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Communal hatred distracts us from the failures of governance

India is sinking deeper and deeper into the morass of divisiveness and hatred.

Some weeks ago, I wrote here that the hatred, fanned by political parties for electoral benefit, has now penetrated so deep that nobody can stop it;


not Prime Minister Narendra Modi, not the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, not fundamentalist organisations of any religion, and not the preachers who seek to divide India.


   Sadly, the truth is that very few politicians actually want to stop it. They are prepared to sacrifice the long-term future of a flourishing and united India for their short-term electoral benefit.


   It is clear, for instance, that South Delhi MP Ramesh Bidhuri has got away with only a gentle rap on the knuckles despite what must be the lowest moment in the history of parliamentary proceedings in India.


   I don’t need to remind you of what Bidhuri said while BJP MPs Ravi Shankar Prasad and Harsh Vardhan chuckled appreciatively next to him. Let’s look at it in another way and use global parallels. Since we are all so big on the ‘India-is-the-mother-of-democracy’ idea, consider what would have happened had a legislator behaved like this in any other parliamentary democracy.


   Imagine that an MP from the ruling Conservative Party in the United Kingdom had stood up in the House of Commons and called an opposition MP, who belonged to a minority community, a pimp? And if he had followed that up with a communal abuse so terrible that I won’t repeat it here, except to say that it is our equivalent of the N-word.


  Or think of the United States. Would any Congressman or senator have gotten away with using the N-word to describe another member of the House?


   I think you know the answer.


   And yet, nothing much has happened to Bidhuri. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, who has been known to swiftly suspend members of opposition parties, decided that Bidhuri deserved only a warning. As the uproar against the MP’s remarks grew, the BJP issued a show-cause notice but gave Bidhuri time to answer it. When and if these proceedings are completed, I very much doubt that he will be expelled.


   As for the chuckling Harsh Vardhan and the giggling Ravi Shankar Prasad, perhaps the BJP is taking the line that they were humiliated enough when they were unceremoniously thrown out of the Cabinet a while ago, and so, no further action need be taken.


  There has been no statement from the BJP leadership condemning Bidhuri’s remarks or even distancing itself from them. The closest we have got to some sort of apology is a statement by Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh in the Lok Sabha in which he said he had not heard all of Bidhuri’s remarks but if “he had said something that has hurt their (the opposition’s) feelings, I express regret”.


   And that’s it.


   We know why the Modi government is doing nothing to condemn Bidhuri’s remarks — it is election season again. It needs to keep the Hindutva faction faithful on its side in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and other states. That may also explain why Bhopal MP Pragya Thakur has been allowed to get away with calling Nathuram Godse a “deshbhakt” (patriot) yet again. When she praised Godse on previous occasions, she was upbraided and the PM said how unhappy her remarks made him.


"I do hope that liberals who believe in a pluralistic India recognise that they are also playing into the hands of those who want to focus on religious distractions and divisions."

   Not this time, though. There is an assembly election in Madhya Pradesh coming up.


   More revealing may be the reaction of the BJP’s online army. As the furore over Bidhuri’s remarks grew with strong editorials in newspapers, social media was flooded with whataboutery. “What about [Udhayanidhi] Stalin’s remarks on Sanatana Dharma?” was the common refrain.


   The online campaign, with its near-identical tweets, could not have been launched without the involvement of those who organise this sort of thing for the Sangh Parivar. And so, it seems clear that instead of chastising Bidhuri, the BJP has decided to take his side.


   Nothing we write is going to change the way in which the Hindutva brigade operates. And why should it? The sad truth is that communal hatred polarises the country, distracts it from failures of governance, and wins elections.


   But I do hope that liberals who believe in a pluralistic India recognise that they are also playing into the hands of those who want to focus on religious distractions and divisions.


   When I criticised Stalin Jr. for his unnecessary and unprovoked attack on Sanatana Dharma, I was met with a barrage of criticism from well-meaning liberals. My point was that while many of us know that the Dravidian movement defines Sanatana Dharma in a very specific way — in terms of hierarchy and casteism — the phrase has now been appropriated by the Sangh Parivar to mean Hinduism itself.


   The BJP knows perfectly well what the Dravidian parties believe. It was in alliance with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) when Udhayanidhi made his remarks. Clearly, it doesn’t mind aligning with parties that share this line of thinking about Sanatana Dharma. But the party was certain to twist junior Stalin’s remarks to portray the entire INDIA alliance as anti-Hindu.


   This is precisely what happened. The day I wrote my column, the PM said that INDIA was out to destroy Sanatana Dharma.


   The attack could have been avoided if the younger Stalin had been more specific about his targets and had not compared Sanatana Dharma to malaria, dengue, Covid, and other diseases. His speech helped nobody except the headline-hunting Stalin Jr. himself and allowed the BJP to further polarise the electorate.


   I worry now that something similar may be happening with the Khalistan issue. There are no greater enemies of India’s Sikhs than expatriate pro-Khalistan leaders. India’s Sikhs have no interest in the separatist movement — they suffered terribly in the 15 years when terrorism ravaged Punjab.


   But in the aftermath of Canada’s accusations that we were involved in the killing of a pro-Khalistan terrorist, ‘Khalistan’ has gone from being a mirage in the minds of a few loony Sikhs living in British Columbia to becoming the stuff of headlines.


   The BJP has no stake in Punjab; it is the one North Indian state that has remained immune to the PM’s charisma. It has nothing to lose by building up a bogus Khalistani threat to add to its comical but sadly effective claims of Hindu victimhood.


   So, while we are obliged to tell Canadian PM Justin Trudeau where to get off, let’s not allow the BJP to pretend that pro-Khalistan leaders are any kind of threat to India. It has already tried this once — during the agitation against the 2020 farm laws — and can do it again.


   There is a lesson in all this. In a country divided by hatred, those who believe in a pluralistic India should seek to emphasise our unity, not focus on our differences. No secular politician should focus on religion. They should focus on governance.


   By launching needless attacks on Sanatana Dharma or playing up an imaginary Khalistan threat, liberals are walking into the trap set for them by those who would polarise India.



Posted On: 28 Sep 2023 10:10 AM
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