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Believe it or not, Imran Khan, Noor Jahan and Javed Ahmed are not the only individuals mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speeches and ‘Mann ki Baat’ broadcasts. Sunil Jaglan, Haryana ex-sarpanch, was mentioned once in his radio show and then again at Wembley stadium, London. And in the same November 29 broadcast where Noor Jahan and Javed Ahmed were mentioned, Jamuna Mani Singh found an honourable mention too.

Jamuna who? Why is it that only the first three names have stayed in mind? Not just because of their achievements. Few would remember what Alwar’s Imran Khan did to earn praise from Modi. By next month, Noor Jahan and Javed Ahmed’s achievements would be forgotten too. But their names will not, or at least, their Muslim identity will not.

This was the man who was chief minister when those who shared his ideology massacred Muslims across his state. Now, as prime minister, he chooses to praise Muslims. If that’s not news, what is? No wonder that the media has gone after these unknown Muslims much more enthusiastically than it has pursued the others mentioned by him.

Sunil Jaglan was already famous for his “selfie with daughter’’ campaign before Modi praised him. But few people outside Haryana may remember that he has been mentioned by Modi not once, but twice.

As for Jamuna Mani Singh, only two mainstream English newspapers – one from Kolkata, and one from the south – bothered to trace out this ASHA worker in Odisha’s Balasore district. The rest who chased her belonged to the Odia media.

It’s not as if Jaglan and Jamuna Mani Singh’s achievements are insignificant compared to those of Khan, Noor Jahan and Ahmed. Both had the guts to go against the norm in their villages. Jaglan fought Haryana’s male-dominated, misogynist society, known to regard women as the dirt beneath their feet, and he did so in his village. Jamuna had to persuade tribals in her village to give up age-old beliefs in animal sacrifice as a way of fighting illness, and turn instead, to modern medicine to fight malaria, an illness that’s routinely fatal for tribals. Any medical worker who’s worked among tribals knows how tough that is. Jamuna succeeded; there have been no malaria deaths in her village for the last two years.

Yet, it’s the Muslims who stay in mind.

It’s unfortunate for Khan, Noor Jahan and Ahmed to be remembered not for what they’ve achieved, but for the accident of their birth. For their feats are indeed noteworthy. Imran Khan, who teaches mathematics in a Sanskrit school in BJP-ruled Rajasthan, developed 52 learning Apps – learning how to do so on his own – for his deprived rural students. Noor Jahan, even at 70, rents out solar lamps for a mere Rs 3 a day to her electricity-starved villagers near Kanpur. Javed Ahmed, rendered paralysed waist downwards by a militant’s bullet in Kashmir when he was just 21, turned his life around by teaching poor children and then started a school for disabled children.

For these three, who’ve worked quietly without craving attention, praise by the PM represents the acme of achievement. As it does for their families and indeed, their entire village. The same applies for Jaglan and Jamuna Mani Singh.

Yet, there’s a difference. The immediate reaction that takes place after their names and work are lauded by the PM has been different for the former. Local BJP leaders promptly land up at their door, and are photographed congratulating them. Widowed 20 years back, Noor Jahan told reporters she could do with more solar lamps to meet the village’s growing demand – she has just 50 now. What she did get instead was a clock with Modi’s face, a shawl and a garland, from BJP Kanpur chief Surendra Maithani, and a vague promise of “financial help from the Centre.’’ Imran Khan was offered a job by the government and felicitated by the state education minister. Jamuna, on the other hand, wasn’t deemed worthy of an immediate visit by the Odisha unit of the BJP. Surely as an opposition party, the BJP would have benefitted more by a photo-op with Jamuna.

A lot of research must go into finding individuals deemed worthy of being mentioned by the PM in his speeches. There are thousands of such unsung heroes in our villages. So who Modi talk’s about reflects a deliberate choice. At any rate, this PM is not known for spontaneous gestures (the one that has stood out is his almost reflex rejection of a Muslim topi offered by a maulana in Gujarat.)

So what’s the message Modi is trying to send out when he mentions Muslims in his Mann ki Baat broadcasts, which are touted as his way of communicating directly to the people? That all that talk of him being anti-minority is just ‘sickular’ propaganda? That he is indeed appreciative of the community?

But then, why the silence when a Muslim is killed by a mob driven mad by their belief in Hindutva and their hatred for Muslims – be it Mohsin Shaikh in Pune, or Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri? Why his silence when cabinet colleagues and other important party members abuse Muslims? Why did he refer to them as the “other community’’ in his Bihar campaign? Why did his prime ministerial campaign have graphic references to the way animals are killed and their pink flesh exported, or to those illegal immigrants out to grab :your’’ jobs (in Assam), or the regret that “your’’ women are not safe (in UP where “protection of our bahu-beti’’ was the driving force behind Jat violence against Muslims in Muzaffarnagar)?

The late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had the habit of listing Muslims whom he approved of as patriotic, while the rest were deemed not up to the mark. Everyone knows what his “boys’’ did to the rest in Mumbai, in 1984, and then in 1992-93. Modi seems to be following in his footsteps. “My India lives in Imran Khan,’’ Modi declared in Wembley to an adoring crowd. “And it dies with Mohammed Akhlaq,” if only he could have added.

Above article appeared in WIRE.com

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