Modi versus his party’s DNA
Since communalism is built into the BJP’s DNA, just as corruption is in the Congress’, Narendra Modi faces the unique challenge of changing, or at least moderating, his own party’s outlook. Of course, that is if he is serious about economic development. Otherwise, inter-faith tensions will scare away foreign investors.
There have been other instances of bringing about a change in a party’s policies, notably in Britain, where the Labour Party turned away from the so-called loony left (although the party is revisiting that phase under Jeremy Corbyn) and turned to the right under Neil Kinnock, John Smith, and Tony Blair.
Whether the BJP will make a similar transition to the middle ground of politics by isolating its loony right is something that the observers are waiting to witness. Modi has to be the instrument of such a transformation. There is no one else in the party with the requisite popularity and determination.
But, the question remains whether he is ready and willing to reformulate the BJP’s standard majoritarian worldview given his lifelong association with the party. It is this past that made him take his time to speak out on the Dadri incident, where a Hindu mob lynched a Muslim amidst rumours that he ate beef. Quite evidently, it took President Pranab Mukherjee’s call for tolerance to jog his memory.
While Mukherjee’s response was typical of a secular person, the Prime Minister’s was that of a former RSS Pracharak, who is slowly becoming aware of the country’s plural values.
Any effort, therefore, to alter the BJP’s anti-minority stance will be difficult for Modi. Not only will Modi be acting against his instincts, but also because a change of this nature will entail bringing the BJP in line with what the saffron brotherhood has always regarded as flawed policies of pluralism. Many Hindu reactionaries believe that past governments have downgraded the country’s Hindu identity in order to promote the idea of multicultural togetherness.
In theory, the concept of pluralism puts all faiths on par. However, what it does in real life, according to the saffron interpretation, is reduce the importance of Hindu cultural practices. They use examples of say, disallowing the singing of Saraswati Vandana at school functions in deference to the sensitivity of the minorities.
Cow slaughter is another issue. Mohammed Ali Jinnah had crudely used it as one of the examples to buttress the two-nation theory. He said that while Hindus worshiped the cow, the Muslims ate it.
It is easy to understand in this context why Modi’s “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” project comes up against his party’s inherent pro-Hindu mentality. If he has to keep his promise of economic growth, he has no option but to clamp down on the perception of Hindu superiority in his camp. Such a stand must find its way to ensure a level playing field for all.
In this clash of ideas, both the Prime Minister and the saffron hardliners will have to assess who has the strongest cards. The ace in Modi’s hands is his ability to win elections. He proved it at the national level and in all the states, which went to the polls after the general election, except in Delhi where the BJP was badly mauled.
The next test is in Bihar. But, the irony is that Modi will look forward not only to trounce Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav but also use his success to push Yogi Adityanath and company further into the shadows.
On the other hand, if the BJP finds the going tough, it is not only his political opponents who will be delighted, but also the saffron extremists, who will claim that the BJP would have fared better if it had pursued the Hindutva agenda with greater vigour.
It is ironical that a “secular” party like the Congress is no more than a bystander in this confrontation with no role in highlighting the violent antics of the Hindu fundamentalists. Instead, it is more interested in presenting Modi’s development agenda as anti-poor.
The reason behind the Congress’s hesitancy is a reluctance to be saddled with an anti-Hindu image on top of the scam-ridden one of the erstwhile Manmohan Singh government. Hence, Digvijay Singh took credit for the initiative taken by the Congress to enact anti-cow slaughter laws, following the Dadri murder.
Interestingly, the tragedy has now persuaded Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to say that the Centre is not considering a nationwide ban on eating beef as the saffron lobby.
It is worth mentioning that the BJP has already shelved issues like the construction of the Ram temple, the introduction of a uniform civil code, and scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution conferring special status on the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The government has also seemingly persuaded the proponents of Ghar Wapsi and Love Jihad campaigns to cool down. If it is also putting banning beef on hold, it will indicate a gradual movement towards accepting India’s syncretic culture.
(The author is a senior political analyst. Views expressed are personal)