It’s surprising that the prime minister and top BJP leadership seem unaware that the rising tide of hate speeches and demonitisation of the country’s 220 million-strong Muslim minority by BJP’s affiliated sangh parivar and hindutva fringe groups could derail the economy limping back to normalcy after two years of serious pandemic disruption. They need to bear in mind that in fiscal 2020-21, the country’s GDP contracted by an unprecedented 7.6 percent and despite a low base grew by 8.9 percent in 2021-22. Nor is a big bounce-back likely in the current year. The World Bank’s latest estimate forecasts 8 percent against its earlier forecast of 9.2 percent in 2022-23.
Despite this grim scenario, holy men in dharm sansads are openly threatening violence against Muslims, proscribing the hijab (headscarf) in classrooms, evicting Muslim vendors from temple premises and pressing for a ban on halal meat in Karnataka under the benevolent watch of the ruling BJP government at the Centre and in 12 states. Nor is blatant minorityism restricted to fringe Hindutva groups. In early April, the BJP government of Madhya Pradesh demolished shops and homes of Muslim youth who allegedly stone-pelted a procession during the Hindu festival of Ram Navami.
There’s no shortage of evidence that domestic and foreign investment flows dry up in conflict zones that suffer frequent law and order breakdown. Investment famines exacerbate unemployment, spur inflation, reduce government tax revenue flows, feed civil unrest and fan fires of violence. Neighbouring Pakistan which persecutes its Hindu, Shia and Baloch minorities, Sri Lanka which alienated its Tamil minority, Uganda which exiled its Asians in the 1970s, have all destroyed their economies by practicing crude majoritarianism.
In the circumstances, the BJP leadership that is deaf to hate rhetoric and blind to vigilantism and violence against India’s Muslim and other minorities who are woefully underrepresented in legislatures, civil service, police, judiciary, and the professions, needs to disabuse itself of the notion that anti-minorityism will consolidate the Hindu vote behind it. The steady descent of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uganda among other nations into chaos and disorder should awaken it to the reality that peace, harmony and fraternity are the prerequisites of national socio-economic development.
In particular, it’s time for the prime minister Narendra Modi to speak up and crack down on Hindutva fringe groups brazenly indulging in anti-minority rhetoric and violence, to establish rule of law. The Constitution of India guarantees minority rights and several sections of the Indian Penal Code provide for punishment of individuals making incendiary speeches and perpetrating sectarian violence.
To stem India’s accelerating slide into majoritarian and anti-national communalism, hate-speech disseminators and vigilantes need to be speedily arrested, tried and sentenced under due process. An unambiguous message that India is a country ruled by law in which minority rights are respected, should come from the prime minister’s office.