If you have spent any time on social media that deals with India, you have run across the name of its new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The erstwhile Chief Minister of Gujarat is in the United States this week on a state visit, overcoming a multi-year ban on his presence due to complicity in anti-Muslim pogroms while he ran the state. He is, by all accounts, being treated like a rock star, having appeared before 20,000 fans at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
A less trumpeted but far more enlightening visitor to the States is Manoj Mitta. Mitta is a reporter for the Times of India and author of two books on communal violence in India. He addressed a small crowd at George Washington University in Washington, DC tonight at an event sponsored by the Sikh Coalition.
Through a recounting of anti-Sikh pogroms in 1984 and anti-Muslim ‘rioting’ in 2002, Mitta effectively laid out an argument that Indian democracy and the Indian state have a serious and ongoing issue with anti-minority violence that can’t be explained away as just two major episodes. He pointed out that there was a failure to hold perpetrators accountable in both instances, and that the impunity around the anti-Sikh pogroms helped lead to a political calculus in favor of anti-Muslim violence. This, he implied, pointed to a system problem.
Academic Atul Kohli provided a fairly convincing explanation for this system problem, why India’s politics over the last three decades have been so communal in nature. In brief, he argues that India’s governments have been pro-rich for the last 30 years, and this leaves few vehicles to mobilize the voting base. Communalism of the kind exposed by Mitta is one such avenue.
We see laid bare, then, the links between labor and economic justice issues on the one hand and the politics of communalism and other identities on the other; the neoliberals are using communal politics as a way to drum up support for a pro-rich electoral program that would otherwise be rejected.