Syed Suhail Yaqoob
There was a time when Bollywood ‘nationalistic’ or ‘patriotic’ movies stereotyped the Muslim male as savage, conservative, and altogether a villain, while Muslim women were depicted as beautiful, sensual, and in love with the hero who was usually a non-Muslim. This is quite a familiar tactic adopted by the majority community against the minority community. In present times, news channels have taken over Bollywood’s role. On every ‘prime time’ show, the minority Muslim community is blamed for everything wrong happening in India. They are blamed for ‘forced’ conversion, ‘love jihad’, partition of India, and what not. Some media channels blame them for creating ‘mini-Pakistans’ in India. Most recently, the Tablighi-Jamaat has been portrayed as the chief carrier of coronavirus in the country. It has even been even labelled as a Muslim conspiracy to destroy India. The news channels forget that the virus was spread from Wuhan in China and not from any Muslim country. Also, during the time the virus had reached India, prime minister Modi was hosting a great welcome for Donald Trump, and many temples were open for millions of devotees.
It is not difficult to understand why the current ruling party needs a scapegoat. The BJP won landslide victories in 2014 and 2019, thanks to the charisma of Narindra Modi. In 2014, the party had promised development, corruption-free society, return of black-money, and India turning into a global superpower. Things did not go as planned. The economic growth slid to 5 percent and many economists challenged even this figure. Arvind Subramanian, at one time the Narendra Modi government’s chief economic advisor, has argued that India’s economic growth rate has been overestimated by 2.5 percentage points between 2011and 2017. The decline in economic growth is alarming for a populous country like India. As every economic student knows, decline in economic growth is a sure recipe for unemployment. Already, unemployment has touched around 7 percent, the highest since 1972-73. What makes the unemployment more worrisome is that people under the age of 35 make up 65 percent of India’s population, and every year 10-12 million young people enter the workforce. Slowing economic growth also causes substantial rise in Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) of banks. It was due to this reason that the YES BANK failed. Although some people have claimed that NPAs in public sector banks have declined, it was due to ‘written off’ loans rather than repayment of loans. The ‘written off’ loans make a hole in the financial soundness of banks.
The slowdown is the result of mismanagement of the economy. The first blow to it was the ill-conceived demonetisation. Since then, the economy has barely managed to crawl. Immediately after demonetisation, sales of consumer durables and appliances slipped by around 40 percent. The Make in India campaign, meant to boost industrial production, was destined to fail due to several reasons. First, it set unrealistic growth rates for industrial sector (up to 14%). Second, it was ill-timed in a world going through the phase of nationalism and protectionism. No one likes to talk of Make in India anymore.
India is also increasingly getting isolated internationally due to the government’s anti-Muslim policies. The issues of National Register of Citizens, Citizen Amendment Act, and detention camps have been debated in many countries and the United Nations has also opposed them. While India is trying to inch closer to the USA, it has estranged itself from long-time allies like Russia and Iran. China sees India as a card used by USA to counter its rising global power. The Indian plan was to use USA against Pakistan, but the USA has its own interests at stake in Afghanistan. It is impossible for the USA to put too much pressure on Pakistan due to the situation in Afghanistan.
As if this was not enough, Covid-19 has brought the world to its knees. Major cities are under lockdown, travel is restricted, and industries are closed. The International Labour Organisation has estimated that Covid-19 could cause 195 million job losses worldwide. In India, the situation seems to be headed for worse. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has estimated that India’s urban unemployment rate has already soared to 30.9 percent. The Indian economy is now expected to grow between 2 percent and 4 percent in the financial year 2021. Furthermore, the images of people walking barefoot for hundreds of kilometres without food and water have captured the crisis in Indian society. On top of this, India’s testing of Covid-19 is relatively very low (just around 123 per million) and the country is spending below 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on measures to contain the pandemic.
The rise of communalism in India has to be seen in the context of slowdown in Indian economy, failure of the government to contain corruption, and mismanaging the Covid-19 crisis. To hide the failures of the government, a scapegoat is needed. Who better than a bearded man wearing shalvar-kameez and a skull cap?
The writer is studying for a PhD at Aligarh Muslim University. firstname.lastname@example.org