The BJP has now developed a more sophisticated technique of prosecuting its agenda and it is the same as that deployed by “secularists” to put Hindus and Hinduism in the dock.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is slowly learning the trick of pushing its political agenda by speaking politically correct language. A case in point is the passing of the triple talaq bill by the Lok Sabha which will criminalise those practising the instant variety (talaq-e-biddat) and put the man in prison. No matter what happens in the Rajya Sabha – it could end up in a select committee for months – the BJP has managed to embarrass and wrong-foot India’s phony secularists.
From the PM down to the average BJP politician in the states, they have talked women’s empowerment, and not uniform civil code or anti-Islamism, even though some commentators do find in this an indirect form of showing hatred against Muslims. The ones looking silly and hypocritical are the so-called feminists, and the Lutyens media, who don’t know where to hide. Even the Congress party, now worried about losing the Hindu vote forever, has been left bleating about making the law stronger. There was no protest from the Trinamool Congress, which depends on pandering to the Muslim voter in West Bengal. The BJP has effectively forced all parties to reconsider their overt anti-Hindu positions or direct support for minority communalism.
In doing so, the BJP has taken a leaf out of the strategy playbook of the anti-Hindu coalition of western evangelists and their local “secular” allies, who couch all their posturings in terms of concern for the environment (hence the ban on Diwali fire-crackers), gender justice (hence the move to undercut tradition at Sabarimala), and caste atrocities (a catchall cause to demonise the whole of Hinduism). When required, Hindu denominations will be promised minority status, so that Hindus always are busy fighting the internal rifts within, leaving secularists to court the block Muslim vote as the tilting factor in elections.
That the BJP is learning the same tricks is obvious now. By its steadfast and full support for the women fighting triple talaq, and following this up with a stringent law against violators, it has managed to create a schism in Muslim society itself, with many women now seeing merit in not depending on the traditional power-brokers in the community to deliver gender reform.
Reform often comes not from those who have a direct stake in maintaining the prevalent power structure within society, but from those who see political opportunity or other merits in shaking things up.
Take the case of the British ban on Sati. Nobody will today deny that it was a good thing to do, even though the reality is not that our colonial rulers wanted to empower Hindu women, but to give themselves legitimacy. What Sati gave the British was an opportunity to masquerade as supporters of modernity, and paint Hindus as barbaric, thus giving their own imperialism – and the evangelists – a moral tinge.
As Meenakshi Jain proves in her book Sati, the motive force for banning the practice came from evangelical groups who were keen to delegitimise Hinduism and Christianise India, even though Sati was not as widespread a practice as the British would have liked us to believe.
The triple talaq bill, titled the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, has left liberals fuming for it criminalises one particular method of divorce, and could well have been treated as a civil breach. Their arguments, claiming that sending men to prison will hardly help the women who have been illegally divorced, will not wash for this argument can be used in any civil case too. A thief or a white collar criminal goes to prison if convicted, but no one argues that sending him there will not affect the well-being of his wife and children.
Let us be clear, there is almost nothing wrong with the triple talaq bill; one is only talking of how the BJP is using it to progress its agenda, and that is what is noteworthy.
Regardless of the final fate of the bill, the BJP has now developed a more sophisticated technique of prosecuting its agenda and it is the same as that deployed by “secularists” to put Hindus and Hinduism in the dock.
What the BJP is doing is not necessarily good for Hindu-Muslim ties in the short term, but it will create grounds for both communities to find a compromise to work and live together in future. It is only by developing a mutual understanding of each other’s concerns can genuine secularism prevail.
India’s current secularism is a substantial fraud. It has two strands, one legitimate, one illegitimate. Genuine secularists seek to find common ground between the two communities and compromises on issues where they are opposed. This is how local communities negotiate a ban on both beef and pork. But there is another variety of secularist – the professional one – whose future depends on keeping the communities apart. This group has traditionally taken anti-Hindu positions to ensure that the two communities don’t find a via media.
By pushing the triple talaq bill, the BJP has effectively sent the latter group notice that they too can play the game of using secular sounding causes to demonise only one community. Their game is up. The slow shift of the Congress under Rahul Gandhi to avoid antagonising Hindus in their efforts to court the minority bloc vote is evidence that the ploy is working.
The BJP should not push this so far where community relationships actually go from bad to worse. To remain a sensible Hindu party, the BJP needs to work on positioning itself as a positive Hindu force bent on giving its community a good deal; it does not need demonising another. However, this message needs to be reciprocated in all communities, especially those targeting Hindus for conversion. Organised and aggressive conversion agendas are as destructive of community relations as communal riots. It is time the Abrahamic religions stopped pretending that freedom of religion is about giving denominational money power the right to demonise others or convert them to your equally flawed faith.
Freedom of religion means the right of the individual to choose the faith he wants; it does not mean empowering religious multinational corporations to build market share among the poor and the gullible.