Notwithstanding the faint signs of an entente cordiale between Narendra Modi on one side, and Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi on the other, over reaching a consensus on the goods and services legislation, it will be naïve to believe that the BJP and the Congress will be able to work in harmony from now on. The main hindrance to a rapprochement will be Sonia&’s fear that an understanding with someone whom she once called maut ka saudagar (merchant of death) will take the wind out of Rahul Gandhi&’s sails where his aggressive denunciation of the Prime Minister is concerned and push back his chances of replacing Modi as the new white hope of the country.
Nevertheless, it is gratifying that speeches marked the opening day of Parliament&’s winter session rather than noisy disruptions and walk-outs. If this healthy practice is followed in the coming days, then Parliament will be able to perform its function of discussion and legislation after several years when it was held hostage by slogan-shouting MPs of both the BJP and the Congress.
It is possible that the latter has finally understood that its tit-for-tat tactics of imitating the BJP&’s obstructionism when the latter was in the opposition was tarnishing the Congress&’s reputation as a responsible party. It may have also realized that the continuing focus on “intolerance” will give it an opportunity to corner the ruling party which obviously has a great deal of explaining to do as to why so many writers, historians, film stars, film directors, scientists and others are dissatisfied with the present state of affairs.
Arguably, the Congress may have smelt blood, so to say, because the BJP has apparently gone on the defensive in the aftermath of the Bihar drubbing. Before the results were declared, the BJP was in an aggressive mood, describing the protests as “manufactured paper rebellion” and “fake dissent” while labelling the protesters as Nehruvian and Leftists, which are invectives in the Hindutva lexicon.
Now, however, it has declared as “unacceptable” the Maharashtra Shiv Sena minister, Ramdas Kadam&’s description of Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and even the widely respected nonagenarian Dilip Kumar as “snakes”. The BJP has evidently realized that a haughty dismissal of dissent can prove to be politically counter-productive – a lesson in realpolitik which it apparently forgot after securing a majority in the Lok Sabha for the first time ever. Instead of heaping abuse on those who have returned their awards or expressed a sense of “despondency”, to quote Aamir Khan, prevailing in the country, the BJP should have mulled over why so many distinguished professionals were unhappy.
The BJP&’s standard response to their grouses was “why now?” and not during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 or the jihadi attack on Mumbai in 2008. Yet, the answer is obvious. It is that the killings in 1984 or the mayhem in Mumbai were not the handiwork of the state although, in 1984, sections of Congressmen were said to have participated in the riots.
But the reason why Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and the scores of writers and others feel distressed is that they see the hands of agents of the state in fomenting unrest and targeting groups and individuals over what they say or eat. This design could be seen in the ghar wapsi and love jihad campaigns sponsored by the BJP MP, Yogi Adityanath, the charge by another MP, Sakshi Maharaj, that the madrasas produced terrorists and the innumerable occasions when Indian Muslims were accused of being Pakistanis – Shah Rukh Khan&’s “soul” is in Pakistan, said a BJP general secretary, Kailash Vijayvargiya.
While the equation of Indian Muslims with Pakistan has always been a feature of saffron politics from the days of the Jan Sangh, especially at the grassroots level, the difference at present is that the BJP is in power with a majority in the Lok Sabha. This ascent to power has not only emboldened the Hindutva activists as never before, their abusive denunciation of the minorities, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and the concept of secularism – “sickular”, in their language – on the Internet has reached a new high.
This combination of the Hindu Right and the Internet Hindus has increased the feeling of being at the receiving end among the minorities and the liberals because of the relentlessness of their diatribes. The continuous attacks add to the angst and depression caused by the equally offensive observations of the saffronites in position of power such as the division of the population between Ramzada or the children of Lord Rama and haramzade or illegitimate children representing the anti-BJP camp.
The arrogance and abuse – Union minister Gen. (retd) VK Singh calls the media personnel “Presstitudes” – of the high BJP functionaries might have been mitigated if the Prime Minister had occasionally berated those resorting to foul language. But, his style has apparently been to work behind the scene, depending on Arun Jaitley or Amit Shah to tell those crossing the line in word and deed to restrain themselves.
To be fair, these warnings in private have had an impact. For instance, the ghar wapsi and love jihad campaigns have stopped and even the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, no longer says that all Indians are Hindus. But, such quiet admonitions are not reassuring enough. The government has to do much more such as crackdown hard on the Hindu Right as it has done in the case of Hardik Patel in Gujarat.
The writer is a former Assistant Editor, The Statesman.