Millennium Post

Hriday samrat’s image makeover

In addition to the internal leadership problems which Narendra Modi’s attempts at an image makeover will create for the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP], it will confound the communal-minded Hindus who constitute the party’s main source of support. The projected transformation of the Gujarat chief minister from a fire-breathing Hindu hriday samrat to a man extending a hand of friendship to the Muslims will also be a befuddling experience for the anti-Muslim netizens who stalk the cyberworld with their hate-filled diatribes.

Any perusal of their writings will show how effective in poisoning their mind has been the Sangh
propaganda at the time of the demolition of the Babri masjid in depicting the Babur ke aulad [children of Babur] as anti-nationals. Apart from the netizens, sizeable sections of Hindus are known to echo such sentiments, accusing the Muslims of being unpatriotic. These are the groups who openly said during the 2002 riots that the Muslim victims of the outbreak had been rightly served.

Modi himself used these vicious sentiments to win two assembly elections in a row. For the chief minister, the riots were no more than ‘stray incidents’, as he said in a letter to President A P J Abdul Kalam, although the violence had claimed 1,200 lives in official estimates and more than 2,000 in unofficial accounts. The support which Modi received was ascribed by sociologist Ashis Nandy to the fact that the urban middle class Gujarati remained ‘mired’ in ‘inane versions of communalism and parochialism’ with even sections of the Congress consisting of ‘Hindu nationalists’.

It is possible that many of them will regard Modi’s present u-turn as a tactical ploy to bolster his prime ministerial ambitions. Even then, since the 2014 contest is still nearly two years away, the communal and parochial elements will find it difficult to propagate their divisive agenda in the face of Modi’s pacifism. Arguably, there may be attempts to see his views in the light of the customary claim of the BJP that the party stands for justice for all and appeasement of none, and that genuinely patriotic Muslims who do not cheer Pakistan during cricket matches have nothing to fear. But, it is a not a view to which the VHP and the Bajrang Dal subscribe. These are the groups, along with the Hindu
, who want a temple to be built at the site of the Akbarabadi mosque recently found in Delhi in a replay of the Babri masjid tragedy.

However, in his new avatar, Modi provides an opportunity to the proponents of a multicultural India to reassert that the denial of pluralism, as by the saffron brotherhood, will lead to the country’s disintegration. That an inveterate saffronite like the Gujarat chief minister has realised this, even if for the sake of his own political advancement, is proof enough of the indispensability of secularism as opposed to the Sangh parivar’s fascistic concept of cultural nationalism based on the slogan: one nation, one people, one culture.

For all his attempts to project a kinder, gentler face, however, Modi’s disadvantage is, first, his background as a minority-baiter and, secondly, his refusal to apologise for the riots. When he became chief minister in 2001, Hindutva was still the flavour of the day for the BJP. After the initial success of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, which took the party to power at the centre, the saffron camp believed that it had found the mantra for fulfilling the parivar’s longstanding dream of transforming India into a Hindu rashtra. Secularism was a dirty word in its lexicon and was openly mocked by saffronites.

This was the atmosphere in which the riots took place with the enthusiastic participation of BJP MLAs and others who, as Atal Behari Vajpayee pointed out with disarming candour, were motivated by their [anti-Muslim] sentiments – bhavnao se parichalit thhey. For the modern-day Nero, to use the Supreme Court’s description of Modi, the outbreak called for approbation rather than regret.

There is little doubt that it is this attitude which still guides him. For him to say ‘sorry’ will be a negation of all that he had stood for in his life and a rejection of the entire saffron philosophy of regarding the minorities as second class citizens. As of now, he is apparently trying to play two sides – reaching out to the Muslims in order to play a national role and also avoiding expressing regret for the riots so that he does not alienate his base of support in Gujarat.

But, it is a ploy which may see him fall between two stools. While he is unlikely to win over a sizeable section of Muslims, he may find himself at the receiving end of the distrust and even ire of the communal Hindus represented by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Religious sectarianism, like non-denominational secularism, cannot be tinkered with since both require total commitment from their adherents. [IPA]
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