We have it on the authority of Amit Shah, the Bharatiya Janata Party president, that the ruling party’s aim is to stay in power at the Centre for the next 25 years. The panorama of events we have been witnessing in recent weeks and months falls in place under a masterplan, exceptional in the annals of world democratic politics.
It is, of course, par for the course that BJP leaders, in the recent instance in Agra, including a minister of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, should stir the communal pot, with elections in Uttar Pradesh looming on the horizon. But the BJP is after bigger game: changing the public discourse and building up brick by brick a new idea of India which can only flourish under a BJP dispensation.
A major building block was to select Jawaharlal University (JNU) to hone in on the February 9 gathering on campus in the cause of the hanged Afzal Guru. Events are still murky, including alleged anti-India slogans raised by students. Television cameras were on the spot and some of the shots shown on TV screens were apparently doctored.
As programmed, the sequel to the event was more important than the campus gathering. Kanhaiya Kumar, president of the JNU students’ union, arrested on sedition charges, was to be produced in the Patiala House court complex. And pro-BJP lawyers — or men in black jackets — were there to beat up JNU students and members of the media who had gathered.
Stage two of the drama was performed at the postponed hearing, with the same lawyers arriving, this time with the national flag held aloft on long bamboo poles while some of them beat up Mr Kumar even as he was presented before the judge. For them, the JNUSU president had already become an anti-national icon.
To prop up the new idea of India, another theatre of war was opened, that of the sanctity of the cow. BJP supporters spread the word that beef was being served in the canteen of the Aligarh Muslim University, which was in the process of being denied its minority institution status. What was being served, it was made clear, was buffalo meat. The beef controversy was pressed into service on other occasions, the common refrain being that beef-eaters should go to Pakistan, metaphorically aligning them with the other.
Meanwhile, the patronage being given to godmen and sadhus has been breathtaking. There is the yoga guru Baba Ramdev, with his flourishing commercial empire, feted by officialdom. And the head of the Art of Living Foundation, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, planned his extravaganza on the Yamuna riverbed, much to the initial fury of the National Green Tribunal, which subsequently caved in, limiting itself to imposing a fine of Rs 5 crore, which was further diluted by enforcing a five per cent down payment and a four-week window for paying the rest. Even the Army was dragooned into service for building pontoon bridges. And the CNN-IBN TV channel revealed that the Union government had sanctioned Rs 2.25 crore for the event.
True, Opposition members in Parliament voiced their dissent but the deed was done. In the new scheme of things, there is a special pedestal for gurus, with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar having been accorded the second-highest national honour in the honours list. While President Pranab Mukherjee gave the event a miss, Mr Modi blessed it by his presence and an eloquent tribute.
Having wrapped themselves up in the national flag and promoting the BJP’s definition of nationalism, the saffronisation of India is being harnessed to modern technology. The Prime Minister had demonstrated his brilliant use of technology in winning the last general election that brought him to power. The same skills are being employed in the cause of making his rule semi-permanent.
It is a telling comment on this “modernisation” phase that the BJP’s mentor, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is has decided to change its trademark, baggy khaki shorts that go ill with corpulent middle-aged men, for brown trousers.
The marriage of dhoti with computers is certainly innovative. It is all for the cause of changing the mindset of India moulded by the Congress-led freedom struggle and more than six decades of almost uninterrupted Congress rule. What Mr Modi’s BJP is seeking is to turn Nehruvian India on its head, starting with the very institution named after him.
Hence we have a new approved script. Nationalism equates with Hindutva whose essential characteristics are: India is a Hindu nation, despite its diversity and the different faiths people profess; the cow is sacred; secularism must be shunned; sadhus and godmen must be revered; the highest forms of knowledge must be found in the history of ancient India. The short message sought to be conveyed is that in Hindu India, Muslims and other minorities live on sufferance.
Can the BJP and its mentor carry out such a revolution in a democratic setting? First, the BJP and the RSS are not too priggish about what they believe to be the shibboleths of democracy. Second, it is an overarching campaign to be carried out in stages. When Hindutva and the veneration of cows and godmen become the new norm, people will come to accept the extravagance of BJP’s beliefs.
Modern methods of propaganda will then be put to full use. While the rural folk will be fed on a diet of sarkari godmen and saints, the urban up and coming population will be bombarded with admonishments on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites on the virtues of the new idea of India — the BJP, the RSS and the tricolour flying high over a new version of India.
The fly in the ointment is the political consequence of this experiment: A new mood of unrest and defiance in several Indian universities; protests by the minorities, particularly Muslims; the treatment given to the Hyderabad University on the suicide of a dalit student losing the BJP many precious dalit votes. The future is up for grabs.