Millennium Post

Modi in, Golwalkar out

So, the children of Babur (Babur ki aulad), as the BJP and the RSS-led Sangh parivar used to call the Muslims during the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, are patriots, after all, as Narendra Modi has said in a recent interview. Why has the prime minister initiated this transition from M S Golwalkar’s characterisation of Muslims as an ‘internal threat’ to the high status of a community which is willing to live and die for India?

It will be unrealistic not to see a link between the prime minister’s certificate to the Muslims and the BJP’s setbacks in a series of by-elections. To be fair, Modi has been gradually distancing himself from the Hindu extremists in his party and the parivar ever since he realised that he has to put on the ‘sickular’ hat – to quote the contemptuous term for ‘secular’ used by saffron netizens – if he wanted to play a national role. The display of an accommodative spirit is unavoidable in a pluralistic society.

Hence, his sadbhavna or goodwill fasts in Gujarat in 2011 and the call for a 10-year moratorium on sectarian animosity in his Independence Day speech. But, these gestures and appeals have had little impact on the Hindutva hawks. Having interpreted the BJP’s majority in the Lok Sabha as the first step towards the establishment of a Hindu rashtra, they have been hounding the Muslims in the name of love jehad or a conspiracy by the Muslim youths to marry and convert Hindu girls. A campaign against this ‘sinister’ plan is now at the top of the hate agenda of the saffron hardliners, relegating cow slaughter and the infiltration of Bangladeshi immigrants to a slightly lower place – for the time being.

But, what they failed to anticipate was the electoral repercussions of their divisive ploy. The fact that it enabled even the palpably inefficient Akhilesh Yadav government to regain some of the lost ground in UP showed how, for the common people, the BJP’s communal programmes, carrying the threat of intimidation and violence, were a greater danger than Akhilesh Yadav’s dysfunctional administration.
It is the same in Rajasthan, where the venomous propaganda of Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj had the same harmful effect on the BJP as it did in UP As a result, even the down-and-out Congress – or ‘Khangress’, to quote the abusive netizens again - could pick itself up from the floor and show that the 128-year-old party does not lack political resilience notwithstanding the bickering at the top between what Rahul Gandhi called ‘multiple voices’.

It is evidently the setbacks in Uttarakhand in July, in Bihar in August and now in UP and Rajasthan which have finally persuaded Modi to break his silence. Earlier, he may have thought that the wave which swept him to power in May will help the BJP to win the by-elections as well. But, the rising communal temperature has clearly started undermining the BJP’s position. There was no option, therefore, for Modi but to emphasise the patriotism of Muslims, which directly contravenes Golwalkar’s description of them as a ‘potential fifth-column’, a view which permeates the saffron world.

Had the PM praised the Muslims earlier and reined in the hardliners, the BJP might have fared better in the elections. Besides, it might also have been able to stave off the Shiv Sena’s demands during the seat-sharing talks in Maharashtra. There is little doubt that the BJP’s poor showing encouraged the Shiv Sena to up the ante. For the Shiv Sena, the results substantiated its claim that there wasn’t much of a wave in favour of Modi earlier, as was evident from the ability of regional parties like the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal to hold their own. If the saffronites fail to perform as well as they expect in the Maharashtra assembly polls, the responsibility will be the vituperations of Yogi Adityanath and the antics of other small-time functionaries who want to keep out Muslims from Hindu festivals.

The tussle between the moderates and hardliners has been a longstanding feature of the Hindutva camp. In Atal Behari Vajpayee’s time, it centred on the Ram temple. Love jehad was not heard of then. But, now that the temple issue has been put on the back burner for a year by the RSS, presumably on Modi’s advice, the storm-troopers have had to find some other cause for berating Muslims. But, their antics will not only cause electoral setbacks, they can also derail Modi’s development game plan, for few investors will try their luck in a country facing increasing communal tension.

For the saffron radicals, however, a forced retreat from their hardline agenda under pressure from Modi will mean their second defeat. Just as they could not make any headway in Vajpayee’s time because the then PM soft-peddled the controversial issues, the extremists will again have to take a back seat if Modi continues to emphasise economic growth at the expense of communal polarisation. IPA 
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