first Mughal Emperor of India, Babur. In 1853, Hindu groups argued that it was built on the birthplace of the deity Rama and that a temple honoring Rama had been torn down to construct the mosque. It’s like the chicken and the egg dilemma if archeologists were unable to prove that the egg even existed. Yet, regional Hindu nationalist groups leapt to the cause of this allegedly razed temple, and in 1949, it became a flashpoint.

  Until that point, Hindu worshippers had been allowed to worship in the outside courtyard, while Muslim worshippers could enter the mosque to worship. But on the morning of December 23, two idols of Rama were found surreptitiously placed within the mosque, resulting in the Masjid being locked down and declared a disputed site. The sectarian violence of an alternate reality where an absent-minded time traveler left their Hatsune Miku action figure within the Masjid does not bear imagining.

  Tensions continued to mount as the Masjid was stuck in legal limbo, especially with the antagonizing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) (yes, like the major), a Hindu nationalist group that Modi had been a card-carrying member of since age 8. It may be surprising that brown people have cults, too, but ours don’t get Netflix documentaries because we don’t practice polygamy. Multiple RSS leaders had been arrested already for stoking civil unrest, and so had then-leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi’s current political party. In 1992, these tensions exploded, much like the colon of the first colonial officer curious about “the savages’ cuisine,” when a Hindu nationalist mob – whipped into a frenzy by BJP leaders – tore down the Masjid. 2000 people, primarily Muslim people, were killed in the ensuing intercommunal violence.

  Modi was more directly implicated in the following significant flare-up of violence, instigated by the 2002 burning of a train car carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from the site of the Masjid through Gujarat, as then-chief minister of the state. Specifically, he was involved by remaining entirely uninvolved, refusing to intervene as the Gujarati Muslim community was terrorized, although he had organized such pilgrimages for the RSS before entering politics. 

  This is what makes Modi such a distinct threat to Indian secularism: his milking of the sacred cow. Modi did not explicitly start as a Hindu nationalist, at least relative to his peers in the BJP (Amit Shah, the current Indian Minister of Home Affairs, and Yogi Adithyanath, the current Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh), but after two terms in office, his embrace of Hindutva(Hindu nationalism) is flagrant. Even prior to his inauguration of the Ram temple where the Masjid once stood, the BJP-dominated government notably passed legislation requiring Muslim Indians to provide extensive documentation of their residence in India, or risk deportation. There is also the matter of his revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status, which we will discuss in depth later on to help mitigate your “brown people in crisis” fatigue.

  Modi has made Hindutva his political platform, but arguably more disturbing is his integration of Hindutva into his cult of personality. While it was always a component of his appeal, especially his time in the RSS, Modi is now presenting himself as Hindu divinity: he keeps his extra arms tucked into his waistcoat. Hindu nationalism is so integral to Modi’s presentation, it’s analogous to Steve Jobs’s black turtleneck, if his turtleneck was actually his skin, which would put Apple in the running for the award for Most Sexless Commercial Featuring a Shirtless Man in history.

  Currently, Modi seems posed for a third term in office, and at this point, I’d love to tell you there is good news for the future of Indian democracy. But rather than make another snide remark, it might be more cathartic to conclude the way I started this piece: fuck the British.