Playing hawk and sparrow

There was always a face behind the moderate-hardliner divide in the BJP. During the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, it was Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani who represented the dichotomy. To many, this ideological rift was no more than a façade since the basic anti-minority creed of the saffron brotherhood was believed to be cast in stone.

The nuances of softness and hawkishness, therefore, as between Vajpayee and Advani, were said to be either deceitful ploys to neutralise critics and reassure the minorities, or the expression of temperamental differences between individuals. However, the fact that the fundamental outlook remained unaltered was evident from some of Vajpayee’s observations, as when he virtually justified the 2002 Gujarat riots by asking, aag kisne lagayi?(who lit the fire?) when referring to the deaths of kar sevaks in a fire in the 
Sabarmati Express.

Even then, Vajpayee’s reputation as a moderate was not affected in a major way either by such statements or by the claims of a saffron apparatchik that he was the party’s mukhota or mask, whose purpose was to confuse its adversaries. After the former prime minister’s retirement, the erstwhile hawk, Advani, tried to don the mantle of moderation, but his endeavours were never successful because his fiery past as a rath yatri, who paved the way for the Babri masjid’s demolition, undermined his efforts. Besides, he fell flat on his face while trying to prove his moderate credentials when he was evicted by the RSS from the BJP president’s post for praising Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He has never quite been able to regain his earlier position in the Sangh parivar since then. But, he continues to be a thorn in the flesh of those who have acquired prominence in the BJP while he was kicked upstairs to be the ‘mentor’.

Since Narendra Modi is the foremost among those who have been playing an increasingly crucial role in the party, Advani has been targeting him in various ways, starting from his brief resignation from party posts which he withdrew on orders from the RSS. But, he hasn’t given up. It now seems that he is using as his front man the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, whom he had earlier praised for lifting the state from its earlier BIMARU status, which was the acronym for the ‘undeveloped’ states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The point which Advani was making was that the hoo-ha about Modi’s success in developing Gujarat was unwarranted since the state was already developed because of its entrepreneurial talent long before the chief minister took charge. In contrast, Chauhan’s achievement was far more laudable since he raised his province by the bootstraps, as it were, to join the ranks of the developed states. 

It was only because Chauhan was temperamentally modest and did not believe in self-advertisement that few spoke about what he had done. Moreover, he did not have the need to camouflage a taint of communal violence, in which 1,200 people died in official estimates, by drawing attention to another facet of his governance. But, it isn’t the respective claims of development which have brought the supposed competition between the two BJP chief ministers to the fore. The matter has taken a distinctly confrontationist turn with Chauhan’s decision to wear a Muslim skull cap on the occasion of Id-ul-Fitr. The humble headgear favoured by orthodox Muslims has acquired a new significance ever since Modi refused to wear one during one of his sadbhavna or goodwill fasts in aid of communal harmony.

Modi’s reluctance was understandable. The BJP’s poster boy evidently did not want to lose his stern, anti-Muslim image, which he acquired during the riots which were hailed by communal-minded Hindus as something which the minorities deserved. Modi’s high status among this group of supporters is entirely due to the belief that more than anyone else in the BJP, he is capable of teaching the Muslims a lesson. Even a casual perusal of the comments of his admirers on the Internet will show how he is praised on this score while the Muslims are excoriated. It is obvious that the Hindu hriday samrat does not want to squander this asset by dressing like a Muslim. Yet, as Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said at the time of his break with the National Democratic Alliance, it is politically correct in multicultural India to wear both a skull cap and to smear sandalwood paste on the forehead. 

Chauhan has acted in accordance with this precept which acknowledges and extols the country’s multi-religious heritage. In doing so, he has distanced himself from Modi’s patently pro-Hindu bias more definitively than anyone else in the party. Nor is this the first time that Chauhan has underlined his distinctiveness.

A few weeks ago, he had gone on a pre-poll yatra in a vehicle plastered with the pictures of all the BJP leaders except that of Modi. Recently, he stopped the use of passages from the Hindu religious text, Gita, in madrasas. Evidently, Chauhan is on a trip of his own where he wants to flaunt his moderate 
credentials a la Vajpayee.   IPA
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