Gurpreet Singh: M.G. Vassanji’s new novel is a must-read for those unfamiliar with rising Hindu extremism in Modi’s India

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      A Delhi Obsession would be an eye-opener for many in this part of the world who continue to see India as world’s largest secular democracy.

      Written by two-time Giller Prize winner M.G. Vassanji, the novel reveals how Hindu extremism has grown in recent years under a right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by controversial Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

      Though Vassanji has changed the names, including that of Modi’s party, to keep it as pure fiction, the story has many striking similarities to real events.

      They include ongoing violent attacks on Muslim men dating Hindu women by those associated with the political party in power, as well as the lynching of Muslims suspected of carrying beef by self-styled "cow vigilantes".

      Since the cow is considered sacred by Hindus, such groups have become emboldened ever since Modi became prime minister in 2014.   

      The novel revolves around a love story between Munir Khan, a middle-aged Muslim widower from Toronto, and Mohini Singh, a married Hindu woman based in New Delhi. Despite coming from different faith groups, the two share common Indian heritage.

      In a socially conservative environment charged with hatred, their love story faces many challenges not only on account of their religious divide, but also because of the complicated nature of the relationship.

      Their love brews amid hatred and growing polarization by those trying to transform India into a Hindu theocracy.

      Mohini Singh is a complex character born and raised in an orthodox Hindu family with strong anti-Muslim attitudes, yet she remains open and rebellious and falls in love with Munir. She also talks back to her husband, who is a part of the security services and harbours prejudices against Muslims.

      In one of the passages, she asks why Hindus shouldn’t also be seen as terrorists for what they did to Sikhs in 1984 and to Muslims in 2002.

      In the first week of November 1984, thousands of Sikhs were murdered across India following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Hindu mobs were incited by the slain leader’s Congress party to avenge her death by killing Sikhs.

      Similarly, Muslims were murdered across the state of Gujarat in 2002 following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people died in the initial incident, which was blamed on Muslims by Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat back then.

      Modi is widely accused of being complicit in the massacre of Muslims, even though he has repeatedly denied this. In fact, Vassanji previously authored The Assassin’s Songa novel based on the 2002 carnage.

      Though A Delhi Obsession covers a long time period, starting from British India and the subsequent religious partition of the country, resulting in large-scale violence between Hindus and Muslims, to the current phase of an intolerant Hindu-dominated India, Vassanji goes out of his way to help his readers comprehend the intensity of the problem, which is largely being ignored by the global community.

      M.G. Vassanji will speak with writer and researcher Minelle Mahtani at the Ismaili Jamatkhana (4010 Canada Way) in Burnaby at 6:30 p.m. this evening. It's part of ISF+, Indian Summer Festival’s new series of year-round events. For more information, visit eventbriteGurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor and a cofounder of Radical Desi.