American sociologist Robert K. Merton propounded the theory of self-fulfilling
prophecies. This is the lens through which the Muslim community’s apprehension
of having to negotiate the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for another
five years needs to be seen. “The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the
beginning,” Merton wrote, “a false definition of the situation evoking a new
behaviour which makes the original false conception come true.”
Muslims were tagged as anti-Hindu and religiously radical during Modi’s first
term as prime minister, with barely any evidence to justify the labels. They
now fear that some among them might make choices that will bring to reality the
“false definition” of their community.
in turn, take India to the next stage in Merton’s paradigm. “This specious
validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy,” he wrote, “perpetuates a reign of
error. For the prophet will cite the
actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning—such
are the perversities of social logic.”
thought of the “reign of error” emerging in India has had Muslim commentators
beseech Muslims to not abandon hope. In doing so, they recognise, even though
subliminally, that hope in the Muslim community is hanging by a thread.
quite understandable. In the last five years, 44 Muslims were lynched in the
name of the cow, inter-faith couples were harassed, threats were issued to
convert the religious minorities to Hinduism, history books rewritten to
demonise Muslim rulers, and cities were renamed to efface all past Muslim
association. Not only that, an attempt was made to redefine the secular basis
of Indian citizenship, evident from the framing of the Citizenship Amendment
Bill. The othering of Muslims became an everyday phenomenon.
It is a
testament to the forbearance of ordinary Muslims that they did not take to the
streets in response to these outright provocations. Perhaps they were petrified
of the state, an increasingly Hinduised one, coming down hard on them. Or maybe
they hoped they could combine with those Hindus who are opposed to Hindutva and
vote the BJP out of power in 2019.
Sheer Magnitude of Modi’s Victory
of Muslims has been shattered not just because Modi has won a second term as
prime minister, but because of the sheer magnitude of his victory. For all the
misery his policies have inflicted on the people, the BJP increased its seats
from 282 in 2014 to 303 in 2019 and its vote-share climbed from 31% to
37.5%. These figures have been widely
accepted as evidence of the growing allure among a section 0f Hindus for
Hindutva, which is anchored in demonising Muslims to consolidate the majority
That is why
the hope of Muslims has segued into apprehension about the future. This emotion
will be bolstered as Modi and the BJP resort to polarisation in their quest to
win the next few assembly elections. Besides, there are enough contentious
issues pending from Modi’s first term – the Ayodhya dispute, the
criminalisation of triple talaq and the finalisation of the National Register
for Citizens in Assam.
very little to suggest that the BJP’s mammoth victory has appeased those Hindus
who harbour untenable grievances, both historical and contemporary. In the week
the election results were announced there were instances of Hindutva bullies
enacting their darkled fantasies about Muslims in Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and
actions in the future will be justified, as were those in the past, on the
basis of a false definition of Muslims as being disrespectful of Hindus, their
inexplicable religiosity and radicalism, their innate disloyalty to the nation,
their propensity for violence. These actions will engender fear among Muslims,
who will search for coping mechanisms.
arising from this false definition of Muslims will drive some among them to
adopt, as Merton predicted, a new form of behaviour.
in lynchings and hate crimes was reported over the past five years. Credit:
the thin crust of middle class Muslims will explore the option of going abroad.
Those working in the Middle East, which does not grant citizenship rights to
expatriates, will push westward – to Canada, for instance. There will be
knee-jerk reactions, such as a friend’s friend, married to a Hindu, thinking
about renaming her child to erase all traces of his Muslimness in the wake of
the BJP’s victory. Mostly, though, middle class Muslims will draw succour from
their cosmopolitan bubble, stung occasionally by some of their friends engaging
in Hindutva stereotyping of their community.
uniformity of responses will unite Muslims across class and caste. More than
ever before, Muslims will ascribe every job or promotion denied or layoff to
the socio-cultural ambience fostered by Hindutva’s increasing domination. They will find it challenging to explain to their
children the hatred directed against them.
form of behaviour occasioned by the false definition of Muslims will express
itself in other ways as well – the massive mandate that the BJP has won will
strengthen all those community leaders who never tire of reminding Muslims
about the chasm existing between them and the others. Many Muslims will be
tempted to turn inwards, to their religion and institutions. Some will be
nudged by their discontent to seek a channel of expression; they will become
increasingly susceptible to radicalisation, to a politics focused on identity
and on the idea of matching the stridency of Hindutva hotheads. Some will sport
the markers of identity to indulge in a symbolic display of assertion and
of Merton’s self-fulfilling prophecy is best illustrated through a cousin’s
story of his college days in Ara, Bihar. In the 1980s and early 1990s, every
time India beat Pakistan, his Hindu classmates would tease their Muslim
counterparts with remarks such as, ‘Why are you all so sad? Better luck next
time.” When Pakistan beat India, they would be asked whether they burst
crackers and distributed sweets. Their avowals to the contrary were dismissed
outright. The cousin said those taunts led to some of his Muslim friends
supporting Pakistan until they passed out of college.
stereotyping of Muslims as inveterate and implacable opponents of Hindus is as
old as the national movement. Yet, the self-fulfilling prophecy never acquired
such sinister tones as it did after 2014 because there were important national
leaders who challenged the “false definition of the situation.” Mahatma Gandhi
opposed it, as did Jawaharlal Nehru, through state policies he pursued as
India’s first prime minister. Subsequently, a chain of leaders carried forward
the Nehruvian tradition.
definition of Muslims, however, has taken deep root over the last five years
largely because it has received the ruling party’s support. That is why the
media headlined, presumably in relief, what Modi told the newly elected
National Democratic Alliance MPs last Sunday: “Minorities have been deceived in
the country through an imaginary fear created for the purpose of vote bank
politics. We have to pierce through this deception. We have to gain trust.”
prime minister who has resorted to communal rhetoric and polarisation before
every state assembly poll and the recent Lok Sabha election should describe the
fear of religious minorities as imaginary boggles the mind. Denied even the
authenticity of their fear, the Muslims will likely get trapped in the
unfolding of what Merton called “the perversity of social logic.”
Ajaz Ashraf is a Delhi-based journalist.