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India elections: Minority communities, especially Muslims, anxious with Narendra Modi’s expected election win | World News

Elections bring out the best but also the worst of democracy.

The long seven-phase process that stretches for 44 days is fraught with the menace of communal friction.

India is now more polarised than before, with an ever-widening gap between the majority Hindus and minority Muslim population.

Over the last 10 years fault lines have deepened and trust has been eroded between communities under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu right-wing government.

In the charged atmosphere of campaign season, politicians make claims that can be divisionary to garner votes.

No less than Prime Minister Modi himself stirred the communal debate in his speech in Banswara, Rajasthan, on 21 April attacking the Congress party, accusing them of appeasement politics.

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Responding to a Congress leader who had suggested inheritance tax prevalent in America as a way to redistribute wealth, Modi said: “When they were in power they said Muslims have the first right over the nation’s wealth.

“This means they will collect your wealth and distribute it to those who have many children. To the infiltrators.

“Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators?”

A policeman keeps watch from the roof of a building during a campaign rally by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his party. Pic: AP
Image:
A policeman keeps watch from the roof of a building during a campaign rally by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Pic: AP

The crowds responded with negative chants.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh called it a “deliberate and desperate attempt to divert attention from PM Modi’s malicious and mischievous election campaign that is anchored only in lies and more lies”.

The country is on edge whenever general or state elections take place.

Words matter and have consequences.

People hold their voting slips as they queue up to vote during the second round of voting in the six-week-long national election in Jammu, India .
Pic: AP
Image:
People hold their voting slips as they queue up to vote. Pic: AP

Neville Lazarus
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Sky News’s Neville Lazarus reporting from the ongoing elections in India

‘That morning hundreds of policemen came’

Imam Zakir Hussain walked Sky News through the rubble of a flattened 13th century Akhunji Mosque that stood for 700 years on the outskirts of Delhi.

Earlier this year the Municipal Corporation said it was illegal and demolished the structure, an adjoining madrasa and uprooted a graveyard, even though it was listed in the archaeological records 100 years ago – long before the inception of the corporation.

Mr Hussain had been the imam of the mosque for over 20 years.

“That morning hundreds of policemen came and demolished everything without giving us any time to remove our belongings, even our holy books,” he said.

“They have erased every mark, didn’t spare the graves either.

“It’s a historic 700-year-old mosque, how can it be built on illegal land when there was no municipal corporation?

“Our hearts are broken.”

Imam Zakir Hussain walks through the rubble of a flattened 13th century Akunji Mosque
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Imam Zakir Hussain talking to Sky News

Imam Zakir Hussain walks through the rubble of a flattened 13th century Akunji Mosque
Image:
Mr Hussain walks through the rubble of a flattened 13th century Akhunji Mosque

‘I was a target because I am a Muslim’

Muslims feel they have been a target of right-wing organisations under Mr Modi’s nationalist government for the past 10 years.

Dismissing these allegations, Nalin Kohli, national spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: “In this country there is no special reassurance for anybody.

“There’s a reassurance for every citizen that a citizen can be of any religion.

“Prime Minister Modi’s government works honestly, sincerely, consistently for every Indian, irrespective of region, colour, race, language or religion. Everyone is equal before law.”

Javed Mohammad said he was targeted because he was Muslim
Image:
Javed Mohammad said he was targeted because he was Muslim

Nalin Kohli, National Spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party
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Nalin Kohli, national spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party

But that’s little assurance for 58-year-old Javed Mohammad, a social activist from Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, accused by the administration of being a mastermind behind a communal incident in June 2020.

He was arrested and jailed for almost two years, multiple cases were registered against him including using the stringent National Security Act.

A day after his arrest the authorities brought in bulldozers and demolished his house, claiming it was illegal.

Out on bail and homeless, he is fighting multiple cases against the state including the unauthorised demolition of his home.

Some of Modi's supporters during a recent campaign rally. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Some of Modi’s supporters during a recent campaign rally. Pic: Reuters

“There is no doubt I was a target because I am a Muslim. Because they wanted the Muslim leadership that is coming up should be crushed and then everyone supporting them will be scared,” he said.

His case has been flagged up by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan agency that monitors universal rights to freedom, of religion or belief.

“Seeing my home demolished was heartbreaking, what could I do, I was in jail. There was no enquiry or notice issued, no process or procedure of any law followed. It’s like jungle’s law. I never imagined it would happen to me,” he added.

Crackdown on civil society

The Modi regime is accused of being authoritarian, cracking down on dissent and in particular on civil society.

According to the government, licences of over 20,702 non-government organisations have been cancelled for allegedly violating stringent financial regulations.

These include units of well-known organisations like Amnesty International, Oxfam and World Vision.

A Modi support dressed as the Hindu God 'Hanuman' cheers at one of his rallies. Pic: Reuters
Image:
A Modi support dressed as the Hindu God ‘Hanuman’ at one of his rallies. Pic: Reuters

Human rights activist Harsh Mander, who heads the Centre of Equity Studies, is a fierce critic of the government and has borne the brunt of such a challenge.

His organisation, the Karwan-e-Mohabbat (Caravan of Love), works with helping victims of mob lynching, communal violence – most being from the Muslim community.

Multiple court cases and raids by federal agencies and police on his home and offices have affected his work.

From a strength of 100, he now has only four people at his Delhi office.

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He tells Sky News: “This government has been systematically using the power of its various investigative agencies to come down very heavily on civil society.

“Many have closed down those that survive struggle with not wanting to say anything or associate with anyone who might anger this government.”

The ruling party dismisses these allegations saying the law was there prior to them taking power and the Modi government is only implementing it.

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BJP’s Nalin Kohli said: “The question to be asked is what is it they were doing so bad that their licences were cancelled.

“Perhaps their papers are so problematic that they don’t have any right to go back to court, ultimately there is due legal process.

“Does an organisation in the name of civil liberties have a right to participate in, say political functioning?

“We believe there seems to be an agenda and one really wonders where the funding was coming from, that seemed to be creating a narrative in favour of separatism and this is one country that has suffered the pains of partition.”

A person carries a cut-out of Modi, ahead of his election campaign rally, in Ayodhya, over the weekend. Pic: Reuters
Image:
A person carries a cut-out of Modi, ahead of his election campaign rally, in Ayodhya, over the weekend. Pic: Reuters

Modi’s silence

Modi’s silence on the many instances of lynching of Muslim men for alleged trading in cow meat, Love Jihad and bulldozing of homes belonging to Muslims, has been deafening.

Allegations emerged that state governments ruled by his party look the other way when violence is perpetuated on minorities by right-wing Hindu mobs.

“India’s democracy in the last 10 years has collapsed quite substantially. Parliament is virtually non-functional, opposition leaders are being targeted by a range of agencies and are in prison or threatened with prison. Our judiciary have not been consistent in the defence of constitutional values and the media acts as cheerleaders of the ruling government and worse as also people who propagate hate against Muslim minorities,” Mr Mander said.

Communities are anxious as Modi is expected to win his third term.

He will need to reassure everyone he is prime minister of all citizens irrespective.

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