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Will Modi be able to tackle saffron fundamentalism and usher in ‘achhey din’?

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By Amulya Ganguli

To most supporters of Narendra Modi, including those outside the saffron fold who welcomed his economic agenda, the prime minister’s tenure so far has been disappointing. That he has sensed the uneasy public mood is evident from his directive for action against non-performing bureaucrats.

But, apart from disciplining the officials, what is expected of him is the kind of sternness which he showed as the Gujarat chief minister. As a result, he was able to marginalize his predecessors like Keshubhai Patel and silence rabble-rousers like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Pravin Togadiya.

In Delhi, he has taken similar effective action against incorrigible troublemakers like Yogi Adityanath and seems to have persuaded Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat to refrain from saying that all Indians are Hindus.

But his task remains incomplete as the hooliganism of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists recently showed in Allahabad University, where they held a senior journalist hostage in the vice chancellor’s office to prevent him from speaking at a seminar. Their charge against the journalist was that he was “anti-national”, a label which they also used to defame the Dalit student, Rohith Vemula, who recently committed suicide in the Hyderabad Central University.

It is patent enough that Modi’s call for upholding constitutional governance, under which anti-nationals are to be identified only by the state and not vigilante groups, is not being heeded by some of his party members and associates.

There is little doubt that their words and deeds are reflexive in nature. Having been tutored in the RSS shakhas (schools) to regard themselves as the epitomes of patriotism, the saffron-tinted activists have routinely dubbed those not adhering to their creed as enemies of the nation.

Their pursuit of the same line, despite Modi’s restraining efforts, is the main reason why sections of the intelligentsia have expressed misgivings about the prevailing intolerance in their view. Had the prime minister, followed up his general advice with firm admonitions on specific occasions, the sense of despondency might have been dissipated.

But perhaps because he feels that it is below his dignity to react to the various incidents which can appear to be minor in the larger perspective, he prefers either to say nothing or leave it to the party president Amit Shah and others to speak to those who step out of line.

However, his “dangerous silence”, as the New York Times once called it, has begun to hurt the party as mavericks like Subramanian Swamy continue their campaign for building the Ram temple and suggestions are made by the RSS chief to regulate the media “to ensure that no ill-effects prevails in society” as a result of their writings.

Although the temple is unlikely to be built in the near future – if at all – or Mohan Bhagwat’s veiled plea for censorship implemented, it is a familiar tactic of fascistic outfits to keep on harping on their provocative projects to sustain communal tension.

It is not surprising, therefore, that an opinion poll has shown Modi’s ratings to be higher than the BJP’s. There is little doubt that at the national level, the people across the board continue to repose considerable faith in his pro-development program even if it is yet to reach the take-off point.

But what the BJP has to be wary of is, first, the significance of the party’s lower approval rating and, second, the fact of its inconsequence in states like West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puduchery which will go to the polls this year. Only in Assam, which will also go to the polls, can it expect to fare reasonably well, but it is still a touch-and-go affair.

In Uttar Pradesh, too, the BJP may face a hard time next year because of the alienation of sizable sections of Muslims and Dalits in the aftermath of the targeting of so called beef-eaters and the suicide of Rohith Vemula.

Amit Shah is right in saying that just as the political polarization at one time pitted Indira Gandhi against the rest, it is now Modi vs the rest. But there is a slight difference – the middle class today is much larger and more politically active than it was in Indira Gandhi’s time. Modi’s high approval rating comes from this segment of society, which was also largely responsible for his victory in 2014.

But it is also a group which will not take kindly to the antics of the ABVP, the Shiv Sena and other Hindu militants. It is also possible that they are siding with Modi at present because there is no alternative at the all-India level. But this isn’t the case in the states, which is why the BJP is unlikely to have an easy run in the assembly elections.

To give the party a nationwide edge, the prime minister will have to crack the whip much harder where the saffron fundamentalists are concerned, for even an eight percent growth rate will not help him to usher in the missing achhey din if the extremists continue to rave and rant against the “anti-nationals”. (IANS)

Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal.

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Why JDU & BJP Coalition Will Remain Intact

JDU knows that this 15-16% votes is not enough to help the party and for the BJP too, only the 17% votes of upper castes are not sufficient

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Nitish Kumar with Narendra Modi.
Nitish Kumar with Narendra Modi.

By Sagarneel Sinha

There have been lots of discussions among the political circles that JDU led by Bihar Chief
Minister Nitish Kumar is upset with the BJP and trying to send signals to erst allies — RJD and the Congress. This led to speculations that Nitish may once again join the Grand Alliance (GA) leaving the NDA camp. Already, RJD’s new commander Tejasvi Yadav has clearly stated that Nitish led JDU will not be welcomed in the GA. Despite all the odds, if (suppose) GA partners accommodate Nitish, he wouldn’t be the driving force of the alliance as in 2015. Also, Nitish cannot afford to go alone like in 2014 when his party fetched only 2 seats!

Then which is the correct way for JDU? It is to go with the BJP in the upcoming 2019 polls.
JDU’s advantage in this case is the present situation of the BJP. Currently, the saffron party is not in a strong position as the party would be facing anti-incumbency from a strong RJD led alliance in the state. BJP’s traditional voters are the upper castes who account for 17% of the electorate. This votebank is not enough for the party to help to win elections. The main opposition party — RJD still commands over a larger votebank than BJP. RJD is still a dominant force among the Yadavs and the Muslims who account for 31% of the population. It means BJP has to minus the 31% votes and rely on the rest — 69%. Out of these, 16% are the Mahadalits — a large portion of whom generally hail Nitish Kumar as their leader. Also, there are Kurmis, an OBC group consisting of 4% votes — considered as the supporters of JDU. Nitish Kumar himself is also a Kurmi.

Nitish Kumar Invited to Join NDA by Amit Shah After JDU-BJP Tie-up in Bihar
Nitish Kumar Invited to Join NDA by Amit Shah After JDU-BJP Tie-up in Bihar.

JDU knows that this 15-16% votes is not enough to help the party and for the BJP too, only the 17% votes of upper castes are not sufficient. However, if these votebanks are joined together they form around 31-32%. Plus, to gain the extra votes, both the parties have the option to rely on the personal charisma of Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, there is a power tussle between the two allies to get a respectable share of seats.

This power tussle is because of a strong BJP which earlier used to be a junior ally. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections changed the political scenario of the state where BJP emerged as the largest party in terms of vote share and seats. JDU knows the reality of a new emerging BJP, though it is pushing hard to gain a respectable share of seats for the Lok Sabha elections. Instead, Nitish Kumar has another option — giving the bigger chunk to the BJP for the Lok Sabha elections and the latter playing the junior partner for the 2020 assembly elections if held timely. Given the current situation in the country, in a crucial state like Bihar, BJP can hardly reject JDU as the later still commands over 15-16% votes — a very crucial votebank for winning maximum seats in the 2019 polls. Importance of JDU can also be explained by BJP president Amit Shah’s visit to Patna to have breakfast and dinner with Nitish Kumar. Though in politics there are no permanent friends or foes, so any perfect prediction is impossible. But given the current situation, JDU and BJP parting their ways seems unlikely as both the parties are in need of each other as already highlighted by Amit Shah that the two allies would fight the Lok Sabha elections together. Smiling face of Nitish Kumar was also an indication that the meetings with Amit Shah were fine.