Sowing prejudice, reaping hatred

L’affaire ...zadon, featuring an obscure member of Parliament who entered the exalted House in May by riding on the Modi wave and then made it to the Council of Ministers recently courtesy the search for a counter balancing figure to the party’s original sanyasin — Uma Bharti, is part of a deeper malaise within the ruling party and its Sangh Parivar affiliates. Besides frequent outage of verbal wisdom in members of the ruling brigade, the public silence of the Prime Minister is also a symptom of the same ailment.

There is no denying that Mr Modi is the role model and the path he chose to emerge from being one of the satraps in the Bharatiya Janata Party is being replicated by several others in his party. Mr Modi came into his own as a public speaker and acquired the abilities of a demagogue during the 2002 Assembly elections in Gujarat. These polls were held after the post-Godhra riots, when the state legislature was prematurely dissolved by him with an intention to reap electoral dividends from the schism caused by the state-wide riots.

Mr Modi’s political campaign was metaphorically named Gaurav Yatra. But how contentious was his approach to restoring lost pride of his constituency can be approximated by factoring on that Atal Behari Vajpayee was squeamish about the idea and ensured its postponement. Eventually, Mr Modi began the yatra and with it virtually kickstarted his election campaign by promising people he would begin restoring their pride with immediate effect by shutting down “baby-producing factories”. It was not lost on anyone that these factories were relief camps that mushroomed in the state because people — mostly Muslim — did not feel safe in their homes.

No one has to make much of an effort to recall the vituperative campaign that Mr Modi ran almost entirely on his own, but with support from then able ally, Praveen Togadia. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader, in fact, called Mr Modi the third hero of Hindutva after Ashok Singhal and Bal Thackeray. In the course of the campaign, he used the honorific of Mian ostensibly to refer to the Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf but essentially to suggest that all Muslims had links to the Pak-based hate factory. Though Mr Modi also focused on governance after 2002 before the next round of polls, he returned to his copybook style in 2007.

The backdrop to a prejudice promoting campaign at that time was provided by the sharply divided public opinion on the Sohrabuddin case. In several speeches, Mr Modi would whip up passions and then ask suggestively: What do you want me and my men to do with a man like Sohrabuddin? Mr Modi would invariably take a break after posing this query and the crowd would roar back repeatedly: “Kill him.”

It is true that during the 2014 parliamentary polls, Mr Modi’s campaign did not overtly promote bigotry and instead focused on governance deficit of the previous regime and necessity for development. But the divisive theme was implicit in his references to adversaries, be it by mentioning Pakistan’s penchant for using AK-47s (reminding people that Arvind Kejriwal and A.K. Antony had similar initials) or be it frequently calling Rahul Gandhi, the shehzada of the Dilli Sultanate. No supporter of Mr Modi missed the fact that he consistently linked present challengers with India’s Muslim rulers.

To be fair to Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, she is a product of the stable she was reared in. As a katha vachak of the VHP in the heydays of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, she would have grown up with an extremely sectarian view of Indian society. Her political progress would have been directly proportional to the extent of intolerance for the minorities she promoted through her discourses. Since a similar tactic was used by others in her party, including the prime ministerial candidate, it would not even have crossed her mind that it was wrong to promote hatred towards any section through her speeches.

During the election campaign, Mr Togadia had in a speech advised people how to prevent Muslims from buying property in areas where Hindus are in majority. In another place, in another context, Giriraj Singh had stated that all those opposed to Mr Modi should go to Pakistan as they had no place in India. Mr Modi issued a “for the record” statement asking his colleagues to exercise restraint, but after the victory in the Lok Sabha elections appointed Yogi Aditaynath as the pointsman for byelections in Uttar Pradesh. Mr Singh has also been promoted by being inducted into the Council of Ministers and the criminal investigations against Mr Togadia has made no headway.

Within weeks of government formation, a wave of obscurantism began sweeping official circles. Indian Council of Historical Research got a new chairman, who believed that there was no dividing line between history and mythology. Ramesh Pokhriyal may be in news for claiming that nuclear tests were conducted in ancient India and that science was a pygmy when compared to Indian astrology. However, the likes of him got the courage to make preposterous claims because of Mr Modi’s assertions that ancient India was a land of plastic surgery and genetic engineering.

It is true that there is little he could have done with a claim by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that India is a Hindu nation and that Hindutva is its identity. In fact, Mr Modi would have endorsed this because the claim was political in nature and the Sangh Parivar has for nine decades pursued the belief that India’s national identity is cultural in essence and not territorial. But surely it is time to put a stop to irrational claims. It is not enough to ask his people to exercise restraint.

For a man who wishes to play a transformative role in altering how the world looks at India and its people, this is surely not the right way to begin. Instead of earning respect, he will be heaped ridicule. Mr Modi, in fact, can do with a bit of Biblical advice: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

The writer is the author of Narendra Modi: The Man, the Times

( Source : dc )
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