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Can gap between Modi’s vision and Hindu hyper-nationalists be bridged?

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Narendra Modi is probably learning the veracity of Stalin’s insightful aphorism that while one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. In a country which has seen innumerable communal riots over the decades, and a 25 percent rise in inter-faith violence since Modi came to power, the furore over the death of one Muslim in a village near Delhi must be something of a puzzle and also hugely disconcerting for the government because it cannot quite anticipate what the fallout will be over a period of time.

Its concerns must be all the greater because the incident persuaded President Pranab Mukherjee to deviate from a written script at a Rashtrapati Bhavan function and call for preserving the nation’s “core” values. The president’s appeal made the prime minister break what the New York Times once called his “dangerous silence” on the attacks on minorities and urge Hindus and Muslims to fight poverty and not one another.

Evidently, the murderous attack on a Muslim family by a saffron mob on the suspicion that they were eating beef has alerted the prime minister about the growing level of intolerance in the saffron camp. For Modi, the tragedy could not have occurred at a worse time, for it has taken much of the sheen off his recent foreign trip. Even German chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to India was overshadowed by the murder.

What the centre and the BJP may feel uneasy about is that even as they issue the routine condemnations, they will be largely unable to brush aside the primary motive for the murder since cow slaughter has always had great emotional appeal for the saffron brotherhood.

As a result, the Hindu chauvinists will be forever on the lookout for any provocation in their eyes as can be seen from the manhandling of an MLA by the BJP legislators inside the Jammu and Kashmir assembly for holding a beef party and the burning of a truck carrying cows and the assault on a Muslim youth who was in the truck in Uttar Pradesh.

These acts of violence show that for all of Modi’s efforts, the communal situation will continue to simmer. Moreover, the government’s difficulty will be in failing to sell the idea of the “holy cow” without being seen as oddballs in today’s world by the beef-eating foreign investors.

It was easier for the Hindutva lobby to accuse Muslims of invasion, rape, pillage and desecration of temples in medieval times, and then link them with today’s jehadis in order to buttress its essentially anti-Muslim worldview.

But it is difficult to justify the killing of a Muslim for allegedly eating beef. Hence the widespread criticism in the international media of this “accident”, as Union Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma called it.

In the last few days, therefore, much of the favourable impression which Modi succeeded in creating about himself abroad with his dress sense, eloquence and tears for his mother has been largely negated by the rage expressed by saffronites against beef-eaters.

Coupled with the suspected involvement of the Hindu Right in the killing of rationalists, the anti-beef agitation will make the task of governance all the more difficult.

Arguably, the realization in the government that the depredations of the Hindu fundamentalists will have an adverse impact on foreign investment will persuade it to rein them in.

But it will not be easy to bridge the gap between Modi’s vision of a 21st century India – a digitalized nation, smart cities, bullet trains – and the desire of the Hindu hyper-nationalists to impose their culinary fads on the country.

Admittedly, the BJP has become a lot more sober than the time when it moved from the margins of politics to centre-stage in the 1990s with its call for demolishing mosques, or the “ocular” provocations, to quote LK Advani, the party’s fiery rath yatri (chariot rider) of the time.

Stints in power at the centre and in some of the states have made it aware of the “idea” of India, or the Nehruvian concept of a nation with a composite culture, incorporating the multihued strands of the religions of all those who live in the country – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and others. However, this sophisticated view is apparently confined to a thin layer of those in the BJP’s upper echelons while the vast majority in the party and in the Sangh parivar subscribes to the concept of Hindu rashtra (nation), where the minorities will be second class citizens.

Modi has been successful so far in preventing a major communal outbreak that was anticipated by the Congress’s Mani Shankar Aiyar, who said that he was waiting for the Godhra or Gujarat “moment” which would set the ball rolling for Modi’s downfall.

The latest incident, however, poses a real challenge to the prime minister because it relates to the issue of cow slaughter which is probably even more sensitive to the saffron crowd than the “ocular” provocations. Yet, he has no option but to douse the flames since the success or failure of his “Make in India” project based on foreign investment depends on his fire-fighting abilities directed against sections of his own party and ‘parivar’.

(Amulya Ganguli, IANS)

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Know How Grammy Award Winner Inspired by PM Modi to Dedicate Music to Environment

From songs like "Ganga" - depicting the plight of the river considered holy by most Indians - to his Grammy-winning album "Winds of Samara" - which speaks of peace and global harmony

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grammy award winner, modi
"What was to be a photo opportunity with the Prime Minister turned into an hour-long discussion with him on environment. He spoke on the impact music could have on society and inspired me to make music on environment," Kej told IANS in an interview here. Wikimedia

A chance meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September 2015 in New Delhi inspired Bengaluru-based Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej to dedicate his life and music to the cause of environment.

Since then, Kej, who has represented India on global fora, performing at venues including the United Nations General Assembly in New York and UN Headquarters in Geneva, has been using music to flag ecological issues to policymakers and public the world over.

“What was to be a photo opportunity with the Prime Minister turned into an hour-long discussion with him on environment. He spoke on the impact music could have on society and inspired me to make music on environment,” Kej told IANS in an interview here.

From songs like “Ganga” – depicting the plight of the river considered holy by most Indians – to his Grammy-winning album “Winds of Samara” – which speaks of peace and global harmony – Kej’s music connects with all — from world leaders to the man on the street.

With the aid of compelling visuals, Kej’s music, and collaborations with global music artists, highlights the deleterious consequences of urbanisation, climate change and human-animal conflict.

modi, grammy award winner
From songs like “Ganga” – depicting the plight of the river considered holy by most Indians – to his Grammy-winning album “Winds of Samara” – which speaks of peace and global harmony – Kej’s music connects with all — from world leaders to the man on the street. Wikimedia

“There are so many issues in India like child labour, gender inequality and poverty, which none seem to be reflecting through music. We see that music has lost the identity of being an art form and has become a profession,” he lamented.

Kej, 37, bagged Grammy in 2015 for the ‘Best New Age Album’ for “Winds of Samsara”, created along with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman. He is also recognised as the ‘United Nations Global Humanitarian Artist’ for his music with environmental consciousness.

The subjects of Kej’s music include, the rising air pollution in global cities and towns, the perils being posed to wildlife due to urbanisation and the story of Republic of Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean off Fiji, whose coasts are receding each year due to rising ocean levels due to global warming, among others.

With 15 studio albums released internationally, 3,500 commercials, three feature films in Kannada and over 100 music awards in 20 countries to his credit, the conservationist-musician’s album “Shanti Samsara” was released by Modi and then French President Francois Hollande at the United Nations Conference of Parties (CoP-21) Climate Change Conference in Paris, held from November 30-December 12, 2015.

The album, conceived after his meeting with Modi, had Kej collaborate with about 500 musicians from 40 countries, for songs like “Ganga”, throwing light on the pollution plaguing the river, and on “Earth and Water”.

“Politicians and policymakers are used to statistics and numbers, but when one approaches them through art, it makes a lot of difference. I have seen politicians change their perspectives towards environmental causes after attending my concerts,” Kej asserted.

The element of environment and nature in his work comes from his own experiences. For instance, he composed the song “One With Earth” – which highlights natural farming and the need to give up chemical fertilisers – after he lived with the tribals in Andhra Pradesh’s Araku Valley to understand their lifestyle and traditional farming techniques.

Grammy award winner, modi
“There are so many issues in India like child labour, gender inequality and poverty, which none seem to be reflecting through music. We see that music has lost the identity of being an art form and has become a profession,” he lamented. Wikimedia

Born in 1981 in North Carolina in the US, Kej moved to Bengaluru with family when he was eight, with intense love for music and nature.

“As a child, I felt music and nature were connected and found music in the sounds of nature, birds and animals. I used to look at music as a way of understanding history, cultures and emotions from different parts of the world. A lot of my education was through music,” said Kej, who was part of a rock band “Angel Dust” during his class 12th from Bishop Cotton Boys’ School in Bengaluru.

Even as Kej pursued a dental science course on his father’s advice, he continued to create music and decided to pursue it full-time on completing the degree.

“Like most musicians, I started my career with popular music and later turned to heavy metal and jazz. I finally zeroed in on world music as it connects with the people the world over, irrespective of the language they speak,” Kej recalled.

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As a professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in the renowned Indian Institute of Science (IISc) campus in this tech hub, the musician believes his job is to approach environmental subjects artistically.

“Numbers don’t hit people as hard as visuals and art can. My job as a musician is to drive the numbers and data through emotions,” Kej added. (IANS)