Modi opts for hard hindutva
Ever since Narendra Modi realised that his action-reaction justification for the 2002 riots would not be politically effective outside Gujarat, he had been trying to adopt a kinder, gentler attitude towards the Muslims. This approach included his sadbhavna or goodwill fasts and appeals to the community to attend his rallies in their traditional attire to dispel the notion that he is not liked by them.
There were occasional lapses, of course, born apparently of an ingrained habit to look down on them as when Modi compared his uneasiness about the riots to the feelings of a car owner when his vehicle runs over a puppy. But, at least he was no longer mocking the Muslims by describing their families as hum panch, hamare pachis (we are five, meaning husband and four wives, and our 25 children).
Modi’s acolytes also started peddling the theory that the use of the term, Mian, before Musharraf’s name, as also before the Congress leader Ahmed Patel’s, was a sign of respect and not a sneering allusion to their alien origin. By that token, his references to Rahul Gandhi as shehzada can be regarded as a show of amused affection for a younger rival rather than a disparaging emphasis on his feudal lineage.
Unfortunately, all these efforts to pretend that the Gujarat strong man is not a minority-baiter and a bully, and that the BJP is not anti-Muslim, have been nullified by the observations of the prime ministerial candidate’s aide-de-camp, Amit Shah, during a meeting with the Jats in UP where he said that it was time for the community to take revenge for the fact that the Muslims involved in the Muzaffarpur riots had been protected and compensated by the secularists. Not to be left behind, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje has warned the Muslims about a backlash for the highly objectionable remarks against Modi made by a Muslim candidate of the Congress in Saharanpur, UP To confirm that these were not off-the-cuff comments, a BJP spokesperson argued that Amit Shah was reflecting the ‘mood’ of the nation.
What these episodes suggest is that nothing has changed where the BJP’s outlook for the minorities are concerned. The tentative attempt made by the party’s ‘mentor’, L K Advani, during a national council meeting last year to urge the party to undertake an ‘imaginative projection of our commitment to secularism’ in order to convince ‘different sections of our diverse society’ that the BJP does not approve of any ‘discrimination or injustice’ towards them was obviously not taken seriously by the party. Nor was a proposal to publish a ‘vision document to empower minorities’.
Considering that the party delayed till 7 April the routine task of issuing a manifesto, apparently because of a tug-of-war between Modi’s development plank and the Hindutva agenda of Murli Manohar Joshi and the RSS, it is not surprising that the vision document has fallen by the wayside.
But, it is also clear from the observations of Amit Shah and Vasundhara Raje that the BJP is no longer bothered about the minority vote. The disinterest is probably born of the realisation that no more than a minuscule section of the Muslims will support it. In fact, because of Modi’s presence, the percentage of Muslim votes for the BJP may fall below the figure of 3.7 which it received in 2009. Amit Shah and Raje also hark back to the decade beginning of the 1990s when the belief that Muslims needed to be taught a lesson was frequently expressed by the saffronites. It is not impossible that Modi’s rise has further emboldened the Hindutva camp because it believes that its opponents are now in much greater disarray than they were in the ’90s.
The Congress is seemingly in terminal decline, the Left has all but disappeared and Hindi heartland leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Mayawati have been weakened by their political and administrative failures. In contrast, the BJP believes that it is riding a wave of popularity because of Modi’s personal appeal unlike the ’90s when it had embarked on an uncertain journey after the Babri masjid’s demolition. The sole reason for its success at the time was Atal Behari Vajpayee’s moderation. But, now, that restraining influence has been removed, as is evident not only from Amit Shah’s and Raje’s comments, but also the objection voiced on a TV show by a minor representative of the BJP to the use of the word, masjid, to describe the Babri mosque since it was a ‘disputed structure’.
Although Modi is likely to pursue his business-friendly line even if, at first, it was only a ploy to divert attention from the riots, the alienation of the Muslims from the BJP cannot but encourage the party to implement the items on its Hindutva programme such as banning cow slaughter, sealing the border with Bangladesh except for the Hindu ‘refugees’, prohibiting conversions by Christian missionaries and insisting on Muslims observing the small family norm.
Besides, there may be a revocation of Vajpayee’s decision of 1996 to shelve issues like building the Ayodhya temple, scrapping Article 370 and introducing a uniform civil code. It’s going to be a return to the bad, old days. IPA