Fear and cautious hope for India's Muslims in Modi era

Updated 18 May 2014

Fear and cautious hope for India's Muslims in Modi era

AHMEDABAD, India: Millions of India's Muslims fear Narendra Modi's landslide election will fuel religious discrimination, intolerance and even bring bloodshed, but some are also prepared to give him a chance.
Modi stormed to victory at the polls, throwing the left-leaning secular Congress from office and handing his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a powerful mandate for promised sweeping reforms.
Critics warn the size of the victory will empower Modi, steeped in nationalist ideology and tainted by riots, to run roughshod over religious minorities, particularly India's 150 million Muslims.
But some, at least, are hopeful that Modi's promise during the campaign of jobs and development to revive the stalled economy will benefit all classes, castes and religions, not just the Hindu majority.
"My hopes have been rekindled, I am looking forward to better days under his rule," said Abdul Salaam, 29, a Muslim tailor in Varanasi, a Hindu holy city which has a sizeable Muslim community.
Salaam pointed to the prosperity of western Gujarat state, where Modi was chief minister for 13 years, saying he hoped these policies could be reproduced nationally.
Muslim widow Parveen Banu, whose family was killed in communal riots in Gujarat, said the BJP leader would not dare turn against Muslims after weeks on the campaign trail preaching national unity.
Banu remembers running through the blood-splattered alleys of Gujarat's main city of Ahmedabad to escape the Hindu mobs that killed her husband and four children.
Banu, 40, has since rebuilt her life and now runs a shop selling mutton minutes from her home in a slum — 12 years after the riots that killed at least 1,000 people.
As chief minister at the time, Modi is dogged by allegations he failed to stop the bloodshed, although he has been cleared by a court investigation.
"Of course Modi hates Muslims, but as prime minister can he really afford to show it?" Banu said.
"Plus, he has spoken of cultural unity and he has to live up to our expectations and I believe he will. He's not crazy.
"I just hope Allah shows him the right way."
Despite the optimism that some Muslims have, many fear life under a Modi-led government and voted in large numbers against him. According to a nationwide post-poll survey, only nine percent of Muslims voted for the BJP while 43 percent opted for Congress.
"Muslims are the only community to vote in big numbers for Congress," Sanjay Kumar, whose Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies conducted the poll, said.
Congress, India's national secular force that has ruled for all but 13 years since independence, was obliterated, winning just 44 seats in the 543-member parliament.
Modi secured the strongest mandate of any Indian leader for 30 years, after the BJP won 282 seats, dominating even in states with large Muslim populations such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The number of Muslim lawmakers dropped from 30 in the outgoing parliament to a record low of 24, limiting their clout for the next five years, The Times of India said.
Nazma Begum, who runs a small cloth-dyeing business in Varanasi, said she feared few could now stop Modi and the hardline groups that are allied to the incoming prime minister.
"I find Modi scary. I never imagined he would have such a big win. It's sad because now he will have a free rein, he will do as he pleases. Who would dare to question him?" the 40-year-old Muslim widow said.
Modi himself struck a note of unity in his first comments after his win, saying: "I want to take all of you with me to take this country forward."
But while Modi has stressed inclusiveness and development, his top aide Amit Shah was briefly banned from campaigning for inflammatory comments seen as a bid to polarise voters along religious lines.
Modi also fought and won the seat of the sacred city Varanasi, viewed as an effective way of burnishing his nationalist credentials.
In the only Muslim-majority state, where an insurgency has long raged against Indian rule in favor of independence or merger with Pakistan, some Muslims are hopeful for Modi for different reasons.
Chief Muslim cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said he wanted the new government to take "bold steps" to solve the dispute over Kashmir.
Modi told media during the campaign that he would pursue the policies followed by former BJP premier Atal Behari Vajpayee, who sought several times to make permanent peace with Pakistan over Kashmir.
"Modi has won on the promise of development and progress which can happen when there is peace, but an unresolved Kashmir issue is a hindrance to peace," Farooq said.


New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

Updated 28 January 2020

New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

  • Indian government aims to offload entire stake in debt-ridden national carrier after failed 2018 sale attempt
  • Critics blame country’s struggling economy for decision to sell airline

NEW DELHI: Renewed government attempts to find a buyer for “debt trap” national carrier, Air India, have been slammed as “selling the family silver.”

Politicians from opposition and pro-government parties condemned the move by the Indian government to offload its entire stake in the flag-carrier airline, which comes more than a year after a failed bid to sell a controlling share.

A document released on Monday said that any bidder would have to absorb around $3.3 billion of debt along with other liabilities.

Speaking in New Delhi on Tuesday, Kapil Sibal, senior leader of India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, said: “When governments don’t have money this is what they do.

“The government of India has no money; growth is less than 5 percent and millions of rupees are outstanding under several social schemes. This is what they will do, sell all the valuable assets we have.”

Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress, the regional party ruling West Bengal, said in a video statement that “the government has decided to sell more family silver by selling 100 percent stake in Air India. You can well imagine how bad the economy (is).”

And on Twitter, Subramanian Swamy, parliamentarian from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: “This deal is wholly anti-national, and I will (be) forced to go to court. We cannot sell our family silver.”

Monday’s document gave the deadline for submission of initial expressions of interest in purchasing the airline as March 17. In 2018, the Indian government tried to sell 76 percent of the carrier but got no takers.

To justify the latest sale attempt, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, said: “Despite infusing 30,500 crore rupees ($4.3 billion) in AI (Air India) since 2012, the airline has been running into losses year after year. Due to its accumulated debt of about 60,000 crore rupees, its financial position is very fragile.”

He described the company as being in a “debt trap” but added that it could be saved through privatization. “We have learnt lessons from the 2018 bid.”

Referring to critical comments from fellow BJP members, the minister said they were expressing their “personal opinion.”

Jitender Bhargava, former executive director of corporate communication at Air India, said the current offer would attract potential buyers.

“India is a growth market, so anybody would like to be part of it and take the advantage. The acquisition of Air India provides the fastest way to become a global carrier,” he told Arab News.

According to Bhargava, the move had nothing to do with the current state of the Indian economy. “All the important international carriers want to expand their footprints in India because of the potential of the Indian market. The government has taken a pragmatic view on the sale of the national carrier,” he said.

“Ownership of the airline does not matter, leadership matters. Once it came into the hands of the government, bureaucracy killed it,” added Bhargava, who authored “The Descent of Air India” chronicling the airline’s downfall. “Air India under the government’s ownership cannot run, cannot survive.”

He predicted that the carrier would become a marginal player if there was no change in ownership.

Air India has a fleet of 146 aircraft and employs around 21,000 people. It was founded by prominent industrialist J.R.D. Tata in 1932 and nationalized in 1953.