Though the spread of coronavirus around the world is essentially a microbiological phenomenon, a communal characteristic of this deadly contagion can be observed in Modi’s India. A typical blame game has held the country’s Muslim community responsible for spreading COVID-19 in India. Regrettably, while most countries in the world are trying their best to contain this pandemic, Islamophobic Hindu nationalists have gotten another opportunity to persecute the minority Muslim population in the wake of the outbreak. Thus, the coronavirus pandemic has only added to the miseries and troubles of this marginalised community. Moreover, a section of Indian media has resorted to peddling conspiracy theories by pointing the finger at Pakistan for planning to “infiltrate” COVID-19 inflected individuals into India as part of a biological warfare campaign. Simultaneously, the Indian security forces have also intensified unprovoked firing on the civilian population along the Line of Control (LoC). It is clear that India has been pursuing a strategy of launching verbal and armed military attacks on Pakistan in a time of internal crisis to divert public attention from its domestic affairs.

Tablighi Jamaat, a multinational Muslim missionary movement, held a gathering in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz last month. Unfortunately, this particular gathering has been blamed for spreading coronavirus in India. India’s television news channels, best known for enticing hatred against Muslims, were quick to attack attendees of the Tablighi congregation. They instantly dubbed Muslim missionaries “human bombs” and India’s “virus villain”. They also broadcast a number of special programs on primetime news to give a communal colour to this contagion in India. A popular TV show anchor enthusiastically advised the Indian government to initiate “draconian steps” against the leaders of Tablighi Jamaat after maintaining that they have “no right to be on Indian soil”.

Meanwhile, there was also a smear campaign against common Muslims on social media. The hashtags #CoronaJihad, #NizamuddinIdiots and #Covid-786 started trending. Later, leaders from the ruling BJP also joined this anti-Muslim campaign. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a BJP Union Minister, said that the Nizamuddin Markaz meeting was a “Talibani crime” which couldn’t be forgiven and overlooked. Kapil Mishra, another BJP leader notorious for hate speeches, tweeted: “Tablighi Jamaat people have begun spitting on the doctors and health workers. It’s their aim to infect as many people as possible with coronavirus.”

Though the Indian government had issued warnings against large public gatherings, there was poor enforcement of such restrictions. Consequently, Indian citizens, including some Muslims, didn’t take this warning seriously. Besides Muslims, there were also other communal groups that didn’t refrain from holding public gatherings. During the same period, hundreds of thousands of Hindus celebrated a 10-day temple festival in Kerala state, which failed to draw any signification attention from the media. We also witnessed long queues of Indian migrant workers in India’s major cities waiting to board buses to return to their native villages following an instant nationwide lockdown imposed by the Modi government last month.

On March 24, Prime Minister Modi appeared on television to announce, with just four hours of notice, a 21-day nationwide lockdown in India. This lockdown strategy has been severely criticised by many for being too hasty, ill-planned and even poorly-executed. The government couldn’t properly foresee the humanitarian impact of this decision on the 1.3 billion Indian population. The country’s informal economy, which employs more than 420 million people amounting to 90% of its total workforce, was affected the most. The Indian government announced an economic stimulus package of $22.6 billion to assist the poor Indian population through cash transfers and initiatives for food security. However, a significant proportion of the affected population couldn’t benefit from this facility since it was not registered with the federal food welfare scheme. Insufficient healthcare facilities and inadequate PPEs for healthcare workers to fight COVID-19 in India is yet another sad story.

The nationwide lockdown in India has been particularly advantageous to PM Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, the BJP. This lockdown has clearly helped them overcome their most pressing challenge of diluting the anti-CAA protests across the country. A large number of Indians, especially Muslims, were strongly protesting and holding public demonstrations against the discriminatory anti-Muslim citizenship laws introduced by the Modi regime last year. Just one month ago, some violent Hindu nationalist hooligans, backed by the fascist Modi government, had tried to forcibly put an end to these ant-CAA protests by publicly attacking these peaceful protestors which led to full-fledged riots in Delhi. 53 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in these riots. It was a truly deplorable saga of events. In any civilised country, no government would resort to such shameful tactics with the nefarious aim of persecuting its marginalised communities.

A violent wave of Hindu extremism has swept across India soon after BJP succeeded in forming its government in 2014. This extremism is indeed attributable to the radical nationalist policies of the ruling BJP. Under the political umbrella of the BJP, all the Hindutva-oriented organisations have been at liberty to victimise and persecute other communal minorities in the country. There have been a large number of unfortunate incidents in India. The 2015 Dadri mob lynching, the incident of blackening the face of Indian politician and activist Sudheendra Kulkarni for organising Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book launch in Mumbai, the ink attack on the Kashmiri lawmaker engineer Rashid outside the New Delhi Press Club, the cancellation of Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai, the incident of storming the Mumbai office of BCCI by Shiv Sena activists cancelling the scheduled meeting between Pakistani and Indian cricket board officials and several other such occurrences. All these incidents speak volumes about rising and unabated Hindu extremism in India.

One can easily predict how post-corona India will behave. It will be locking horns with its arch-foe Pakistan. It will continue persecuting its religious minorities and marginalised groups as usual. It will further suppress hapless Kashmiris to deny them their fundamental political rights. And indeed, it will prioritise toxic politics over the welfare of its downtrodden citizens.

COVID-19 is currently posing a serious threat to more than one and a half billion people living in the South Asian region. These people may be more vulnerable to the spread of this pandemic compared to European countries due to the absence of adequate healthcare facilities. Low per capita income and poor sanitation conditions could make things worse. Therefore, all regional countries, including India and Pakistan, must focus on improving their capacity to protect their people against the deadly pandemic. They should endeavour to rise above their regional disputes and rivalries. India, being the largest regional country, can obviously take the lead in promoting peace in the region and work towards diffusing regional tensions during these testing times.