'Hindus are safe only if Modiji is ruling India. If he goes, then Babur will rule us. I want Modiji to rule for another 25 years, then you will see how India will change.'
I had a huge fight with a friend last month over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's silence on the Dadri lynching.
This friend, a Modi bhakt, felt no atmosphere of fear prevailed in the country.
"Communalism always existed in India," he declared, adding, "Modi is not doing anything wrong. He is only talking of development, development and development. Modi is not anti-Muslim."
"Get your head examined," my friend advised.
A couple of days after our disagreement, when the news broke out that writers were returning their awards to the government in protest against the Dadri lynching and the killings of writers like Professor M M Kalburgi, I interviewed Nayantara Sahgal, a writer who had returned her award.
I forwarded the interview to my friend. There was complete silence.
I realised then that Modi had driven a wedge between us.
For almost four weeks we have not spoken to each other, the first time in 10 years that we haven't spoken for such a long time.
A few days ago, when I interviewed RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha, he told me, "There is a big game plan to defame Modi."
When I asked if the protesting writers wanted to project Modi in a bad light, Mr Sinha said, "I think they are overreacting."
Hearing that, I thought maybe I too was overreacting and needed to call my friend and have a chat. Maybe Modi was not communal after all. A couple of incidents have altered that view.
Going home in a taxi the other day, I started chatting, as is my wont, with the cabbie. Surely, I asked, the price of tur dal (which has touched Rs 200 a kilo) must pinch him.
"Don't say anything about dal or taunt Modiji's sarkar," the driver told me sternly.
I was both amused and startled. I had not mentioned Modi to him.
"You look like an educated man. Don't you know that there has been a bad monsoon this year. What can Modiji do about that?"
"Isn't it the prime minister's business to keep the price of pulses and inflation in check?" I asked.
"Please don't blame Modiji and spoil his reputation. If he goes, then Babur will come to rule."
"Who Babur?" I asked.
"Arre, don't you know who Babur is?"
"You mean the Mughal emperor?"
"Yes," he replied. "Hindus are safe only if Modiji is ruling India. If he goes, then Babur will rule us. I want Modiji to rule for another 25 years, then you will see how India will change." The driver claimed he was not affiliated to any political party.
I amazed how Modi had convinced a man on the street that if he was not around, Hindus would be finished in India. He had done the same thing in Gujarat after the 2002 riots. Possibly many Hindus felt the same way as the cabbie.
How could anyone equate Modi's democratic ouster with Babur ruling India, I wondered. Maybe the masses are being slowly indoctrinated by communalism, I felt.
I got more answers from Modi's election rally in Bihar on Monday, October 26. 'Nitish and Lalu,' the prime minister of India declared, 'are conspiring to give Dalit, OBC quotas to another community.'
Guess which community this is?
Should I call my friend and ask him to examine his head? Or should I examine my head?
Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election rally in Sitamarhi, Bihar. Photograph: PTI Photo