Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015
Sangh Proposes, Modi Disposes
Saturday 26 December 2015
by Arun Srivastava
It was soothing to the ears that the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, praising Jawaharlal Nehru, was reaching out to the Congress leaders, adopting a conciliatory attitude towards the opponents, emphasising “if there is any incident of atrocity against anybody, it is a blot on all of us for the society as well as the nation” and asserting that no Indian needed to prove her/his patriotism.
Listening to the speech on the floor of the Lok Sabha it appeared that the person, who till a few months back was spitting venom against Nehru and endorsed the jibes and abuses of his saffron colleagues against those who did not subscribe to their views, has undergone a change of heart and turned liberal, a believer in the politics of reconciliation and was following in the footsteps of Atal Behari Vajpayee with thrust on moderation and inter-faith harmony. Para-doxical indeed this came from a person who once regretted that it was Nehru, and not Sardar Patel, who became India’s first Prime Minister.
Suddenly realisation has dawned on Modi that democracy is strengthened when there is consensus and discussion. Majority doesn’t give (the government) the right to impose its views. Majority and minority is the last step because we have to promote consensus, debate and discussion. If Modi or the RSS had followed this dictum the present situation might not have arisen.
Besides deflecting the global skepticism, Modi through his overtures tried to create a political space for his government that would help clear the legislative logjam and allow, among other things, passage of important bills including the constitutional amendment to roll out the Goods and Services Tax (GST). True enough, Modi is trying hard to convey the impression that he was undoing anything wrong committed by his saffron comrades. Asserting his government’s commitment to the Constitution, the Prime Minister told Parliament that the religion of the government was “India first” and the Constitution its “holy book”. This was simply aimed at reinforcing his commitment to reconciliation.
In fact his public posture is something akin to the hero of the fairytale. It would be wrong to construe that Modi has changed. The Bihar electoral rout has taught him the hard lessons of realpolitic and made him realise that the RSS’s Hindutva formula cannot be applied in the Indian context. If the BJP really intends to fill in the vacant political space, it should have to reinvent and reorient itself. If the BJP, and especially Modi, would not have met with its Waterloo in the Battle of Bihar, it is sure that the Prime Minister would not have adopted a conciliatory approach.
RJD boss Laloo Prasad was absolutely right in saying; “Modi, who was earlier absolutely arrogant, is today visiting every member in Parliament and shaking hands with her/him. It is the impact of the Bihar result. All credit for making Modi a mild person goes to Bihar’s poor and backward voters who ensured the astounding victory for the Mahagathbandhan.”
In a tactical move while the RSS has been taking forward the Hindutva agenda, Modi has embarked on the path of reconciliation simply to avoid direct conflict with the Opposition. His opening dialogue with the Congress leadership is part of this strategy. It was quite interesting to see the person, who called upon the people to create a Congress-Mukta Bharat, was striving to have a working relationship with the same party. As if this was not enough, he eulogised Nehru, against whom he had used harsh words and blamed him for the present situation. Apparently it appears that Modi has travelled a considerably long distance in politics but the fact is it is simply a façade to conceal his real face and intentions.
During his 18-month rule, Modi at no stage felt remorse for increasing intolerance in the ruling elite. In fact the saffron leaders went up to asserting that this was orchestrated against Modi with an ulterior motive. Its spokespersons even did not feel shy in assailing the intellectuals and writers as mercenaries. This simply manifests their political upbringing.
One development is absolutely explicit. After the Bihar rout Modi has become conscious of the emerging challenges. An insight would make it clear that he was simply following the RSS script. His emphasis on the Constitution as the holy book ought to be seen in the proper perspective. Interestingly, on the discussion on the Constitution he said that any debate on it should not be reduced to “you and I”, its purpose was to serve as a reminder of “we”.
Modi saying that all previous governments had contributed to the nation’s development is quite revealing. It ought to be recalled that during the election campaign in 2014 he had blamed previous governments, implying the Congress governments, for all the ills the country was plagued with. Bashing Nehru had become the onerous task for the saffron leaders. Modi had even claimed that India was making a fresh bid for development and growth under his leadership, under the rule of the saffron brigade. It was like reinventing the country.
Even while Modi has been publically pursuing the policy of moderation, his senior partymen have been busy insinuating the minorities and intellectuals protesting against the intolerant attitude of the saffron rulers. In fact the BJP has not changed, as is evident from the words and actions of Yogi Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj, Mahesh Sharma, Manohar Lal Khattar, Meenakshi Lekhi and others.
This is purely a tactical move: assuage the feelings of the Congress, the Opposition and secular forces and get well entrenched. There little doubt that this change of stance of Modi will create confusion in the minds of the people and make them believe that the Congress or secular forces were unnecessarily criticising Modi. He would then have the advantage. This façade also owes to the administrative compulsions of the Modi Government. Some vital reform interests are at stake. For pleasing and preserving the interest of the corporate sector, these reforms would have to be implemented.
Modi has declared that Constitution is a “holy book” and implicitly ruled out any review of it. He also conceded that “consensus is more important than majority rule”. Modi’s remarks are invariably meant to alter the dynamics of the future political discourse. This is a strategic move to silence the critics of the saffronites and Modi would not have uttered these words without the tacit support of the RSS. The sudden declaration of November 26 as the Constitution Day is a tactical move to entrap the Congress and other secular forces. So far India has been celebrating January 26 as the Republic Day, the day Constitution was adopted. This is an attempt to showcase the saffron party in a different mode.
Modi has lost the rural people’s support as is evident from the Bihar election results followed by the panchayat and municipal election results of Gujarat. Once the process has started, there is no guarantee that the urban middle class will continue to be loyal to him. This section has been most concerned of the secular values. Obviously with an eye on this section, Modi eulogised secularism as the core value in the constitutional system which has always been beyond debate, and its inviolability as a principle of governance has been taken for granted.
Though the Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, described ‘secularism’ as the most misused word in Indian politics and argued that the time has come to end such misuse, he did not dare to question the continuing relevance of the very concept of secularism. It is true that the Constitution originally had no reference to secularism, and that the word was introduced only in 1976. But the emphasis it gave to religious freedom, freedom of conscience, equality and non-discrimination, was indeed imbued with the secular spirit.
Behind the façade of questioning secularism, Rajnath was in fact trying to usher in the concept of equality of sects
) while so far India has been known for religious equality. It simply intends to emphasise that Hinduism was the only religion and others were no more than sects. His words ought to be followed seriously: “Secularism is the most misused word in the country. Instead of dharm-nirpeksh [religion-neutral], we should use a better Hindi translation of the word panth-nirpesksh [sect-neutral]. The misuse of the word should come to an end, as it has been the source of much tension and misinterpretation.” In this backdrop one should read Arun Jaitley’s observations—“whether the House had again become the Constituent Assembly” and had “Dr Ambedkar proposed Articles 44 (uniform civil code) and Article 48 (ban on cow slaughter) today, how would this House have reacted?”
It is interesting to note that while Modi has been reiterating the line of equality and religious freedom, his senior colleagues were espousing the Sangh vision. In his pastoral letter—a communication from the Bishop to churchgoers which usually deals with spiritual and adminis-trative matters—the Archbishop of Faridabad-Delhi Syro-Malabar Church, Kuria-kose Bharanikulangara, said there are “appre-hensions” that some “ultra-religious fundamen-talists have started questioning the very fundamentals of the Indian Constitution”.
The saffron brigade has been using its might to deny the charges that intolerance is on the rise and cites twin examples of the 1984 Delhi riots against Sikhs and flight of Kashmiri Hindus as the classic case of intolerance. None would deny that both incidents were heinous crimes. But one wrong cannot justify another wrong. By raising these twin issues the saffron leaders are simply trying to communalise the latest issue of intolerance. They must confess that their strategy and approach was most devious and a potent threat to the nation’s cause.
What is intolerance? Intolerance—an unwill-ingness to accept the beliefs or behaviour of someone different from you—is not a quality you want to have. Intolerance is what leads to hate crimes and discrimination. This is primrily used with respect to religious intolerance, which is an unwillingness to accept different religious beliefs.
No doubt Krishna Sobti was the first person to raise her voice and return her award. But it was the call of the President Pranab Mukherjee to the people of the country that made them speak out their minds and feelings. The fear of terror and tyranny was so acute that none dared to speak out. Ironically instead of appreciating the people’s sentiment and cracking down on intolerance, the Sangh Parivar led a virulent attack against them. It was surprising to listen to the Sangh leaders denigrating the scholars. The government forgot the basic tenet of governance. Since Modi came to power, at least 43 deaths, 212 cases targeting Christians, 175 cases of targeting Muslims, and 234 cases of hate speech have been reported.
Dissent is fundamental to the survival and success of democracy, democratic institutions and their functioning. In a rational and reasonable society dissent is accepted as a norm and is encouraged. But in India under the Modi Government this space and privilege is being denied to the dissenting voice. And this is being done in a very planned and crude manner. Neither the Modi Government nor the RSS, whose diktat the government follows, are worried of the erosion of their credibility.
Instead of respecting the dissenting voices they took them as affront and challenge to their hegemony. The increase in intolerance to the dissenting voices is manifest in the BJP leaders’ offensives against the minorities. The beef episode, the Dadri killing and the local BJP legislator threatening the Muslims are the indicators of the mindset of the Sangh Parivar. It is quite interesting to note that the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has endorsed the Narendra Modi Government, lauding it for lifting the country from “an atmosphere of hopelessness” while, at the same time, counselling it to gain feedback from the ground on its functioning. Modi and his RSS mentor, Bhagwat, have been engaged in a friendly fight: Modi should wear the liberal mask and RSS would continue to pursue its Hindutva agenda. His harping on the primacy of the “Hindu culture” in India and saying “small incidents” that keep happening should not be allowed to “distort Indian culture, Hindu culture” are testimony to it. It is not surprising that the present regime, instead of doing some kind of soul-searching as to why over 300 eminent persons have returned national awards, has termed these persons anti-national and mercenaries. Modi, through these liberal machinations, was buying time. He is waiting for the director’s word, Action!!
The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org