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What Narendra Modi's Victory Means For Minorities In India


Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP party declared victory in this year's historic general election in India. BJP is a Hindu nationalist party that wants to establish India as a Hindu nation. This makes for a difficult reality for the country's millions of religious and ethnic minorities, the largest being Indian Muslims. Rana Ayyub is an independent journalist who has covered Prime Minister Modi since the early days of his political career. She is also a Muslim living in Mumbai, India. And she joins us now via Skype.

Welcome to the program.

RANA AYYUB: Thank you for having me, Susan.

DAVIS: There are many minority groups in India from Muslims to Christians to Jains to Dalits. What is life like right now for these people?

AYYUB: Well, as I wrote in a column a couple of months ago - that life for Indian minorities is a nightmare in India right now because Narendra Modi, in his last five-year term, has unleashed a kind of a lynch mob in India that wants to establish a Hindu state. You know, there are lynchings on the streets of Muslims for allegedly eating beef. The president of the ruling party has referred to Muslims as termites and infiltrators and migrants who need to be wiped out. So that's the kind of sentiment, despite the fact that in his acceptance speech yesterday, he has talked about an inclusive India. As somebody who has observed his political career, Mr. Modi does not walk the talk. And Indian minorities are well aware of his track record in hate crimes and hate speech. So there is apprehension and there is fear amongst Indian minorities at this point of time.

DAVIS: Muslims make up about 14% of the population in the country of India yet just 4% of the representation in Parliament. That is the lowest level in decades. Is this anti-Muslim sentiment you're talking about contributing also to the decline in representation in government?

AYYUB: Absolutely, because it's the first time in independent India when the ruling party does not have a single Muslim representative in Parliament despite the population of Muslims in India being 190 million. And that speaks volumes of the kind of discrimination, you know, the government has of - vis a vis Muslims. Various BJP leaders have made scathing remarks of the Muslim community that - a minister of child and welfare said that she does not need the Muslim vote to get elected. Muslims in India have been underrepresented in - whether it's in the civil services, whether it's in the armed forces, in the bureaucratic services because there is a sentiment in the government that they do not encourage Muslim aspirants and Muslim candidates, especially with the anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. So that Muslims are least represented in the Indian Parliament is not the least bit surprising, especially with the present regime.

DAVIS: This rise of populist and nationalist right-wing governments, we see it happening all over the world in places like Hungary...

AYYUB: Right.

DAVIS: ...And Brazil and Australia. What message...

AYYUB: Yeah.

DAVIS: ...Do you think it sends to the world that India, the world's largest democracy, is following this trend?

AYYUB: Well, I know there are populist regimes all over the world. But when the world's largest democracy tries to follow that model, it ruins its secular character that - we've all been saying that if Mr. Modi comes to power, it will be an attack on India's soul. India cannot afford to go the populist, strong-man way.

DAVIS: Rana Ayyub is an independent journalist based in Mumbai, India.

Thank you so much.

AYYUB: Thank you so much, Susan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.