By Mansoor Ladha on September 21, 2023.
India made history by becoming the first country in the world to land a spacecraft near the moon’s south pole, an uncharted territory that scientists believe could hold vital reserves of frozen water, and the fourth country to achieve a moon landing.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was attending the BRICS nations summit in South Africa was jubilant at his country’s achievement. “India is now on the moon. India has reached the south pole of the moon – no other country has achieved that. We are witnessing history,” Modi said as he waved the Indian tri-coloured flag. Ecstatic Indians danced in the streets celebrating the occasion while messages of congratulations poured in from around the world, reinforcing India’s emergence as a modern space power.
Now that India has reached the moon, may it’s time for Modi and his rightist BJP government to pay attention to the problems they are confronting on Mother earth and try to fix them.
Ever since Modi was first elected Prime Minister in 2014, he has been rewriting the history of India, from that of a secular democracy accommodating a uniquely diverse population to that of a Hindu nation, promoting vicious right wing populist policies, targeted especially against the country’s two hundred million Muslims. Modi and his allies have squeezed, bullied, and stifled the press into endorsing what they call the “New India” and jailed critics including journalists and opposition politicians.
It was conveniently forgotten by the U.S. that not long ago it denied Modi a visa for “severe violations of religious freedom” back when he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat. Instead, the Biden administration rolled a red carpet during his last visit to the U.S., holding elaborate state banquet to entertain one of the most despotic rulers in the world.
Analysts like Angshuman Choudhury of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi has compared these home demolitions to “bear [a] striking resemblance to Israel’s tactics against Palestinians.” As in Palestine, such measures are meant to introduce a sense of precarity into the lives of Modi’s critics. In India, they are the latest indicator that it is becoming increasingly hazardous to oppose the BJP.
Modi has been facing increasing criticism, with rights groups accusing his government of human rights violations and persecution of religious minorities including Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians. U.S.’s 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom has confirmed India had “numerous reports during the year of violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities in multiple states.”Â It cited instances involving Christians, Muslims and Dalits, the people at the very lowest rung of India’s caste pyramid and criticized the anti-conversion laws enforced in 13 Indian states.
All of this has impacted India’s standing in the world, slipping India to 150th out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom index and 46thÂ out of 165 independent countries in the 2021 Democracy Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), showing a significant drop from its ranking of 27th in 2014, when Modi became prime minister.
According to Somdeep Sen, Associate Professor of International Development Studies at Roskilde University, this leaves little by way of recourse for Modi’s detractors in India and indicates that there are few barriers left to prevent the country’s slide into authoritarianism.
Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston, said Modi “over the past few years has aggressively fomented Hindu nationalism to bolster his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”Â
“His rise to power and his continued hold on power has come with the discrimination and oppression of Muslim minorities.” However, he emphasized that while India is an imperfect democracy, the U.S. maintains diplomatic ties with countries that have far worse human rights records, citing China, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar as examples.
“India is increasingly playing an important role in the world, from the confrontation with China over global issues related to Taiwan, to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Because of the U.S.’s strained relations with both China and Russia, it is important for the U.S. to have good relations with India, or at least have an equidistant relationship with India in comparison to both China and Russia.”
When the jubilations over India’s space achievements have died down, it would be worthwhile for Indians to take measures to improve their situation in Mother India! It’s ironical to celebrate the trip to the moon when inhabitants on earth are suffering under authoritarianism.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist and author of three nonfiction books: Off the Cuff, Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.