Politics

Kathua Lessons For Modi-Shah: If You Don’t Drive The Agenda, The Fringe Will

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah
Snapshot
  • It is not too late for Modi and Shah to change course. If they don’t, the only people to benefit will be the anti-Hindu cabal of the Lutyens power zone and their international “breaking India” forces.

The last and final year of Narendra Modi’s tenure as Prime Minister is likely to prove his most challenging. While the economic front will probably sort itself out, the social, political and cultural fronts are going to prove his Waterloo, unless he takes control of the agenda.

A statement by 49 former government officials, including police officers like Julio Ribeiro and Meera Borwankar, has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of promoting a “culture of majoritarian belligerence and aggression”, and holds the PM responsible “for this terrible state of affairs” – the reference being to the Kathua and Unnao rapes.

This is a bit rich, and the claim that the signatories are “citizens with no affiliation” is suspect, given Ribeiro’s past statements claiming he was on a “hit-list” based on fraudulent stories about “church attacks”. Nor does one need to point out that these worthies said nothing about minority belligerence (Kaliachak, Dhulagarh) and aggressive evangelical proselytisation that have now provoked a majoritarian backlash. We shall let that pass. For there is a ring of truth to what is alleged – and not necessarily for the reasons stated by the signatories.

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The Prime Minister and his party will be repeatedly blamed for whatever goes wrong in the country for two reasons: one, since Modi is seen as all-powerful and a centralising figure, he is directly in the line of fire of his critics. But, more importantly, the real issue is this counter-intuitive one: as a supposedly “Hindu” party, if you don’t control the Hindu part of the agenda, anyone – any rogue or fringe element – will define it for Modi and his party. Thus, what happens in Kathua – where an eight-year-old girl was raped and brutally killed – and the protests led by some self-proclaimed Hindu groups against the J&K police were seen as the result of direct encouragement from the BJP leadership. So, too, the non-arrest of a BJP MLA in Unnao after festering accusations of rape for more than a year. Earlier, we had cow vigilante groups running amok and killing alleged “cow smugglers.”

The truth is this: if you do not control the Hindu part of the agenda, the fringe will run away with it and define you. Seen in this sense, the efforts by Modi’s enemies to build a narrative of aggressive majoritarianism by the Sangh parivar are succeeding. Worse, this “majoritarianism” will be deemed to be true despite Modi and party president Amit Shah doing almost nothing to correct the biases against the majority community or deal with the legitimate demands of Hindus for equal treatment under the Constitution.

In Jammu, for example, there is little doubt that the BJP has failed to address the Hindu majority’s fears of being gradually over-run by clandestinely settling Rohingyas in the region. Nor is there any redistribution of power to give Jammu a greater share of voice in how the state is run. The whole state is run in the Valley’s Muslim interests. The Peoples Democratic Party-BJP alliance has failed, and the Hindu agenda is now being hijacked by fringe groups who are tapping into the growing sentiment among Hindus that they may be reduced to a minority in this region as well. A local group – Hindu Ekta Manch – is seen as trying to prevent a fair probe into the rape of the child in Kathua, and the BJP is left shouldering the full blame for their actions. The jihadi groups have now found additional propaganda material for the recruitment of more terrorists from the valley; the picture of the raped and killed child will now be paraded as evidence of depraved Hindu brutality to Muslims.

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This is nothing but the result of the BJP ceding leadership of its constituency to a fringe, which is now leading the agenda in the wrong direction.

Or take the various cow vigilante killings. If you do not have an end-to-end policy of protecting the cow from birth to death, poor farmers will sell the animal to smugglers for slaughter once their economic life is over – and/or let them loose to wander where they will. If this is not going to encourage more smuggling and vigilantism, one doesn’t know what will. This is another open invitation for the fringe to set the agenda for the BJP’s non-existent anti-cow slaughter policy.

As I have written earlier, the BJP can have a legitimate raft of positive Hindu policies, ranging from rewriting the Constitution’s provisions to allow Hindus to run their own religious institutions autonomously to stopping huge foreign money flows to predatory evangelical and Wahhabi groups sources to aid religious conversions. These are legitimate causes for a Hindu party to pursue, since they do not impact the rights of any one else – including Christians and Muslims. They are free to fund their religious activities from money sourced inside India as well as run their institutions autonomously. But the BJP has lost sight of what should be its core agenda, and focused on the mere accumulation of power.

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Some lessons are often wasted on political parties, who exist to pursue power. However, periodically, all political parties need to ask themselves: Why are we doing this? Why do we exist? If you pursue power endlessly, you will ultimately find that the original purpose for which you sought power will be defeated. In its pursuit of a Congress-mukt Bharat, the BJP has sought to expand its political reach by bringing in all kinds of political elements from other parties, including thugs and rogues, even at the cost of its original core agenda. While these elements can help you win an election or two, in the end they will drag the party down into the same muck they came from.

It is not too late for Modi and Shah to change course: they need to control the BJP’s Hindu agenda, and it need not be majoritarian at all. If they don’t, the only people to benefit will be the anti-Hindu cabal of the Lutyens power zone and their international “breaking India” forces. The fringe will defeat the core.

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