Is PM’s concern for Dalits genuine?
Inexplicably, Narendra Modi has been rather slow in cracking the whip on the violent Sangh Parivar rogues. It took him all of 10 days before he uttered a word on Mohammed Akhlaq’s murder by a saffron mob on the suspicion of eating beef.
Now, the Prime Minister has spoken out against the gaurakshaks (cow vigilantes) several days after they flogged a group of Dalits for performing their professional task of skinning dead animals.
Because of this delay in responding to murder and mayhem, India gets a bad name as a land of rampaging, Taliban-type gangs with a pseudo-religious agenda. It was this kind of a belated reaction which made the New York Times write about Modi’s “dangerous silence”.
Although the Prime Minister has succeeded in checking the gharwapsi and love jihad campaigns of
Yogi Adityanath, MP, stopped another MP, Sakshi Maharaj, from repeating that Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, was a patriot and even silenced the talkative gadfly, Subramanian Swamy, the time which Modi took to act against them could not but raise the fear that his developmental programme will be scuppered by these Hindutva storm-troopers.
It is difficult to understand why Modi did not defang them before they began indulging in their antics. Instead, he gave them a long rope which only raised doubts about his ability and willingness to control them.
It was suspected that Modi was reluctant to act since the rowdy elements were believed to enjoy the support of the RSS. Otherwise, it was felt that the Union Social Justice Minister, Thawar Chand Gehlot, could not have described the gaurakshaks as members of a social organisation if Modi had communicated to the Cabinet his perception of the vigilantes as anti-social elements.
As a former pracharak, Modi must be well aware of the viciousness of these groups. But he let them have a free run till the political fallout of their depredations left him with no alternative but to give them a tongue-lashing. Yet, it should have been his endeavour right from the start to rein them in. The delayed reaction has only strengthened the anti-BJP forces.
Besides, he cannot expect that his diktat against the vigilantes will be quietly accepted by the saffron brotherhood. Already, there have been murmurs of protests by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal.
It is obvious that after decades of indoctrination by the RSS about a Hindu Rashtra, where the holy cow will be the national animal, the more rabid among the RSS affiliates will not meekly bow to Modi’s “pseudo-secular” formulations.
Since the former Hindu Hriday Samrat is now targeting the very roots of saffron belief – something which no one else in the Parivar, not even the avowedly moderate Atal Behari Vajpayee tried to do – the Prime Minister is up against considerable odds.
However, he appears to have finally realised that unless he can check the medievalist hotheads, there is no hope of fulfilling his dream of a modern India with its smart cities and bullet trains.
It is also undeniable that if Modi can cow down – no pun intended – the saffron extremists, he will have the support of all sections of the population except the loony Hindutva fringe. The drive against them is exactly what the average person wanted when he voted for him in 2014.
Even if his criticism of the cow vigilantes is motivated by a desire to win back Dalit vote for the BJP with only a few months to go for the UP elections, it is still a worthwhile effort. He is well aware that a lacklustre performance in UP will be hugely demoralising for the BJP if it is accompanied by setbacks in Gujarat, Punjab and elsewhere. Nothing can be a worse preparation for 2019.
The need to be forthright against the extremists is all the more necessary when the economic reforms have come under attacks from several other saffron outfits like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS). While the former is against FDI, the latter has upped the ante against GST, arguing that it only benefits the capitalists and not the common man.
There is little doubt, therefore, that Modi will have his hands full when confronting these dissenters in the saffron ranks. With Kashmir on the boil, the Prime Minister’s outreach to Pakistan has also floundered.
What this means is that the unfavourable nature of the domestic and foreign policy scenes will breathe new life into the opposition with the Congress already showing signs of revival, as was evident in the impressive crowd attracted by Sonia Gandhi in Varanasi.
Although Modi remains the best bet for the ordinary people where development is concerned, his critics among the vigilantes and in the SJM and BMS are more interested in their own pro-Hindu and autarkic economic agendas than in the pro-market reforms.
The tug-of-war between the Prime Minister and Hindu Right will continue, therefore, till there is a victory for either one or the other. IPA
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)