Is BJP on the brink of change?
The final conflict, said Ignazio Silone, the Italian author, would be between the communists and ex-communists. India has seen a number of such conflicts among votaries of the Left, leading to the splintering of the communist movement.
In contrast, the scene on the Right has been fairly stable. One possible reason is that the hydra-headed Sangh Parivar led by the RSS encompasses within its fold nearly all the Right-wing forces except the Hindu Mahasabha or the Shiv Sena and tiny outfits like the Sri Ram Sena.
What is more, the Parivar has succeeded in enforcing a code of discipline which makes its different constituents – the BJP, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, et al – keep off each other’s turf and maintain a fairly harmonious relationship.
It seems likely that this cordiality is about to end with the fiery VHP leader, Pravin Togadia, emerging from the shadows to criticise his “childhood friend”, Narendra Modi, as anti-Hindu, an epithet which would be unthinkable a few years ago when Modi was known as the Hindu Hridaysamrat or the king of Hindu hearts.
The provocation for Togadia as well several others in the Parivar and Hindu Mahasabha in recent weeks is Modi’s description of the gaurakshaks or cow vigilantes as anti-socials.
The confrontation between the Prime Minister and the saffron fundamentalists was waiting to happen ever since Modi interpreted his 2014 success as a signal from the voters to focus on development rather than on promoting a pro-Hindu agenda. It was a retreat from “mission Hindutva” which the Rightists were unwilling to accept.
For them, the BJP’s majority in the Lok Sabha should be used to advance towards their goal of establishing a Hindu Rashtra and not pursue pro-market policies. Since such policies have a global outreach, the resultant Westernisation of Indian society was inevitable. To the Rightists, Modi was not only turning his back on Hindutva, he was also encouraging attitudes and lifestyles which could not but dilute their view of Hindu culture.
Although the diametrically opposing perceptions of the Prime Minister and the Rightists were a prescription for a head-on clash, the scene was relatively quiet till now because Modi took his time to rein in the extremists. He also depended on his lieutenants to control the hotheads which made the New York Times criticise his “dangerous silence”.
But although he apparently worked behind the scenes, Modi did finally prevail in restraining the
storm-troopers from persisting with their provocative gharwapsi and love jihad campaigns. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, too, desisted from saying that all Indians are Hindus.
However, the rampages of the gaurakshaks finally left Modi with no alternative but to break his “dangerous silence”. As long as Muslims were being targeted like the two cowherds in Latehar, Jharkhand, who were killed and several others in Faridabad who were forced to eat a mixture of cow dung and cow urine, the Prime Minister was only mildly critical as after the lynching of a man in Dadri near Delhi on the suspicion of eating beef (Bhagwat called it a small incident).
But Modi and even the RSS could not remain silent when Dalits were flogged by the vigilantes. With the U.P. elections due early next year, the BJP could not afford to hand over the Dalit vote to Mayawati on a platter.
As it is, the BJP has had to face a backlash from the community after the suicide of a bright Dalit student, Rohith Vemula, in Hyderabad. Now, the flogging episode has confirmed the longstanding reputation of the BJP as an anti-Dalit and anti-Muslim Brahmin-Bania party. Is this the “final conflict”, to use Silone’s phrase, between Modi and the Hindu Right? So far, the RSS has backed the Prime Minister, but it is difficult to say how long it can resist the pressure from the VHP and others to bring Modi in line with the traditional Hindutva ideology.
For the present, Modi is unlikely to budge, for he sees development as the only means of consolidating his political position by winning elections. If he backslides, he will not only be in danger of losing elections but also become a prisoner in the hands of the Rightists.
As a result, it will not only be Togadia who will breathe fire, even the RSS will be discomfited by the possibility of bidding farewell to its Hindu Rashtra dream. At the same time, if there are visible signs of a revival of the economy, the Hindu Right will not be able to criticise Modi too loudly.
However, the irony is that it has taken a former RSS pracharak to turn the lumbering juggernaut of the Parivar around and set it on a road which goes away from its original destination.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)