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Narendra Modi’s next challenge is to contain his extremist supporters

To restore faith in the rule of law in India, the new government should ensure that the culture of mob violence has no political patronage.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a public meeting in Ahmadabad, India, Sunday, May 26, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

The day after Bharatiya Janata Party won the Indian elections on May 23, a video circulated on social media of a group of Hindu extremist cow vigilantes attacking Muslims, including a woman, over rumours that they were carrying beef.

The Muslims were forced to chant Hindu slogans. The police later said that the incident had occurred in Seoni, in Madhya Pradesh, before the election results had been announced, and that five suspects have been arrested.

On May 26, three days after the election results, a detergent seller in Bihar’s Begusarai district said a man stopped him and asked him his name. When he said his name was Mohammad Qasim, the man shot at him saying, “You should go to Pakistan.”

Qasim is now recovering from the gunshot wound in hospital.

Modi returns

The 2019 general election results saw the Narendra Modi-led BJP return to office with a larger mandate than the one it received in 2014.

Ahead of the elections, the Modi government was criticised for failing to stop mob attacks on Muslims, Dalits, and other minorities by its party supporters and affiliated groups, and for divisive politics promoting Hindu majoritarian nationalism.

But after the elections, Modi called for inclusive politics and winning “the trust” of Muslim minorities at a meeting, on May 26, with newly elected parliamentarians from the BJP and its National Democratic Alliance partners. Many hoped that this was a cease and desist message to his militant Hindu nationalist supporters.

During its years in the Opposition, the BJP used violence to assert its ideological claims, whether to condemn art or books that were deemed to have offended Hindu sentiment, to target Muslims and Christians, or to shut down its critics.

The party’s election campaign this year was also built on anger and suspicion. In promoting national security, or reviling Pakistan for nurturing armed militant groups that target Indians, Muslims in India came under threat. While the BJP might contend that there was no increase in large-scale communal violence during its previous term, it should recognise that empowered Hindu extremists heightened the fears of many Muslims.

Mob violence must end

To restore faith in India’s rule of law, the new government should ensure that the culture of mob violence – whether attacks to protect cows, punish inter-faith relationships, or stop criticism of the government – has no political patronage.

A Muslim boy should not be taunted about his religion or killed in a squabble over train seats. No one should be thrashed because they are suspected of carrying beef in their lunchbox. Men who rape and kill a child to punish her for being Muslim should not be commended. Desperate Muslim refugees and migrants should not be deemed termites,placing them at risk of retribution.

In July 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the Indian government should end this culture of mob violence and said the attackers should “remember that they are subservient to the law and cannot be guided by notions or emotions or sentiments or, for that matter, faith”.

Human rights for all

For Modi’s call for inclusive politics to be meaningful, his government must take steps to uphold human rights for all. One successful BJP candidate, during the election, spoke of being tortured in police custody, and the abuse of counter-terror laws. Ending such abuses should be a priority, but it should be non-partisan instead of using the same laws to punish opposing views by arresting activists. Likewise, the authorities should recognise that security sector reform and accountability are crucial.

A divisive political campaign has ended. In his victory speech, Modi, called upon his supporters to uphold the Constitution with humility and to ensure that in a democracy all views are respected. That should mean they abide by the universal protection of human rights.

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