How “fear” may overshadow coming state assembly elections in India?

A Muslim woman from Uttar Pradesh reported, `We are submerged in pools of fear. The pools are deep. Unending. I cannot get out. We cannot hear each other Suffocating. Like a well 

by Amjed Jaaved

There are seven Indian states (Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Goa, Manipur, and Uttarakhand) that are heading for assembly polls soon. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is sanguine that it would bag 300 plus seats out of the 403-seat Uttar Pradesh State assembly.

With a population of 204.2 million, Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in the Indian Union. Hindus constitute 79.7 per cent of the state’s population and Muslims 19.3 per cent. The Muslim community numbers over 38, 483,967, the largest among the Indian states.


Besides slogans, the parties promise exotic freebies to their electorate. The goodies range from hard cash to electric scooters to mobile phones, laptops, gas cylinders, free electricity, cooking vessels, cycles, mixer-grinders, government jobs, or even gold jewellery for daughters’ marriages.

In the last assembly elections, and offered free robots to homemakers to help them in their domestic chores, three-story houses with a swimming pool for everyone, a mini-helicopter, 100 sovereigns of gold to women for their marriage, a boat for every family, and $50,000 to youths to start business ventures.

The BJP’s bonanza for UP this season includes a cash transfer of $30 to Indian farmers per month; $800 million to self-help groups empowering women; $15 sent to primary school students’ families for buying school gear, and $30 provided per month to 1 million girls.

The reign of fear

In 2014, male chauvinist Yogi Adityanath authored an article that affords a peek into dark recesses of his mind. The article is entitled matrushakti bharitiya sanskriti ke sandarbh mein (power of the mother figure in the context of Indian culture).He says, ‘Shastras (scriptures) have talked about giving protection to women. Just like urja (energy) left free and unchecked causes destruction women also do not need independence, they need protection. Their energy should be channelized to be used productively’.  He added, ‘Stree shakti (women power) is protected by the father when a child, by the husband when an adult, and by the son in old age. If the woman adopts the qualities of men, that of bravery (shaurya) or masculinity (purush arth), then she becomes a devil (rakshasa).

Love jihad

In disregard of India’s freedom of Religions Act, Anti-Romeo squads in connivance with police discourage inter-caste and inter faith marriages. The legislation is used to harass Muslim community and institute false cases against them.

Most converts are –reconverted through trickery or social pressure. Even so only five percent cases of inter-faith marriage and 95 per cent inter-caste. 

His supporters have called for digging up Muslim women from their graves and raping them. In 2015, he said that if he was given the chance, he would install idols of Hindu gods in every mosque. In an undated video uploaded in 2014, he said, “If [Muslims] take one Hindu girl, we’ll take 100 Muslim girls. If they kill one Hindu, we’ll kill 100 Muslims.” (Nilanjana Bhowmick , Meet the militant spreading Islamophobia in India, Washington Post March 24, 2017).

A Muslim woman from Uttar Pradesh reported, `We are submerged in pools of fear. The pools are deep. Unending. I cannot get out. We cannot hear each other Suffocating. Like a well (Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansenand Christophe Jaffrelot, eds., Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India, Hirst &Company, London. 2019, p. 418)

Both  Modi and Adityanath are a deeply polarizing figures in Indian politics. Muslims nurture a palpable fear of persecution at the hands of the BJP’s government. Modi sloganeered ‘sab ka vishwas (everybody’s trust), but practically he has engendered a trust deficit and cynicism in the minds of Muslims by marginalising them. Modi’s former role as Chief Minister of Gujarat during the deadly riots of 2002 cast a dark shadow over his prime ministership since 2014.Instead of healing old wounds, Modi has created new fissures in the minds of Muslims, making them feel alienated and helpless. There has been a spike in vigilante attacks against Muslims accused of killing or transporting cows for slaughter or simply eating beef, chiefly in states governed by the ruling party since Modi came into power in 2014. Countless Muslims lost their livelihood for closure of abattoirs under pressure of Hindu fanatics.

Muslims are portrayed as anti-national, terrorist, pro-Pakistan and enemies of the Hindu nation. Religious minorities including Muslims have been threatened to convert to Hinduism, text books have been revised to demonise Muslim rulers of India, and cities renamed to erase India’s past links to Muslims. The Citizenship Amendment Act and the national register of Citizenship targets Muslims, called “infiltrators” and “termites” by leading BJP leaders including Amit Shah. Appointing hard-line nationalists to key government posts, at the recommendation of the RSS,  belies  Modi’s pledge for an “inclusive India”. In 2017, Yogi Adityanath, called for India to become a Hindu state.

Muslim Munch

To avoid persecution, many Muslims joined the Muslim Munch, a wing of the RSS. Modi’s government did not rebuke calls for Muslim genocide. In a US Congressional briefing, Gregory Stanton, Genocide Watch president said on January 12, “We are warning that genocide could very well happen in India.” For Stanton, genocide is a ten-stage, non-linear process, which culminates in “extermination and denial”. The Genocide Convention, though, defines it not as a process but as acts “committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. These acts include killing, inflicting bodily harm, or preventing births.

Concluding remarks

Surveys reflect that the BJP’s expectations may not be outrightly outlandish; yet, a discernible change in the Congress’s strategy may strengthen their winning tally. 

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