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Issue No.: 575 | May 2015
 

Saffronisation is Creeping Up On Us

Firoze Hirjikaka
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Let me state at the outset that I am aware of many well-meaning individuals who definitely do not support any form of communalism, but are nevertheless inclined to give Narendra Modi a long rope
 
There is an insidious agitation (I won't dignify it by calling it a revolution) taking place in our country. It has not arrived with a bang, but is slithering towards us like a poisonous snake. It goes by many names: communalism, Hindu pride, saffronization, etc., but it has a single objective; and that is to make it clear to the citizens of our nation that they are now living in a Hindu Rashtra; and it would be in their best interest to accept it. Let me state at the outset that I am aware of many well-meaning individuals who definitely do not support any form of communalism, but are nevertheless inclined to give Narendra Modi a long rope. In their eyes, Modi’s principal virtue is that he demolished the despised Congress; and therefore they are prepared to be indulgent towards his party’s sins of commission and omission. After all, the PM’s avowed agenda is development and prosperity; and everything else is inconsequential. Is it?
 
Let us pause for a moment to evaluate the achhe din promised with such conviction before the general election. How many promises have been fulfilled? Let us examine the bald statistics. Our strict disciplinarian leader promised to cut down on wasteful government expenditure: for example, by severely curtailing frivolous trips by government officials. The reality: during the past year, the travel expenses of the Modi government have exceeded that of the Congress one. Farmer suicides have increased substantially. Corruption was supposed to be ruthlessly eliminated. In Haryana, IAS officer Ashok Khemka – who was once lionised by the BJP for exposing Robert Vadra – was summarily transferred by the same BJP government when his integrity became "inconvenient” for some party members and their industrial cronies. In fact, in Maharashtra alone, the home ministry headed by the "progressive" Chief Minister is holding back sanction to prosecute 100 officials caught with their hand in the till. The open enquiry into the humongous irrigation scam allegedly perpetrated by top NCP leaders was sought to be downplayed by the ruling party for electoral considerations; and it would have degenerated into an ineffectual in-house one, were it not for intense media pressure. I won't even dwell on the "15 lakhs in every pocket" because it has become a standing joke. The PM has been harping on the importance of science and technology, but four top science institutions remained headless for months due the ego of a grossly unqualified HRD minister who enjoys his continued support despite overwhelming evidence of her unsuitability for the job.
 
Then again, there was Modi’s promise that the much-vaunted Gujarat model would be replicated in the rest of the country. Well as it turns out, the Gujarat model has been revealed as a paper tiger. According to a recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the proclaimed successes of the Gujarat model have been wildly exaggerated. Modi periodically X-Spam-Subject: YES X-Spam-Subject: YES extolls the importance of the girl child. In reality, the sex ratio in Gujarat is considerably lower than the all-India average; and has in fact worsened in recent years. Implementation of the Right to Education act has been desultory. As for the much heralded development agenda, the CAG has indicted the Gujarat government for the high level of financial indiscipline, poor spending and lack of proper monitoring of government departments. Furthermore, the Gujarat government has recently passed the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill, which enhances the already abused powers of the state police and provides immunity for all actions carried out in a vaguely defined "good faith”. Furthermore, confessions before police – and we all know the brutal methods employed to obtain those – will now be admissible in court. It is a supreme irony that a party born out defiance to Indira Gandhi’s emergency is now proposing to employ the same coercive tactics. I could go on, but you get the picture. The point I am trying to make is that while this regime is a definite improvement over the previous one, the promised golden days are a long way off.
 
All of the above however, can be tolerated and even forgiven. Unfulfilled promises, after all, have been the hallmark of every government since Independence. What is different this time is the creeping saffronization that is spreading its tentacles into most aspects of civil society.
 
The highly respected columnist Kuldip Nayar, in a recent column, opines that the situation is getting worse because "Narendra Modi gets instructions from the fanatic Hindu organization, Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS). Many bureaucrats living in the parochial atmosphere are themselves imbibing the divisive outlook.”  As if to underline its growing influence over the ruling party and project itself as a sort of godfather to the BJP, the RSS is proposing to shift its headquarters from Nagpur to the national capital. Twin towers to accommodate this move are already under construction.  
 
And so it begins. When the Haryana Chief Minister decreed that all schools in his state must compulsorily teach the Bhagwad Gita - no doubt with the blessings of the eager-to-please HRD minister - many right thinking citizens were dismayed but not entirely surprised. The man, after all, is a committed RSS pracharak; and that was probably his chief qualification for the top job. However, when a similar ordinance is promulgated in Maharashtra, which has a purportedly "progressive" CM in Devandra Fadnavis, there is genuine cause for concern. When proudly communal outfits like the VHP and Bajrang Dal - as well as individual fundamentalists like Yogi Adityanath and Sadhvi Pragvi - openly propagate their warped vision of Hindu superiority, treat other religions with contempt and vandalise their institutions, it is deeply distressing and disgusting, but not entirely unexpected. Spewing religious bigotry and incitement to violence is, after all, their trademark. However, when a supposedly sophisticated BJP leader like Subramanian Swamy blandly proclaims in his Harvard accent that god resides only in Hindu temples and avoids places of worships of other religions, it is time to get really worried. Swamy is not outwardly a religious fundamentalist. He represents the mainstream of the BJP. One could even admire him for voicing sentiments that many of his party colleagues - nurtured by the RSS - sympathise with but are not brave enough to enunciate.
 
Other manifestations are revealing themselves with distressing regularity. Rajeshwar Singh, who gained notoriety for championing the ghar-wapsi pogrom in Uttar Pradesh has been promoted to a senior position in the RSS. A BJP icon, Murli Manohar Joshi has advocated the inclusion of ancient Vedic remedies in the curriculum of mainstream medical colleges. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is exhorting the Hindu population to produce more children. The alternative, they warn, would be an India that would be controlled by Muslims by 2050. No less a personality than Home Minister Rajnath Singh has instructed the Border Security Force in West Bengal to vigorously stop the smuggling of cattle across the border to Bangladesh. His bizarre logic is that will drive up the cost of beef there and stop Bangladeshis from consuming beef. Are we now trying to export Hindutva to our neighbours? To top it all, our enlightened PM has publicly endorsed the ban on cow slaughter and presumably would be happy to see it implemented nation-wide. Incidentally, it is estimated that the cost of housing and feeding the huge numbers of unproductive cattle involved would cost the national exchequer thousands of crores every year, but apparently ideology trumps economics. Development anyone? If some of us are scratching our heads and wondering why our "progressive” PM is allowing all this nonsense to go unchecked, can you blame us?
 
A secular constitution mandates a separation of temple and State. It is what has allowed our country with so many diverse religions, sects and ethnicities to function as a democracy, however flawed. When the government of the day openly seeks to establish the ascendancy of one religion over all others, it is the start of a drift towards fundamentalism - the same trait we decry and detest in our neighbour to the West. I hope the Opposition takes up this matter in the Assembly. It is an issue that merits genuine debate - in contrast to the many frivolous ones whose principal aim is to embarrass the ruling party.
 
MR. FIROZE HIRJIKAKA is a retired civil engineer, and a freelance writer and a member of the Advisory Board of Freedom First. Email: leonardo8_99@yahoo.com
 
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