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Analysis | Modi’s India Has A Self-Inflicted Image Problem – And It’s Getting Worse

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The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has suggested that India be categorised as a “Country of Particular Concern” because of religious and structural discrimination against Muslims. The report recommended that the US government impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedoms – including by freezing assets and/or barring their entry into the United States.

The purpose here is not to cheer on sanctions against this or that country. Such punitive measures by the US have often produced the opposite of the desired outcome, as is exemplified by the case of Iran.

But whether or not such sanctions by the US are on the cards any time in the near future, there are two important aspects to consider here.

First, the terrifying rate at which India’s public image on the world stage has deteriorated. Just a few years ago, it was described as the world’s largest democracy. Today, it is procedurally still a democracy, but the attention of global media is focused on its communal woes. The BJP leadership itself seems to see India less as a liberal-democratic polity to be emulated by developing countries, and more as a muscular power that is finally living up to its ‘true’ communal-nationalist destiny.

Second, the lack of any serious effort by the ruling party to mend this horrific new image. There is not even a bad-faith attempt by the BJP’s India to showcase reconciliation with its Muslim minority. It is as if the ideology which the BJP subscribes to cannot permit even a show of inclusivity for the sake of propaganda. The Muslim, both within India and across the border in Pakistan, is now being depicted as an eternal enemy.

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Senior BJP-affiliated ideologue Dr. Subramanian Swamy showed off this brazen new posture in his recent interview with Vice News, a clip of which has circulated widely on the internet. In it, he makes no secret of the fact that the government which he represents has a violently antagonistic view of India’s Muslims. Vice journalist Isobel Yeung probably went in expecting a hard-line defence of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NCR). But it is clear from her shock that she did not foresee such bloodcurdling statements. Dr. Swamy, clearly, cares about playing to only one gallery: his party’s ideological support-base. The world gapes in horror at his venom.

Even without US sanctions, this new India is already feeling the political, economic and diplomatic costs of its seething hatred of Muslims. Just this month, high-level royal figures from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Arab states lashed out in indignation at the anti-Muslim sentiments being expressed by members of the Indian diaspora. The Modi government itself had to step in to urge expats to restrain their language. Will such damage-control be possible every time?

President Donald Trump might excuse the Modi government in an effort to build up an international alliance of deplorables, but will the rest of the world follow suit? India is sure to ruffle many feathers in Europe and the Muslim world for its deteriorating human rights record.

The BJP should consider a step back from this precipice.

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