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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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What Would Be The Outcome Of The Judgement On Homosexuality With BJP At The Centre?

If parties like the BJP and "cultural" organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation.

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Flag Of BJP, homosexuality
Ruling on gays: Is the BJP out of sync with modern realities? Flickr

More than the social impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment on homosexuality, what will be of concern to the ruling party at the Centre is its political fallout. Hence, the eloquent silence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the subject.

For the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), any expansion of the concept of civil liberties is fraught with danger to their restrictive worldviews since a widening of human rights carries the prospect of greater individualism.

If the rights of the homosexuals to live without legal constraints are conceded, it can only encourage the people to free themselves of other restrictions as well such as on choosing live-in partners (of whatever sex) and eating, dressing and speaking as they please.

Homosexuality, India
SC decriminalises homosexuality, victory for gay rights. Pixabay

It is noteworthy that the verdict on gays has come close on the heels of the judgment which described the right to dissent as a “safety valve” which the government can only shut off at its peril lest there is an explosion.

Moreover, the court had also upheld not long ago the right to privacy which the government described as an “elitist” concept.

For the Hindu Right, as also for other religious fundamentalists, this dalliance with civil rights — the freedom to criticise the government, the exaltation of privacy and now the decriminalisation of homosexuality — entails a push towards liberalism and modernism which are anathema to any group which wants the society to be bound by shackles of orthodoxy and obscurantism.

It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.

Now that one of them is gone, there is little doubt that these closet followers of Britain’s 19th century politician Lord Macaulay — even as they decry the secular groups as “Macaulay’s children” — will hold on resolutely to the law on sedition as their only safeguard against the “anti-nationals” who, they believe, stalk the land.

Homosexuality
It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.
Wikimedia Commons

It is also possible that the saffronites will keep a hawk’s eye on any social problems that may arise because of the assertion of gay rights. As the BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has said, with eager anticipation, if a five-judge bench can overturn an earlier judgment in favour of criminalising homosexuality, a larger bench can undo the present verdict if gay bars begin to flourish and there is a rise in the cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections.

Interestingly, what these judgments underline is how the judiciary is more attuned to the changing world than the elected representatives of the hoi polloi who often argue in favour of giving greater primacy to the legislature than the judiciary since they claim to represent the people while the judges are unelected denizens of an ivory tower.

However, one possible reason why MPs and MLAs, especially of the BJP, seem to be out of sync with the present-day world is the presence in their midst of a large number of criminal elements who can hardly be regarded as the most progressive sections of society.

For instance, of the 543 elected members of the Lok Sabha, of whom 186 have a criminal record, 63 belong to the BJP, followed by eight of the Shiv Sena, four of the Trinamool Congress and three each of the Congress and the AIADMK.

Homosexuality
Gay Pride Procession. Pixabay

What the Supreme Court judgment appears to have done is to persuade parties like the Congress, which usually hedges its bets lest it should fall on the wrong side of public opinion, to come out in the verdict’s favour, presumably because it senses that this judgment, more than any other, has become a touchstone in the matter of breaking out from the stranglehold of the past.

To distance a party from it, as the BJP is doing, will amount to virtually alienating the entire youth community. Even if a majority among them do not have homosexual instincts — according to official figures, there are 2.5 million gay people in India, but this may be an underestimate since, till now, it was unsafe for them to reveal their sexual orientation — the youths nevertheless see the ruling as an assertion of living life on one’s own terms and not be held hostage by the dictates of a society steeped in conservatism and of political parties which believe that their agenda can only advanced if the country is made forcibly to conform to khap panchayat-style social and cultural norms.

Also Read: Why JDU & BJP Coalition Will Remain Instant

To these youths, being or not being aware of homosexuality is of little consequence. What matters to them is to be able to make up their own minds and not be told by elders to abide by certain rules which are regarded as outdated by the younger generation.

If parties like the BJP and “cultural” organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation. (IANS)