Can Modi take on Hindu hawks?
The sudden cancellation of religious reconversion programmes by the saffron hotheads suggests that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally decided that enough is enough.??However, he may have left it a little too late to ask the Hindutva Gestapo to pipe down. Perhaps he was only giving them a long rope. Perhaps it took time for him to convince the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the head of the Hindu supremacist Sangh Parivar, that the fundamentalists were undermining his development agenda by crossing the ‘Lakshman Rekha’, which refers to the absolute moral limit.
This was the phrase he used, while warning the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Parliamentarians. Whatever the reason it took for the prime minister to take nearly half a year to tell the storm-troopers to back off, he obviously underestimated the damage such a delay would cause to his reputation.??For a start, it showed that he does not have as much control over the party and Parivar, as most people, and perhaps Modi himself, presumed. In Gujarat, he was able to marginalise Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) radicals like the vituperative Pravin Togadiya. But he is clearly finding it difficult to do the same at the national level.??
The delay in stamping down on crude displays of religious fundamentalism cannot but induce second thoughts among investors. Their anxiety will be greater because the atmosphere has been vitiated by not only previously unknown outfits like the Hindu Yuva Vahini and Dharm Jagran Samiti, which sprouted from nowhere with their provocative ‘Love Jehad’ and ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (homecoming to Hinduism for minorities) programmes, but by some BJP parliamentarians themselves.??Among them, politicians like Yogi Adityanath have built their careers on fomenting hatred against minorities. It is anybody’s guess, therefore, as to how long they will refrain from crossing the ‘Lakshman Rekha’.?
Modi may have thought that radical Hindu elements would act with restraint if he let them take relatively innocuous steps like appointing a nonentity as the head of the Indian Council of Historical Research, introducing Sanskrit in schools to rein in the English-speaking “Macaulay’s children” from their Western ways and allowing the external affairs minister to announce her desire to make the Bhagavad Gita a ‘national scripture’.??
But as a former RSS pracharak (preacher), Modi should have known that these are only subsidiary topics for the saffron brotherhood. Their real agenda is to transform India from a secular democracy to a theocratic Hindu Rashtra (nation), where minorities will be second-class citizens.?Modi has now called a halt to such divisive tactics, at least for the time being. But no one can be more aware than him that his diktat will not go down well with the RSS and its militant affiliates. To them, the well-known moderate Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a stumbling block in their path, when he was prime minister.??
Now, it is Modi, who is evidently no longer a Hindutva hardliner, having changed into an ace avatar of modernity and progress, to quote Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. The hardliners, or the Hindutva votaries, will, therefore, accept his current directives in a sullen mood.?? The delay in Modi’s stern directives to radical Hindu elements within and outside his party has taken some of the sheen on some of the promises made by the current establishment. Adding to his concerns, the economic upswing which the middle class expected, is yet to take place. As Arun Shourie, a former BJP minister, has said, more is being said than done.??Yet the PM’s chances of pushing ahead have never been greater because he is exceptionally lucky in view of falling inflation on the economic front and the presence of a dysfunctional Congress and backward-looking leftists in the political arena.?
?If he still appears to be hesitating, the reason perhaps is the paucity of talented people in the BJP’s ranks. Apart from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, there does not seem to be anyone among the seniors, who has a clear policy vision.??
On the other hand, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani is proving to be an embarrassment with her four-hour-long consultations with an astrologer, who told her that she will become the president one day and the controversy surrounding the Christmas Day holiday. Of the other ministers, Nitin Gadkari was expected to breathe life into a highways project as the road transport minister, in view of the name he had earned for the successful highway and flyover schemes he initiated as a minister in Maharashtra. But his tiff with the chairman of the National Highways Authority has not shown him in a good light.??
Modi still enjoys considerable support. If the BJP wins in Delhi early next year, it will be because of him. But the Modi wave is no longer as high as it used to be. The Hindu religious-nationalists have caused the ebbed the flow of ‘Modi wave’.