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Issue No.: 572 | February 2015
 

Will the Real BJP Please Stand Up?

Firoze Hirjikaka
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The rhetoric and grand promises about "minimum government, maximum governance” have already run up against the firewall of political reality.

Of late, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) seems to have developed a split personality. Two factions have emerged, on the face of it with diametrically opposing philosophies and mindsets, that seem to co-exist in harmony, or at least in benevolent tolerance. There is the group led by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi that speechifies endlessly about development and those illusory acche din that always seem tantalizingly imminent but never quite materialize. Then there is the coalition anchored by the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS) and its acolytes that it would be tempting to write off as a lunatic fringe; except that they have a definite and sinister agenda.

Both Houses of Parliament have witnessed a very strange spectacle during the winter session. It is that of our flamboyant and voluminously voluble PM sitting Sphinx-like with his chin in his hand and displaying supreme indifference to the continuous barbs flung at him by members of the Opposition. Persistent demands for him to speak have been met with contempt ordering on arrogance. Anyone who mistakes the silence as a sign of nervousness would be way off the mark. A man who has recently conquered more than half the country with his oratory is hardly likely to be timid about speaking out against a motley crew of agitated legislators. Modi is silent because he feels no need to say anything. He is biding his time until he attains a majority in the Rajya Sabha - an outcome that seems to be almost inevitable in the near future. That is when the lion will start roaring; and leave his opponents frustrated and quaking. Incidentally, there is a reason why almost the entire Opposition has consolidated against the PM. They are deathly afraid. They have never encountered anyone like him before. Here is a man who does not play by the conventional rules of politics. He is fearless about exposing the misdeeds of his colleagues because unlike them, he does not live in a glass house. The financial shenanigans of three Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) bigwigs are about to be laid bare, ostensibly by the Maharashtra Chief Minister (CM) but under instructions from the top boss. Stalwarts of other parties are painfully aware that their heads may be on the chopping block in the foreseeable future. That is why they are going all out, if not to destroy Modi, to at least keep him tethered.

The BJP (sober faction) is discovering to its cost, one of the fundamental laws of human nature: what goes around comes around. Arun Jaitley and company are attempting to take the moral high ground by denigrating the Opposition for continuously disrupting the winter session of Parliament, calling it a blot on democratic principles. They conveniently forget that their party employed precisely the same tactics during its years in opposition. In fact, 2013 will go on record as the year when the most Parliamentary days were lost due to the shenanigans of the BJP. Jaitley has taken the ordinance roué to push through auctioning of coal blocks and increased FDI in insurance, among others - again a measure he vociferously condemned the previous regime for. Jaitley is touting this as a manifestation of his government’s determination to implement its development agenda at any cost. However, as Swami Nathan Ayer has pointed out in an excellent column in the Sunday Times, ordinances are emergency instruments that need to be continuously renewed; and are unlikely to inspire confidence in domestic and foreign investors. The BJP is discovering that it is much easier to destroy than to construct - and the ache din seem to be receding farther into the distance. In another column, Aakar Patel opines that despite Modi’s pretensions of being a world statesman, he is not really well read or well informed about the intricacies of global politics; and that his speeches contain a lot of flourish, but little real substance.

The rhetoric and grand promises about "minimum government, maximum governance” have already run up against the firewall of political reality. The newly installed Maharashtra BJP government, like its predecessors, has had to expand its cabinet to accommodate its "independent” supporters who are demanding cabinet berths as their reward. This, in spite of a brute majority at the Centre. In the final analysis, not even a strongman can breach the impenetrable wall of quid-pro-quo that is the deeply entrenched foundation of politics in India.

It would not be fair to say that Modi is directly responsible, but a crescendo of looniness seems to have erupted since he came to power. A manifestation of the sudden reverence for our Vedic past is the exaltation of miraculous feats of science and medicine performed by our mythical ancestors. No less a personage than our illustrious leader boasted how these supermen took medicine to stratospheric heights by performing complex operations, including transplanting an elephant head on a human body (the origin of Ganesha perhaps). The icing on the cake was when speakers at a symposium of the Indian Science Congress, presumably a reputed centre of learning, announced their intention to confidently state how India had conducted the world’s first nuclear test "lakhs of years ago” (i.e. before the dawn of civilization) and how our "ancient aviation technology” had perfected the science of flying not only between continents, but to another planet. Thankfully, reputed scientists both at home and abroad have expressed their outrage at this ridiculous pseudo-science being presented as a serious topic at a symposium to be attended by reputed scientists from India and abroad (including a Nodel laureate) and written to the PMO and scientific secretary. It would have been commendable however, if it was the government that had squashed this nonsense in the bud. I am not saying these "geniuses” sprang into existence after Modi’s ascension, but they seem to have discovered a new found enthusiasm under the new dispensation.

Looniness is one thing and provides a little harmless hilarity in our dull lives. However, the vociferous re-emergence of relatively dormant hate mongers like the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), to name just two, is more sinister and unsettling. When the chief of the RSS himself celebrates the return of a Hindu Rashtra after 800 years, there is cause for genuine concern. The reason that our democracy has, if not flourished, at least stayed intact for nearly seven decades is that no one religious group has been allowed to establish its hegemony over the nation. Then there is this blatant attempt to reconvert "misguided” Christians and others to their "mother religion”. These "champions of Hindutva” have conveniently forgotten that many conversions are caused by the action of coreligionists. The main reason that so many Dalits and Shudras converted to Buddhism is that their fellow Hindus treated them like dirt. What attraction can Hinduism have for a group that is treated as subhuman, whose higher caste coreligionists will not let even their shadow fall on them; who are forced to do the most menial and degrading castes? Those fanatics that are currently causing an uproar over "Ghar Wapsi” need to first look inwards. 

In one of her columns, Arathi Jeyrath asks the question "why is Modi letting the sadhvis and sadhus destroy his agenda of good governance?” This does not elicit a straightforward answer. Let’s face it, Narendra Modi is the most powerful Prime Minister this country has had in the last 50 years. If really wanted to, he could shut the Hindutva-ranting fanatics up without much effort. I suspect that despite his mild admonitions in Parliament, he is content to let these rabble rousers do what they’re doing. Modi has rightly surmised that since the BJP came to power, there has been a surge of Hindu nationalism (even the Congress has begun to recognise this); and although the opposition may object vociferously, the right wingers find a lot of sympathy among millions of Hindus for their extremist views. If true, these sympathisers will constitute a formidable vote bank in the upcoming state elections. For all the rhetoric about development and economic resurgence, Modi’s immediate aim is to win elections and establish BJP in all the states of India.

It is disgraceful and pathetic that just like the previous administration that it accused of being weak, the Maharashtra BJP government initially showed signs of succumbing to unconstitutional and illegal pressure tactics from fanatics belonging to the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Thinking of deleting scenes from the new Amir Khan movie (which has already been cleared by the Censor Board) just because some hotheads are shouting slogans and threatening to vandalise cinemas shows the government, as well as the police, in a very poor light. As the Chairperson of the Censor Board rightly stated, every movie has the potential to hurt the sentiments of one group or another. The irony is that these fanatics don’t really give a damn about the religious sentiments of Hindus or anyone else. These demonstrations are nothing more than an atrocious attempt to garner cheap publicity and hopefully, recruit more members to their extremist ideology. Truth be told, they are a blot on the very religion they profess to champion. The duty of the government - and the police - is to safeguard our constitutional right to freedom of expression; and not turn tail and run like cowards. Fortunately the Maharashtra CM belatedly saw the light and declared that his government would not interfere.

In conclusion, I revert to my original question: which is the real face of the BJP? There is the ruling dispensation which seems serious about development and good governance, but seems to be unable or disinclined to rein in the fringe elements sheltering under the umbrella of the RSS. It is true that many senior BJP leaders, including the PM, are committed pracharaks of the RSS and may feel reticent about reining in the parent body. But the government has to choose. It cannot have a leg in both camps. 

FIROZE HIRJIKAKA is a retired civil engineer, a freelance writer and a 
member of the Advisory Board of Freedom First. 
Email: leonardo8_99@yahoo.com
 
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