By Anil Dharker
Dec 14, 2014
It’s good to be an optimist at the best of times. It’s even better to be an optimist at the worst of times so that the general gloom and doom is dispelled by the little silver linings you see behind every cloud. That’s why the optimist in me was heartened by the news that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had enough: there’s news that he has sent out his storm troopers to tame the loose cannons who have caused such a ruckus in the current parliamentary session.
There was Niranjan Jyoti (who calls herself Sadhvi), and her infamous “Ramzada” versus “Haramzada” speech; there was Sakshi Maharaj (is that his name, or another self-given title?), who called Nathuram Godse a patriot; then there was the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, the former Cabinet minister Ram Naik, who apropos nothing said, “Ram temple should be built in Ayodhya as per the wishes of the people.”
This is bad enough, but there is more. There was the “forced” conversion of 57 Muslims in Uttar Pradesh by Hindutva groups — it wasn’t actually conversion by force as much conversion by inducement (the poor families who were converted were promised ration cards and water connections). Not stopping at that, these outfits are now asking for donations for conversions Rs 5 Lakh per Muslim and Rs 1 Lakh per Christian (related question: should Christians protest this discrimination by religion?).
The Prime Minister apparently is disturbed that these provocations have given so much ammunition to the Opposition, and passage of many important bills have, as a result, been delayed: labour law amendments to help his “Make In India” initiative; increased foreign direct investment in insurance from 26 to 49 per cent; the rolling out of unified Goods and Services Tax which required a constitutional amendment. Both insurance FDI and GST are United Progressive Alliance ideas, so the bills should pass through Parliament quite easily, provided of course the din in both Houses abates enough to introduce, then pass the bills. So, and that’s what the behind-the-scene news says, Mr Modi has sent out senior ministers to have a quiet chat with the offenders, telling them to shut the hell up. Will they oblige? Will the leopard change its spots?
To an outsider, especially an outsider like the ordinary apolitical citizen of India, this might cause a bit of puzzlement. Why is the Prime Minister sending senior ministers in a hush-hush manner to defuse the trouble-makers? Why does he not personally reprimand them? As the Bharatiya Janata Party’s indisputable Number One, its virtual uncrowned king, and the person the Delhi bureaucracy is said to be terrified of, why doesn’t Mr Modi crack the whip himself? And why doesn’t he do it openly so that the message goes beyond the present offenders and reaches prospective trouble-makers who might have some other explosive grenades up their sleeves?
The Prime Minister’s only public interventions have been remarkable for what they do not say: at a parliamentary party meeting a fortnight ago, Mr Modi told his MPs not to “address the nation” but to limit themselves to talk about their constituencies. Ms Jyoti could well reply, that that’s exactly what she did: after all, her remarks were about the Delhi elections and were therefore constituency-related (“Aapko Tay Karna Hai Ki Dilli Mein Sarkar Ramzadon Ki Banegi Ya Haramzadon Ki”). His second intervention in these matters came in Parliament when he tried to get things moving: “She (Niranjan Jyoti) has come to Parliament for the first time. She has apologised… This House has so many senior members with so much experience, they know what should be their feelings towards an apology.”
Note the underlying themes of the Prime Minister’s two public statements: first, he says, talk to voters only about their constituency matters. In the second case, he asked MPs to accept Ms Jyoti’s apology and move on. In neither case, and this is the important point, does Mr Modi say anything at all about the content of the speeches; nowhere does he say that this content was intrinsically wrong and should have not been said at all.
At this point, the optimist in me begins to flounder. Mr Modi, the whole country’s Prime Minister and not the Prime Minister of a section of the people, sees nothing wrong with what is being said, when in fact he should be disturbed, if indeed he is the leader of the whole nation, that these things are even being thought about, that they are part of the thinking process of his party’s MPs.
Then you think of what else has been happening which doesn’t seem to have caught the Prime Minister’s attention — the communal violence which has erupted here and there, the churches in Delhi that have been targeted and even burnt down, that conversion by inducement have become so much an avowed policy of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated bodies that there is even a campaign name for it, Ghar Vapsi (homecoming), and that funds are being solicited for this from the public.
At this point, the optimist in me even begins to question the basis of any optimism by posing some fundamental conundrums: why were people like Ms Jyoti and Sakshi Maharaj even given party tickets when the thrust of Mr Modi’s election campaign was development? Why was Ms Jyoti then made a minister? Why, for that matter, have Uma Bharti and Smriti Irani been made Cabinet ministers? Why was Giriraj Singh, the man who declared that anyone opposing Mr Modi should go to Pakistan, rewarded with a ministership? Why was the self-styled Yogi Adityanath, responsible for creating communal strife wherever he has gone, made the BJP’s star campaigner in the Uttar Pradesh by-elections? Why was Mr Naik, with his declared views on the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, made the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, where the question of the construction of the temple might erupt again and he might be called upon to play a constitutionally impartial role?
The optimist in me is now completely defeated. Yes, Mr Modi is determined to push through the development agenda which was the basis of his success as chief minister of Gujarat and the main plank of his campaign for prime ministership. But simultaneously, he is tied by a virtual umbilical cord to the RSS which is determined to push through its agenda of a Hindu Rashtra. For those of you who will ask, “What’s wrong with Hindu Rashtra?” I will not bring in the usual argument about secularism. I will instead ask you to read Mohan Bhagwat’s speeches, look at pictures of RSS cadres at their meetings, study their agenda for our children’s education, think about their so-called foreign policy… Then you yourself will know in which direction we are now heading.
Anil Dharker is a senior journalist