There is urgent need to restrain those making provocative and poisonous statements, says the author.
All through his campaign that brought him spectacular victory in the parliamentary poll, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had concentrated on only “development” and “good governance” and avoided any item on the Hindutva agenda that could have upset the pluralist Indian society. Unfortunately, however, even then he did absolutely nothing to silence or even restrain those of his irresponsible supporters belonging to the Sangh parivar who made provocative, polarizing and even poisonous statements.
For instance, at an early stage, Giriraj Singh, a Bhumihar leader of Bihar, declared that all those who opposed Mr. Modi in any way would have “no place in India” and must therefore “go to Pakistan”. Mr. Modi said not a word about this preposterous pronouncement. All that Rajnath Singh, then the BJP president and now Union Home Minister, did was to “disassociate his party” with Mr. Giriraj Singh’s statement. No wonder there followed a spate of equally absurd and dangerously divisive observations.
The head of the BJP unit in Uttar Pradesh, Laxmikant Bajpai, and the five-time MP, Yogi Adityanath, discovered that the Muslims were engaged in “love jihad” – a campaign to lure Hindu women into marriage or romance and then “forcibly” convert them to Islam. Mr. Bajpai stated that of the rapes taking place “99 per cent were committed by Muslims”. As for Amit Shah, Mr. Modi closest confidant and soon to be the party president, the Election Commission was constrained to deny him permission to hold public rallies.
This ban was withdrawn only after Mr. Shah had apologized to the Commission and assured it that he would say anything that was “unacceptable”. On none of these disconcerting episodes Mr. Modi said a word during his powerful oration on all other subjects under the sun. Sadly, most people’s hope that what had been permitted during the election would be quietly disallowed after the BJP-led government had settled down has turned into a dupe. The bitter stand-off between the ruling party, on the one hand, and nine Opposition parties, including the Congress, that have a clear majority in the Rajya Sabha, on the other, that led to the disruption of the Upper House for several days could be the foreshadow of the shape of things to come.
The sequence of events was distressingly sordid. A 47-year-old, firsttime BJP MP, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti – who was recently made a Minister of State, together with Mr. Giriraj Singh – had delivered an election speech in a Delhi suburb as the national capital is due to have assembly elections. Pontifically she told her audience that the choice before them was clear: They could elect a government of “Ramzadas” (children of Lord Ram) or that of “Haramzadas” which really means “b******s” but the BJP propagandists translated it as “illegitimate” to dilute the vulgarity. Inevitably there was a wave of outrage.
When the matter exploded in Parliament, as it was bound to, the Prime Minister chose to stay away. Some senior cabinet ministers told the House that at a party meeting Mr. Modi had “strongly disapproved of the language used” whereupon the sadhvi offered an apology of sorts. This, declared the BJP leaders magisterially, was the “end of the matter”. The Opposition in both Houses, but particularly that in the Rajya Sabha where the saffron party is in a minority, demanded that Mr. Modi should come to the House to explain his position. He took three days to do so and declared that discussion was all over.
An easily avoidable disruption of the Rajya Sabha followed. For, the determined Opposition gave up its initial demand for the sadhvi’s resignation or dismissal and asked for only a resolution to denounce the use of foul language by everybody in politics. The government contemptuously rejected this. In the end a “consensus statement,” appealing to all MPs “to maintain civility at all costs in public discourse” settled the bitter dispute.
The crowning irony is that just when Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who is also the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, was reading out the consensus document, a former BJP minister, Swami Chinmayanand was publically using the H-word in relation to, of all people, Imam Bukhari of Jama Masjid for advertising his association with a foreign place, Bukhara. Far more shocking was what so senior and experienced a leader as Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, who was earlier leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, did only a few hours earlier. She strongly advocated that the Gita should be declared the “National Scripture” of India.
Remarkably, even before anyone from religions other than Hinduism could speak, vigorous opposition to Swaraj’s demand came from Tamil Nadu, ironically from the BJP’s allies. One of them, MDMK leader Vaiko, simultaneously announced that he was ending the alliance. He accused the Centre of working against Tamil Nadu and suggested that the Dravidian forces should unite to fight the “Sanskritisation” of cultural and social spheres. He added that “Hindutva will not be allowed to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu”. PMK’s founder S. Ramadoss, who is still an ally of the BJP, also came out against Swaraj’s idea and stated that “apart from “cultural imposition” the Modi government had “hardly come out with any constructive programs in the last six months”. The BJP would be making a grave mistake if it underestimates the Tamil sentiment. Those who did so in 1965 over the official language issue paid a very heavy price.
At that time even Prime Minister Shastri did not dare to go to the trouble-spot. Only Indira Gandhi had the necessary courage. Finally, it cannot be overlooked that while Mr. Modi has full control on his government he is either unwilling or unable or both to discipline the wrongdoers among other members of the Sangh parivar who seem determined to build up a Hindu rashtra by hook or by crook. They enjoy the protection of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) of which the BJP is only the political face.
(The author is a Delhi-based political commentator.)