If Narendra Modi cut Praveen Togadia down to size when he got in the middle of his plans to remake Gujarat, he should take a good hard look at Pramod Muthalik, our very own homegrown Togadia, before he upends all the goodwill that Modi has accrued in the six months that he has been prime minister. At home and abroad, he’s made every other politician look – well – like a sham. But, all that could as easily evaporate with one chumban gone wrong.
The Kiss of Love protest in Bengaluru has Pramod Muthalik smacking his lips, salivating at the thought of the political capital he could squeeze from it, catapulting him to national prominence.And, this is the man that the BJP is invested in? Are these the grubby coat-tails – make that dhoti – that they want to grab on to, to politicise the puckering of a thousand five hundred lips, come November 30th? Pramod Muthalik has been booked so many times for his inflammatory language, for the manner in which he brazenly flouts the rules, sending his Sene (as a devout Ram bhakt, I find it difficult to append the first two words that precede the nomenclature he has adopted for his army) to brutally beat young women into submission that it’s time someone called off the Sanghi gunde.
Remember Mangalore? Is this what the BJP in the state wants to be known for? Turning a blind eye to the bully on the street, even actively encouraging incidents like the Mangalore pub, when the Sene chased women out of the brewery, dragged them by their hair, threw them down on the kerb and beat the living daylights out of them?Or, all the other unpleasantness that followed, like the home stay they raided because a party was going on INSIDE the premises?
And more…when they terrorised young couples, because they were dating and did not share the same faith or came from the same community? What are we? A nation that promotes in-breeding? Or one that celebrates its diversity, its freedom of choice, its ability to call a khap for what it is – an inward looking bunch of men and women, trapped in the mores of another century who haven’t heard of love.
If that’s the India that Narendra Modi wants to build and foster, and not the one that he tells the world he wants to ‘reimagine’ India into becoming, then we need to know. Now. Is this a leader and a party that says one thing, and means something else altogether.
The BJP has every right to whip up sentiment against the alleged corruption in the ranks of the political party they oppose. But to pluck a set of notions that they believe to be Indian (they aren’t, Ajanta and Ellora caves were painted in far more permissive times, a good 2,000 years ago) and impose those on a complex society that they still don’t seem to have fully understood and yet claim to speak for, is downright absurd.
The BJP Yuvamorcha goons who trashed Downtown, the happening restaurant in Kozhikode where they spotted a couple canoodling (its not the only spot where it happens, dahlings!!) are not going to win any votes in a city that has never seen itself as conservative. In fact, it’s always prided itself on being ahead of the pack. And that’s what Narendra Modi and the sharp, savvy bunch of men who work with him must realise. In a rapidly urbanizing, suburbanising India – and an equally rapidly shrinking world – society is no longer hostage to one view of the universe. For the young, who are Modi’s primary focus with the BJP aiming to enroll millions in that age bracket, this kind of moral policing, the hypocrisy, the preachy, hectoring tone to all of this, will be a huge turn off.
And as one can only remind Mr. Muthalik, who doesn’t even come from Bengaluru, our city has always been different. The first discotheque in the city, Blue Fox opened long before there was anything like it, anywhere else in the south. Even before Delhi, I think.
As for the prim and proper MPs of today, who shall remain unnamed, let’s just say that many roared down Palace Road and Fraser Town on bikes in their misbegotten youth, eyeing the ladies. One woman MP in particular didn’t bat an eyelid when she hijacked the bike and went for a spin herself, sporting the backless Rajasthani blouses that were so popular back then. And see-through cheesecloth shirts.
Nothing’s changed. For every Downtown in Kozhikode, there are coffee shops across Bengaluru where as one wag put it, a lot happens over coffee than just coffee! Is Mr. Muthalik and his sister-in-arms, Shobha Karandlaje, going to stop every single Public Display of Affection as the muttawwa do in Saudi Arabia? Does Narendra Modi want to turn India into a Wahhabist version of a state where women are not allowed to be on a street in the company of any man, unless he is a relative?
No holding hands? No smooches. Tell the young that. And the old. Rachita Taneja, the 23-year-old who is behind the Kiss of Love smoochfest may be wondering what she’s let herself in for. The hate mail from the saffron fringe, and becoming the object of someone’s hate, not love, can be very unsettling.
But our chief minister would be doing himself and this Congress ruled state a huge disservice if he isn’t seen as facing down the ‘thought police’. The Sene have gifted Mr. Siddaramaiah an opportunity that comes but rarely – to turn the tables on the saffronists and kiss Mr. Muthalik goodbye. He should add his voice to the chant – Sanghi gunde hoshiyar, tere saamne karenge pyar. Pucker up, people!