Parties with fundamentalist ideas throughout the world think of newer ways to expand their base in the community they seek to radicalise. India’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is no different. It feels that it should increase its support among the Hindu community, 80 per cent of the electorate and not bother about the rest, including 12 per cent Muslims electorates who, in any case, do not vote for the BJP.
The three-day fast by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was meant to get more support from among the Hindus. The ambiance of the hall where fast was undertaken, the saffron-clad gurus and sadhus and the speakers chosen—all reflected the Hindutva ethos. Therefore, there was no room for any divergent viewpoint. The protesters were arrested long before they reached the venue. Modi refused to wear the skullcap which a Muslim Ulema offered because this did not fit into the proclaimed objective of fast, even though called ‘Sadbhavana’ (conciliation). A mere memorandum on behalf of the victims of the 2002 pogrom was not entertained at the reception.
Has the purpose been achieved is the question that the BJP leadership must mull over. Crowds are no criterion because Modi’s appeal was in the name of Gujarati chauvinism.
He talked about the pride of six crore Gujaratis even in the full-page, state-sponsored advertisements in leading newspapers. Moreover the people were attracted to the place that was air-conditioned and offered free food, costing cost the exchequer more than Rs 6 crore.
True, Modi has changed the Gujaratis who have returned him with a majority in the state Assembly poll twice in a row. This happens when the top man rules in an authoritarian style as Modi does. The developmental work goes to his credit. But the Gujaratis are a gritty, hard working community and it will do well in every clime. I found them on the top of the ladder in the UK 20 years ago when I was India’s High Commissioner at London.
Modi’s fast was not meant to project the progress of Gujaratis, but to appeal to the Hindu electorate through television channels which unashamedly telecast a purely fundamentalist show all the 24 hours. It is difficult to say whether the fast had the desired effect. But it is clear that even the BJP allies of the National Democratic Alliances (NDA) were overwhelmingly against him.
The NDA convener, JD(U), wanted Modi to assuage the feeling of hurt which Muslims bore. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, heading the government with the BJP’s support, walked away from journalists when asked to comment on Modi. Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s presence was because the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal is likeminded and tends to be communal in its outlook.
Apparently, the BJP’s purpose was to project Modi on the national scene. The party did not attempt in any way to wash away the blood stains on Modi’s administration. What kind of governance was being praised when the Muslims felt insecure and when the chief minister’s own senior officials, two IPS and one IAS officers, said in their affidavits that Modi was responsible for what happened in 2002?
The judgment by the Supreme Court with which the BJP has gone to town has only sent the case back to the trial court and has not commented on allegations against Modi because it wants to judge when the case comes before it for appeal. The Special Investigation Team has exonerated Modi personally, but the amicus curie has given a different report. The jury is still out on this one.
Modi does not, as expected, want to know that there is a minority and a majority in the country. This fits into his policy of ethnic cleansing which his state did nearly 10 years ago. He, as the BJP leader, does not have to make up with the 16 lakh Gujarati Muslims who are waiting for justice for the past one decade. Yet as the state chief minister, he is answerable to the killings of some 2,000 Muslims at the hands of police-backed mob.
The JD(U), his ally, has rightly said that a person who could not control the situation in one state cannot be entrusted with the responsibility of running the country. Modi is being projected as yet another candidate for prime ministership apart from Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. Modi talks about the education system in the country.
More than the BJP, Modi should realise that the hundreds of fast cannot wash away the sins he has committed. He should at least now, when he wants to play a bigger role, apologise for the 2002 riots. The Congress was late in admitting its fault for the 1984 killings of Sikhs but prime minister Manmohan Singh at least offered apologies. He enhanced the compensation to the victims’ families, something which is not even on Modi’s agenda.
The unthinking BJP is now concentrating on L K Advani’s rath yatra which he had announced before Modi’s fast. The party forgets that Advani is not Anna Hazare who has come to symbolise the right against corruption. Rightly, the RSS is not enthusiastic about the yatra.
I have witnessed Advani’s yatra from Somnath temple to Babri masjid before the latter’s demolition. It is apparent that the BJP wants a similar kind of polarisation which resulted in the death of hundreds of Muslims. But the same card cannot be played twice.