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‘BJP divisive impulses are test of India’s plurality’

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The 12 per cent increase in the BJP’s vote share at the national level between 2009, when it secured 18.8 per cent, and 2014, when this rose to 31, showed that a fairly large section of those who did not constitute the party’s traditional support base had voted for it. The reason for their support is known– Narendra Modi’s promise of rapid economic growth.

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Two questions are relevant here; one is how many of those who chose the BJP, probably for the first time, have remained with it? the other is whether the party’s traditional supporters, who seemingly have less interest in the economy and development than in a pro-Hindu outlook, are influencing the party’s agenda.

According to a recent survey, Modi’s approval rating remains high. However, it is a curious feature of present-day politics that support for the Prime Minister cannot ipso facto be equated with support for his party. This strange outlook of the voters was highlighted by the Delhi assembly elections where the BJP was badly mauled.

But, otherwise, the party was able to hold its own in states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand and even made inroads in Jammu and Kashmir. The outcome of the civic elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka has also underlined the BJP’s continuing influence.

Although the party appears to be well-entrenched, there is at least a section of its non-traditional supporters who may have become uneasy about some aspects of the government’s policies.

To be fair, such disillusionment is normal in any democracy where no ruling party can boast of cent per cent support. Even then, there are bound to be some in the party’s 12 per cent ‘extra’ supporters who are currently engaged in mental balancing acts between the government’s positive and negative features.

While they will be hoping that it will pursue the promised economic reforms, they will also wonder whether an increasingly prosperous India will not also harbour intolerant sectarian elements.

What is more, these may not be driven by anti-Muslim sentiments alone as at the time of the BJP’s emergence from the margins of politics to centre-stage in the 1990s, but by attitudes involving minorities other than the Muslims which can also open up a divide between sections of the Hindus themselves, such as between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

It is not surprising that Mumbai, with its cosmopolitan mix of communities, should be a focal point of such competitive parochialism and varying dietary preferences with the compulsively vegetarian Jains being sought to be placated with a ban on the consumption of meat during one of their festivals and a counter move by the Shiv Sena and Navnirman Sena to oppose the prohibition.

The controversy has been largely defused by a judicial directive allowing the sale of meat. But what the uproar has shown is how the BJP’s record can be hit by the various divisive impulses which are coming to the fore.

Mercifully, the apprehensions of communal acrimony have subsided because the government has apparently compelled the saffron hotheads to cool down. The attacks on churches have stopped though not the killing of rationalists.

But other issues which should have been allowed to remain very much in the background have raised their heads. Vegetarianism is one of them and the promotion of Hindi another. An RSS mouthpiece, Panchjanya, has argued that English should be ‘chased away’ and Hindi encouraged ‘to become an organ of Bharat’s self-respect, progress and pride’.

Although the Panchjanya remembers the anti-Hindi agitation of the 1960s in Tamil Nadu, which made Jawaharlal Nehru say English will remain one of the official languages as long as the non-Hindi speakers want it, the magazine tries to circumvent the episode by saying that ‘conspiracies were hatched to organize other Indian languages against Hindi’ without advancing any credible evidence of such sinister plots.

Probably, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will ask the newly-appointed saffron apparatchiki in the Indian Council of Historical Research to unearth such proof. As a member of the Hindutva lobby has noted in the context of the saying that history is written by victors, ‘the so-called Hindu Right is the victor and a history will get a new coat of paint and varnish and also numerous designer alterations’.

If such observations are regarded as not representative of official views, this cannot be said of union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma’s statements on imposing a ban on the sale of meat during the nine-day Navratri festival, making Hindi compulsory in schools and including Ramayana and Mahabharata in the school curriculum, but not the Bible and Quran since these do not reflect India’s ‘soul’.
His most quotable quote, however, was the observation that the former president, APJ Abdul Kalam, was a nationalist “despite being a Muslim”.

Carrying on from where the culture minister had left off, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has ordered that all files should be signed in Hindi.

It is yet to be seen whether these diktats are floaters intended to test the public mood. But the non-saffron supporters of Modi cannot but be concerned about the articulations of important people in the government which contravene the country’s pluralist norms.

(Amulya Ganguli, IANS )

 

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An Open Letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi

While taking note of your policies, pet projects like ‘Swatchh Abhiyaan’ (Cleanliness Drive) and future plans

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Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
PM Narendra Modi being sworn in for a new term.
Tania Bhattacharya
Tania Bhattacharya.

By Tania Bhattacharya

Dear Prime Minister Modi,

Congratulations on winning the Indian general elections of 2019, and being sworn-in as Prime Minister. While taking note of your policies, pet projects like ‘Swatchh Abhiyaan’ (Cleanliness Drive) and future plans for the nation’s development and progress, I take this opportunity to contribute my two cents as a thinking Indian citizen, as to what you could do more. So, allow me, to bring your attention to some unresolved matters in the interest of human civility, that the Indian state should feel obliged to tend to. 

CHINESE-INDIANS

Chinese Indians are those, that are descended from Chinese immigrants to India. Emigrating Chinese people to India have traditionally belonged to the Hakka region. Historically originating from the northern parts of their homeland, they had settled in the southern areas of China around the thirteenth century. Guangxi and Guangdong are some of the places that they were living in, before they decided to migrate to India. Cities and provinces in China’s south, which are in close proximity to India, tend to have a multicultural outlook, with cuisines that have been heavily influenced by India’s spice trade. Guangdong and Guangxi are no different. Hakka Chinese were here with the intention of advancing their trade and making themselves prosperous, but a large number took to us, and made the decision of adopting India as their new homeland. I do not find this out of the ordinary.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Chinese children in China Town, Tangra, Kolkata.

For over two thousand years, India has witnessed the arrival of asylum seeking foreigners who have ultimately enriched our history with their presence. There have been the Hellenic Greeks, the Huns of German descent who converted to Hinduism or Buddhism and settled down with Indian spouses, the Indo-Greek rulers like the Bactrians who were no different in their attitude toward us, the Chinese students and travellers who entered India during the first millennium for the study of Buddhism, the Siddhi black Africans who have retained intact their Islamic faith, the Zoroastrians who have likewise had never had their religion interfered with, the Greeks who were fleeing Ottoman persecution, the Armenians, the Jews, the Tibetans who escaped their occupied territories in order to lead respectable lives, and the Afghan merchants and the Bhutias from Bhutan, both of whom have always arrived here from time to time, for a quick buck. None of them have complained of systematic, state-sponsored discrimination against them. 

Due to the unfortunate events of 1962 between our northern neighbour and ourselves, Chinese Indians were unlawfully interned in concentration camps at Rajasthan. During the time of their internment, their homes and properties were seized and taken over, leaving them with nothing after they were freed. This reminds one of the similar fate that had befallen Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. It seems, the Indian government never found the time or the inclination to render a genuine, and heartfelt apology to the people who have suffered unnecessarily simply as a result of their Chinese heritage. It is appalling, that even during present times, and despite your party’s five year rule in India with the sixth one running, Chinese Indians are not allowed citizenship rights in this country. It would be a wonderful gesture, if you found it in you to not only apologize to them on the behalf of all Indians, but also removed the clause that prevents them from acquiring citizenship in India. It would go a long way in healing the wounds.

SIDDHI RAPPROACHMENT

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As mentioned under the previous header, Siddhis have been here as first, our esteemed guests and then as our lawful fellow citizens, beginning with the eighth century. For decades, India, her people, and her politicians, have openly favoured spectator-sports like Cricket, Lawn Tennis, Football, and even Hockey, over athletic categories which feature at the Olympic events. We have gone so far as to turn our backs against South Asia’s indigenous games like Kabaddi, and Kho Kho. Isn’t this ironic, given that South Asia had presented the world with homegrown games such as Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, and Chess? Over the last decade, some improvement seems to have been made as regards our demeanour towards Kabaddi, with India now flaunting this ancient, homegrown product for the world to witness. Many teams from foreign nations participate in the annual Kabaddi contests that are being organized.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Kamala Babu Siddi in the centre, with her daughters.
Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
17-year-old sprinting champion Ravikiran Siddi, holding his medal.

Siddhis are of Bantu African origin whose talents had once been harvested by the SAI (Sports Authority of India). Assuming that their Black African genetics had enabled them to excel at sports. SAI established SAG (Special Area Games) in the latter half of the 1980s, with an eye to train the potential Siddhi medal winners for India. From an existence in ignominy, the Sidhhis were elevated to a level of importance that they had revelled in. The efforts had reaped recognizable dividends. Kamala Babu Siddhi emerged as one of India’s top medal winners. At the young age of 15, she partook in the Women’s Pentathlon event, and broke the record. But the euphoria was short lived. Due to a lack of infrastructure and planning, the SAG was put to sleep by our SAI. Even though in recent times, with the help of Siddhi Indian athlete and trainer Judge Jackie Harnodkar, training seems to have been revived, it is doubtful, that the zeal and fervour of the previous phase will reveal itself.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Judge Jackie Harnodkar.

I would urge you Prime Minister Modi, to set up special training camps for posterity, to mine the latent sporting talents of our Siddhi sisters and brothers. 

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NETAJI FILES

Unlike Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, who expectedly, did not commit to any further progress over the whereabouts of Indian anti-colonial freedom revolutionary Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, you and your party have maintained, that revelations to finally bring closure for millions of Netaji’s fans and supporters, is a priority of yours. 

In the first phase of your administration that lasted from twenty fourteen to twenty nineteen, you did make good on your promise. A number of hitherto classified files on the fate of India’s most famed armed revolutionary (along with Hutaatma Bhagat Singh), were declassified and placed in the public domain with the aim of making them accessible to researchers who are keen to determine Netaji’s whereabouts, post the August of nineteen forty five.

Very quickly, those interested in the case of Netaji learned however, that the revealed files were the convenient ones, parroting the same worldview that has remained the standard lie of previous central governments. Your office went to the extent of declaring, that the crucial material pertaining to the case would be withheld at all cost, since it would negatively affect India’s relations with a number of foreign countries. What a feeling of déjà vu, Sir! This is what we, the admirers of one of India’s great children had felt, when Congress ruled India had been recalcitrant over the declassification issue. Why the kick to our bellies, Mr. Prime Minister? Why are you aping the people you politically despise, when it comes to the crucial problem of Right to Information? A significant number of Netaji’s supporters were responsible in voting you to power. Have you no responsibility toward this section?

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Of the sixty four Netaji files that were declassified, none stood out, much to the chagrin of investigators.

Another nagging question remains. How can India’s foreign relations with the world be abruptly hampered, when the events under purview, took place a number of generations previously, when South Asia was under colonial domination? Something is certainly amiss, here! What is it that you do not want the Indian populace to fathom? Presumably, you have had a look at the aforementioned files, and have seen something in them, that terrified you, and determined your current course of action. What was it that fazed you this much? Or did you discover that the trope of India’s foreign relations being affected, was superseded by the fact, that Netaji was harmed by political forces within South Asia? What is the truth, and how long do we have to wait, for a genuine closure, Sir? There are people, and perfectly sane, respectable ones at that, who have gingerly linked the questionable ‘natural’ death of former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, to Netaji’s fate. I am sure you are in knowledge of this. Many of the theorists, belong to your party. They are not kidding, when they claim what they do. 

I hope, you will find it in yourself, to come clean on incidents that happened during the Second World War, and can no longer affect post-independence India’s proximity to her friends. Researchers on Netaji, shall not rest, until the truth is known. Don’t leave us, in the lurch.

JAMSHEDPUR AIRPORT

Jamshedpur is one of India’s planned cities, and ranks at number one, on the scale of cleanliness, where eastern India is concerned. Owned by the Tata group of companies, it is the location of one of the world’s largest steel production units, as you may be aware. In 2018, Tata Steel Limited, was ranked eleventh, globally, by the World Steel Association, in terms of tonnage of production. 

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Jamshedpur, also known as Tatanagar after its Zoroastrian founder, Jamsetji Tata, has no airport dedicated to domestic or international travel. This one is exclusively for dignitaries who visit the city.

A progressive and developed urban town, Jamshedpur has all that an infrastructure specialist would desire; malls, parks, zoos, gardens, shopping centres, lakes, hills, real estate, thriving public and private sectors, educational institutions, and dependable law enforcement. This bustling metropolis, which contributes substantially to India’s growth and per capita income, lacks an airport, Mr. Prime Minister. Isn’t this paradoxical? A city teeming with people who frequently travel outside for work, education, business, and research, is yet to have their own airport! At present, natives of Jamshedpur can only access flights by first travelling to the nearby city of Ranchi. It is a kind of travesty, if you ask me.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
XLRI, Xavier’s Labour Research Institute located at Jamshedpur, is one of India’s best.
Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
Graduates from the iconic XLRI Management School, Jamshedpur.

An airport has been in the pipeline for as long as the residents can remember. It was proposed to be built at the location of Sonari, but any chance for domestic and/or international flights from the area, have come to naught. It is vital Sir, that Jamshedpur be duly presented with its very own air terminal, in as shortest a time as possible. Negotiations with the Tatas and the local aboriginal population must be achieved right away.

Letter, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
The pristine Jubilee Lake, with its fountains, located in Jamshedpur, is a prime tourist attraction of the city.

It is commendable, that your government has decriminalised suicide. Those who attempt suicide do not deserve a jail term, but sessions with a psychiatrist. That the government wishes to provide mental health consultations to such bereaved and anxious individuals, is to be celebrated. Last year, the Supreme Court of India lifted the ban on LGBT marriages. This has been another feather in the cap of universal humanism. Ancient India held no grudge against those who had practised a sexuality that was different from the accepted one. 

Prime Minister Modi, here is hoping that you get to read this piece. If you could introspect and ruminate a little on the points mentioned above, and find truth in the demands being made, yours truly would be obliged. After all, it is not us, the citizens of India, who must serve you. It is yourself, as the prime servant of the nation, who must act unselfishly.

Thank You.

In all humility,

Citizen Tania.

Tania is a freelance writer with a masters in defence and strategic studies, who has a wide range of interests.