Virulent case of saffron seismology
The characteristically coarse and totally unsubstantiated allegation by the BJP MP, Sakshi Maharaj that the earthquake in Nepal and northern and eastern India was caused by the fact that Rahul Gandhi visited a temple after eating beef recalled an incident which occurred nearly a century ago.
In a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1926, his father Motilal said: “It was simply beyond me to meet the kind of propaganda started against me under the auspices of the (Madan Mohan) Malaviya-Lala (Lajpat Rai) gang. Publicly I was denounced as an anti-Hindu ... that I was a beef-eater ... The Malaviya-Lala gang aided by Birla’s money are making frantic efforts to capture the Congress.”
Madan Mohan Malaviya was recently conferred the Bharat Ratna award by the Narendra Modi government, evidently because of his pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim outlook which made him “use every device available to heighten the communal divide”, to quote from Motilal Nehru’s letter again.
As it is obvious, Sakshi Maharaj is a worthy legatee of this communal mindset which earlier made him describe mosques as training grounds of terrorists and praise Nathuram Godse as a patriot. He and a few other Hindutva heroes like Yogi Adityanath have recently been asked to pipe down by the government as it becomes gradually aware of the country’s historically pluralistic and multicultural nature. Hence, the tapering off of the ghar wapsi and love jihad agitations, not to mention postponing the construction of the Ram temple.
But, in the absence of such surefire provocative campaigns, the subject of beef has apparently become a rallying point for the Hindutva fundamentalists. It can also be conveniently tied up with criticism of the deracinated Anglicised sections of the middle class who are portrayed as anti-Hindu by the saffron militants.
Unfortunately for them, much has changed in India since Motilal Nehru’s time. It is unlikely that a campaign based on the subject of beef can be as much of a success as it was in the 1920s and even for several decades after that. As much can be ascertained from the holding of beef festivals in Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and elsewhere and the organisation of a beef party on the occasion of BJP President Amit Shah’s visit to Meghalaya.
The Bombay High Court’s interim decision to give respite to the consumers of beef in Maharashtra till July was a message to the state government not to rush through with its controversial ban to score political points. The fact that the state government told the judiciary that its decision to ban beef was not based on religious grounds also indicated that even the BJP has realised that the invocation of faith in this matter violates the nation’s secular ethos. If beef is to be banned as a gesture for Hindus, then the consumption of pork should also be prohibited as a concession to the sensibilities of the Muslims and Jews.
What these developments indicate is the tendency to assert personal rights even if they go against traditional beliefs. Even a few years ago, who would have thought that a Hindu couple would approach the Bombay High Court to allow them to continue eating beef because it constituted a part of their regular diet?
There is little doubt that this display of individualism is related to the promotion of market-oriented policies in the age of liberalisation which gives primacy of place to consumerism which, in turn, is related to the freedom which a person expects in the matter of eating, dressing, marrying, or choosing a live-in partner – in short, lifestyle choices – where he or she is unwilling to abide by societal or parental diktats.
It is only the ultra-orthodox Khap Panchayats of north India which still want to control personal behaviour, mainly in the rural or semi-urban areas. But, as it is known, the cities have always been different and now have an even more liberal and permissive atmosphere. As a result, it is likely to become more difficult in the coming days for the Sangh parivar to impose its fetishes.
Already, the BJP under Modi can be said to have become a great deal less belligerent in communal matters than what the party was a few years ago. It is noteworthy that its battle cry of the 1990s – Jai Shri Ram, garv se kaho hum Hindu hai, mandir wohin banayenge, – are no longer heard. Instead, the Prime Minister has called for a moratorium on sectarianism.
In Maharashtra, the BJP’s failure to get a majority on its own in the state Assembly by defeating the Shiv Sena although the regional outfit has been weakened by Bal Thackeray’s death has evidently persuaded the young and inexperienced Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis, to play the religious-political card by banning beef and the parochial card by compelling multiplexes to screen Marathi films.
In the process, he has revealed the typical small-town mentality of a BJP politician who lacks awareness of the idiom’when in rome do as romans do’. This is applicable to Bombay as well.