By Frank Islam
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election by such large margins in a sweeping victory is testimony to his popularity across India. Many media articles during the seven-week long election process, however, expressed fear that a Modi victory would disenfranchise tens of millions and threaten Indian democracy itself. This perspective is attributable to what I call the FEAR (False Events Appearing Real) syndrome. This syndrome is caused by thinking that the past is a prologue and believing that only bad things will happen in the future. Modi’s challenge in his second term will be to replace that FEAR with HOPE (Healing, Opportunity and Progress for Everyone).
Modi’s comments in his first speech after winning the election indicate that he is aware of this need and committed to addressing the challenge. In that speech, he stated, “We are for the 130-crore (1.3 billion) people of the country, we cannot differentiate between anyone. We cannot differentiate on the basis of caste or religion or race or region. We have shown how to achieve Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (development for all) and now we have to win Sabka Vishwas (everyone’s trust). Modi went on to declare, “We are for the people who trusted us and those whose trust we need to win. Nobody should be ‘other’ for us. It takes a lot of strength to try and win the hearts of people.”
What will Modi need to do to show that strength and win those hearts? What will be required to replace fear with hope? It will be necessary to confront and combat three primary factors that created the sense of fear among many based upon Modi’s first term in office. Those factors were: the killing and mistreatment of Muslims and other minorities; an emphasis on Hindu nationalism in the governing process; and, an economic development and reform process that was only partially completed.
There have been numerous incidents of killings and mistreatment of minorities during Modi’s five years. Early in his tenure, there were several lynchings of poor Muslims in the Hindi Belt due to cow slaughter. Modi did not condone those lynchings or other vigilante violence on religious minorities and Dalits during his tenure. On the other hand, he did not speak out courageously and authoritatively against those heinous actions either.
In his second term, the Prime Minister should do so. He should call for and take steps through his administration to rein-in the fringe elements of his supporters who endanger the lives and livelihoods of others. This will start to drive a stake through the heart of fear and begin to renew hope. A second action that the Prime Minister can take to contribute to the renewal of hope is to re-emphasize and elevate the importance of all religions for the future of India as a secular nation. It is no secret that during his first five years, the Prime Minister pushed Hinduism into the forefront of the Indian mindset and governmental practices.
In these next five years, he should proudly celebrate his religion and those of others by convening inter-faith dialogues in Delhi and across the country. Another step that he could take that would have significant symbolic value would be to modify the plans to build the wide path from the Hindu Kashi Vishwanath Temple to the Ganges River in Varanasi.
As a Muslim, I grew up in Varanasi and even though it is Hinduism’s holiest city it was a place where youth and people of all religions worked and played together amicably because they were bound together in the service of others. This interdenominational history could be recognized by placing stations along this path for all the religions in this wonderful and ancient city.
The final area which should be addressed to reinvigorate hope is the promise of development for all that Modi made that brought him into office on an almost universal wave of optimism and unbridled enthusiasm in 2014. Since then, he has made initial reforms to the economy, education, health care and climate change management.
But, in 2019, India’s GDP growth is relatively low; unemployment is high; the need for job creation is enormous; education of all forms – basic, vocational, technical and higher – is lagging that of advanced nations; quality health care remains a problem for all except the wealthy; the infrastructure is that of a third world country; and, the impact of climate change in India is projected to be among the worst in the world.
There is much that remains to be done. That is why Modi in his second term should advance, intensify and accelerate the critical reforms begun in first term. These reforms should be encompassing and inclusive for all – most importantly minorities, Dalits and women.
If Prime Minister Modi implements a comprehensive agenda as outlined herein, five years from now HOPE will reign for India and the only thing to fear will be fear itself. With that accomplished, India will stand as a global leader and a role model for democracy.