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Is there a concerted attempt to sow doubts against PM Modi among his most loyal base?

A new theory in town. That PM Modi has suddenly decided to go ‘secular.’

By now, everyone of us who is out there on social media is aware of this strange new phenomenon. The toughest, most loyal BJP supporters are suddenly reeling as if struck by a Category 5 Hurricane. The feel good atmosphere of May 23 has all but evaporated and a sense of gloom and doom prevails among the online support base of PM Modi.

A new theory in town. That PM Modi has suddenly decided to go ‘secular.’ Or in other words, he has embraced the pseudo-secular trappings and hypocrisies of the old Indian political establishment.

I have to take this theory head on. Not necessarily to oppose. But because I want to discuss.

First of all, is there merit in the claim that the BJP has not done enough to break down the pseudo-secular old establishment? Absolutely there is. For example:

Why can’t we bring in a law to build a Ram Temple at Ayodhya? The courts began looking at the Ayodhya dispute since 1855-56! After what is possibly the longest legal case in history, it appears that the Supreme Court has thrown up its hands and asked for mediation! At least now it is time for the Govt to address the matter directly and build the Ram Temple, honoring the will of the people.

Why do we even have a ministry for minorities? Isn’t that where all the recent discontent about “minority scholarships” began? As Rahul Roushan wrote in an OpIndia article, why not just go for “deminoritization” and shut down this ministry? For those who care, the “Ministry of Minorities” isn’t even a time honored tradition. It was dreamed up by the UPA specifically as a vehicle for appeasement and vote bank politics. Why not abolish it?

Now that said, I have to ask if there is genuine cause for the sudden surge of negativity that has come to dominate social media in the last few months. Did something change suddenly? And more importantly, are there elements who are now actively playing on this negativity, trying to actually break Modi’s strongest support base by playing up half truths?

Let us start with the matter of minority scholarships. It’s the spot where this theory of ‘minority appeaser BJP’ originated and the anger has been simmering since. In a pronouncement that I suppose nobody on social media has forgotten, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi declared that minorities would receive “5 crore scholarships” over 5 years of Modi 2.0.

That sounds like a big number, which made the outrage take off. Social media was flooded with all sorts of numbers. But was it really? I mean, the BJP government claims to have 22 crore beneficiaries in its first term. Since minorities make up more than 20% of the population, one can confidently claim that at least 4.4 crore minority beneficiaries in Modi’s first term. From 4.4 crore to 5 crore does not seem like that much.

What about scholarships specifically? Here is the expenditure by year:

Post matric Scholarship expenditure
Pre matric scholarship expenditure

As you can see from the data, there has been hardly any increase in either number or total amount spent on minority scholarships. The number of scholarships appears to have gone down significantly in fact compared to the last year of UPA and the first year of Modi’s term (during which smaller expenditures like these would mostly have been carried forward on auto pilot from previous government). And never forget that budget staying “constant” is really a cut in terms of inflation.

But people argue that the numbers are beside the point because it is a question of principle. And I agree. But then it must also be acknowledged that there has been no sudden change in BJP policy which would warrant the sudden outrage.

But what I really wonder is whether other players are trying to capitalize on the bout of outrage and trying to sow fear and dissension in BJP’s core base.

News articles appeared with headlines like “80% of government scholarships go to Muslims.” They appeared to draw from the Government’s National Scholarship Portal. As it happened, it seems the graphic on that portal did not include data for SC/ST scholarships, the vast majority of which go to Hindus. This is the kind of routine communication gap between govt agencies that any citizen would be familiar with. But the articles and the headlines started an outpouring on social media that raged for weeks.

Eventually, there was the moment of truth when the Budget arrived. Not surprisingly, the Budget for both Pre-Matric and Post-Matric scholarships for minorities was actually *cut*. Which means the budgets were basically cut by 3-4% when you consider inflation.

Mysteriously however, headlines appeared after the budget focusing on the fact that the budget for subsidized coaching for minority candidates had been increased. By how much? It used to be Rs 8 crore. It’s now Rs 20 crore. I don’t know how much can get done in India of 2019 with an extra Rs 12 crores. But it seemed like the headlines wanted to tell a story.

Only today, a prominent news anchor shared on Twitter a video of a top BJP minister making an Islamic affirmation, without really mentioning that it is from Jan 2016. You can see the date in the video if you look carefully, but we know how social media works. Most people wont see the date.

Naturally, this video was promptly incorporated into the confirmation bias and seen as further evidence of a new minority appeasing face of Modi 2.0.

Yes, you can ask why the date matters so much. Because nobody really cares what one individual BJP minister does at home during his puja. People want to know what the top BJP leadership thinks. If they knew this video was from 2016, they would treat it as a random fact about one politician. If people think it’s recent, they will lump it together with other misinformation and fall for a narrative. No surprise that I saw recently a photo of PM Modi holding a chaddar to be sent as a gift at a certain famous dargah. The caption did not mention that the photo was from 2015. In any case, lots of Hindus offer chaddars at that famous dargah.

The dates matter. That’s precisely why some people appear to be leaving the dates out. Because if people think that all these things happened in the last couple of weeks, it will look like a coordinated PR campaign by BJP for appeasement of minorities.

Now who would want that? And are Hindu right wingers walking into a trap?

I will finish with a request to Hindu right wing online. It is absolutely right to accuse the BJP of not doing enough to roll back decades of minority appeasement. But do you think that Modi 2.0 would deliberately opt for minority appeasement? Can you think of any possible motive for this? Do you think that anybody, that too a politician, would do something without a motive? What gain do you think the BJP would hope to make from minority appeasement?

You and I know that BJP will not gain a single vote from minority appeasement.  So please. Please don’t tell me that the two sharpest political minds in India cannot see that much.

Meanwhile, I would suggest looking around and seeing how much the dominant narrative has changed in the last five years. Remember that many of us took to social media precisely because we thought the English language media was not listening to us. How does that look now?

I don’t know how many remember the Vajpayee government passing the POTA Act. The opposition was so resolute in blocking it that a joint session of parliament had to be called to pass the bill. There were MPs on both sides who came from their hospital beds to shore up the numbers for their side.

Last week, the NIA Amendment Bill passed the Lok Sabha with 278 voting in favor and just 6 against. Surely, something has changed.

We’ll get there, eventually. By the way did you know what is happening in states?

Gujarat government does not allocate budget for minorities
Yogi Adityanath government slashes minority welfare department outlay in UP

We Hindus have been treated so badly in history that we have a hard time keeping the faith. This time will be different. Let’s not be misled so easily.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a columnist and author.  

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