Monkey on Modi’s back: Why he can’t shrug off the Hindutva elements

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The wheel seems to have turned full circle.

As chief minister of riot-torn Gujarat in 2002, Narendra Modi was an embarrassment and a problem for Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP-led coalition government at the Centre. Twelve years down the line, there are several leaders who seem to have taken inspiration from his unapologetic Hindutva at that time to become new manifestations of that period of history that he now cannot shrug off. The fact that the BJP has got a majority of its own at the Centre has only emboldened the so-called fringe elements who believe that they form the core of the new dispensation in which the mantra of governance and development enunciated by Modi docks with Hindutva.

So, there are on the face of it two irreconcilable positions being taken ever since Modi came to power in May. As prime minister, Modi has perhaps realized that he cannot take the extreme stand associated with him either as chief minister or as a prime ministerial candidate. Immediately after he assumed power, he changed his tone and tenor, spoke of development and good governance, and — in what did not gel with the popular perception about him — called for an inclusive agenda and even a 10-year moratorium on caste and communal violence to put the country back on the track of high growth. Inevitably there were questions whether Prime Minister Modi was different from the prime ministerial candidate Modi or for that matter from Chief Minister Modi or was it is case of the man nurtured by the RSS putting on a new mukhota.

And even if Modi is given the benefit of doubt of having evolved into a new persona in keeping with his new position and role, the ground reality clearly is very different. The BJP’s victory and Modi’s elevation has given a boost to the votaries of the Sangh ideology to raise their decibel levels, flex their muscles, speak their mind and act on their agenda of hammering society into a shape they want in full faith that they will not be punished.

So what do we have?

In a shocking statement that belies the connotation of her ministerial responsibilities or of the prefix sadhvi that she carries to her name, junior minister Niranjan Jyoti talked of ‘Ramzades’ and ‘haramzades’, Lok Sabha MP Sakshi Maharaj hailed Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse as a ‘patriot’, UP Governor Ram Naik, who was nurtured in the Sangh ideology, called for the building of a Ram temple at Ayodhya, an issue that threatens to fuel communal passions, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj urged that the Bhagwad Geeta be declared as a ‘national book’ and the VHP launched its ‘ghar vapasi’ programme of bringing Muslims back into the Hindu fold through religious conversions. There was moral policing in the name of love jihad and controversies over scrapping of Christmas holiday in schools to celebrate Vajpayee’s birthday on 25 December as Good Governance Day and the ham- handed attempt to introduce Sanskrit as a third language in school syllabus. The list has been growing by the day — and there are at least four-and-a-half more years to go at least.

On each of these issues, an angry opposition put the BJP in the dock, particularly in the Rajya Sabha where the ruling party is in a minority. On the backfoot, the government was forced to distance itself from these remarks, with Modi chiding his minister and MP for raising issues that stalled the legislative business which he wanted to push through in the short winter session that will conclude nearly next week. To quell the opposition’s anger in Parliament, the Sadhvi expressed regret and Sakshi Maharaj had to apologize at least four times before the House could function.

There is little doubt that it is because the Parliament session was on that there have been reports of Modi reprimanding his minister or MP or urging the RSS to keep the saffron leaders on the leash. The big question is what will happen once the session is over? There would be no pressure on Modi then to come out with a statement voicing his displeasure with such statements; indeed, elements who believe in pushing their agenda aggressively are likely to do so without any let or hindrance, more so if elections are round the corner be it in Bihar in 2015, West Bengal in 2016 or Uttar Pradesh in 2017. After all, none of the leaders who have broken the cordon that Modi urged during his I-Day speech was punished with anything more than a rap on the knuckles and that too perhaps to mollify an angry opposition in Parliament.

Not surprisingly, the BJP’s critics believe that the seeming conflict between what Modi wants to project and what his colleagues want to implement is actually an exercise to turn development and governance into a synonym for Hindutva in which the PM represents one end of the spectrum and the likes of Sakshi Maharaj the other end. The fact that Modi himself has been nurtured by the Sangh ideology and has the mindset of a pracharak has only lent an added edge to this interpretation. More so, since it also fuels the long standing theory that the Sangh affiliates and acolytes deliberately speak in different and multiple voices so that, depending on the time and occasion, each strand is considered the dominant theme of the Hindutva narrative.

So, if Modi talks of his Mann ki Baat, his colleagues talk of their Dil Ki Baat; if Modi emphasizes an inclusivist approach, others pursue an exclusivist agenda based on the ‘we-they’ differentiation in which the minorities are seen as distinct unless they amalgate with the majority; if he in his prime ministerial role underlines a strife-free India for 10 years, the others visualize a decade of opportunities that they cannot afford to miss if they want to push their ideology and provide the foundation on which the new BJP government can build an edifice of an India that sets its faith on governance and development. This segment does not see Hindutva as an antithesis of good governance; for them the two are interchangeable–an impression that gains ground since such elements have gone and are likely to go unpunished. Recall how Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti used her controversial remarks during her rallies even after she was forced to voice her regret over them in Parliament.

If Modi will be on put through the scanner on how he deals with such remarks when Parliament is not in session, the Opposition, which took the easy route of stalling House proceedings, will also be on test on whether or to what extent it fights such elements at the ground level. Badly mauled by the marauding Modi during the elections, most of the opposition parties have yet to come to terms with the fate that has befallen them. They managed to put the ruling on the mat in Parliament. The question is whether they can pull themselves together to conduct public agitations and protests and force Modi to act against elements whose statements and actions threaten to divide society. The responsibility of marginalizing and defanging these elements lies as much on the opposition parties as on Modi.

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