Written by Mark Rasquinha.

“We must create an ecosystem so that people can thrive in our country,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to an audience of non-resident Indians in the United Kingdom. Slogans such as these are common in events catered to the Indian diaspora.

The delivery of scripted lines run parallel to protests both at the venue of the event and in India. While protestors keep the spotlight on Mr Modi’s past, his control over the media means the international community is blind to the ecosystem he continues to build and the people that thrive because of this ecosystem.

The ecosystem of fear considers the prime minister’s silence as an endorsement of the perpetuation of violence.

An Ecosystem of Fear

In an article published in early May, the Telegraph India claims that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) influence had grown over 30 percent. The opposition and a large portion of Indian society consisting of scholars, writers and citizens of prominence have made efforts to highlight the decay and loss of trust in institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, Supreme Court, Election Commission and Central Intelligence Agency. Such institutions form an integral part of Indian democracy. Today, they are being used to intimidate minorities and stifle dissent in any form.

The Indian premier often receives criticism over reports of members of the Dalit communities getting lynched for their choice of food by members of the RSS, students in universities across the country are confronting the police, people from ethnic groups and minorities face large-scale human rights violations. “Responding to an audience question on how he stays fit, Modi replies; “For the last 20 years, I’ve been on a special diet. I take 20 kg or 30 kg of criticism daily. That’s the secret of my fitness,” sparking many rounds of laughter in Westminster’s Central Hall in London. The absence of a follow-up question is telling.

The people who thrive

The use of social media to gain political mileage is an art Modi mastered before the rise of Donald Trump. The prime minister often takes to Twitter to share opinions. In the days before he was elected to office, Modi was criticised for degrading the manner of participating in political discourse. His practice of engaging with political opponents set an example Modi for his followers. Many went further by issuing death threats to anybody who disagreed with government policies, have different ideologies, or belong to a minority. Women journalists have received rape threats or had their characters brought into question Modi has followed the Twitter accounts of people issuing such threats.

The ecosystem of fear considers the prime minister’s silence as an endorsement of the perpetuation of violence. Prominent writers, academics and journalist are subject to abuse threats and shootings as a result of this silent encouragement. Hindu terror groups now punish members of the tribal, backwards caste groups and religious minorities on the ground of food habits or cultural practices.

The status of rape in India

The timing of the Prime Minister’s address at Westminster’s Central Hall in London is of particular importance. The Unnao rape case, in which a BJP MLA was accused of raping a 17 year old, came to national attention after “the victim and her family tried to immolate herself outside Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence, alleging police inaction.”

In a similar manner the Kathua rape case has shocked India. An 8-year-old was allegedly abducted and raped by a group of men, reports suggesting she had disappeared for a week before her body was found a kilometre away from the village. Charges against eight men led to protests by local groups and received the support of members of the ruling party led by Modi. One of the protesters stated that they would burn themselves if the accused were not released. Modi was criticised for initially remaining silent on the cases.

Rape as a political tool

The public in India remains divided on communal and social lines over the Kathua rape. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which Modi belongs to is responsible for creating an ecosystem of hate. Even before the sexual assault on women in the Godhra riots (in Gujarat in 2002) or the Muzzafarnagar riots, Hindutva propounder and RSS ideologue Veer Savarkar made attempts to normalise the act of rape as a political tool by reconfiguring the idea of Hindu virtue. He claims that virtues and vices are temporary and subject to change given the periods of time. To determine what must be a virtue or a vice rests on what serves the interests of Hindu society best.

Reflections for the International Community

The west has turned a blind eye to crimes committed under Modi’s protection. Leaders of the world often remind Modi of the values in the Indian Constitution to highlight the plight of minorities and marginalised groups. However, in the last four years, the western world has failed to raise questions about the threat to free speech and atrocities against minority groups by members of his fold.

As leaders of the world, people of the west must remind themselves of the cultural values and responsibility toward the third world. The west along with the Indian diaspora must decide if they will welcome leaders with laughter and cheer or question accountability.

Mark Rasquinha is a doctoral candidate at the Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. His research is in the field of political communications and culture. Image credit: by Narendra Modi.

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