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31 October 2012

Let the BJP not fool itself

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To project Modi as India’s next prime minister tantamounts to dragging down the country to the dust of shame and oblivion

By Kuldip Nayar

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is testing the water. It too realises that elections are many months away, but wants to know whether Hindutva is acceptable to the voters. Floating the name of the anti-Muslim Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, as the likely candidate for prime ministership is meant to assess if his non-secular image would attract the ordinary Hindu voter. The party has not yet got over from the defeat of the last parliamentary elections, when it thought it was all set to occupy the treasury benches but only found out that the communal tag attached to it had pulled the party down. Its Hindutva plank helped the Congress retain power.

The BJP is open to all options this time. The RSS is in the picture from the beginning. Its chief Mohan Bhagwat has not only welcomed Modi at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, but also announced that Modi would get a higher position in the BJP after the Gujarat assembly elections next month. This, indeed, reaffirms who controls the reins of the BJP. However, to lessen the party leaders’ humiliation, Bhagwat has said that the selection of the prime ministerial candidate is the prerogative of the party. Yet, on the other hand, he has rubbed salt on their wounds by making it clear that Modi is the best candidate available in the party.

Modi does not go higher in the estimate of people just because Britain says it wants to do business with him again, though it does not endorse his actions. Taking the initiative of sending its envoy, James Bevan, to Modi after maintaining the touch-me-not stand for a decade conveys London’s keenness. America or other countries may follow suit in due course of time.

Photo Courtesy: Hugo A. Sanchez/Gulf News
Yet, this does not make him acceptable to India which is the subject matter. The Gujarat Chief Minister has bamboozled the state in the name of identity as if its people have a different entity than the rest of Indians. Had Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal done it, the entire nation would have pounced upon him for leading the Sikhs to separatism.

Modi is responsible for misleading the Gujaratis, who look like re-electing him. They have been daring the country for almost 15 years that for them, the state government is more important than the nation, which is sworn to the principles enunciated in the Constitution. For the Gujaratis, equality before the law and separation between state and politics have stayed on paper because their Chief Minister, Modi, has been determined to flout the principles. This was visible in 2002 when some 2,000 Muslims were butchered because they were not considered equal and because they were sacrificed at the altar of Modi’s innovation of mixing religion with the state.

Had the guilty been punished in 1984 when the Sikhs were the victims in Delhi, the Gujarat Hindus would not have dared to indulge in ethnic cleansing. The burning of 46 Hindus in a train compartment at Godhra was a provocation. But the pogrom in Gujarat would have taken place even without the Godhra incident as a few plucky journalists have brought out in their write-ups.

The guilty in Gujarat have not yet been brought to book. There are some pending cases in which Modi’s name is mentioned. To project him as India’s next prime minister tantamounts to dragging down the country to the dust of shame and oblivion. How can a political party think of Modi even if it shuts its eyes to the murders, rapes and lootings?

The BJP has been hurt from another unexpected quarter. Party chief Nitin Gadkari is allegedly possessing bogus firms which he had created to make money while he was the PWD minister in Maharashtra. The charges against him are so serious that even the RSS sources have reportedly said that the BJP’s image has been severely dented. The Congress has been given a golden opportunity and it has already ordered what it refers to term as a “soft inquiry”. In any case, the BJP will not be in a position to roar in parliament as it did in the last session. Its image of cleanliness has got a serious beating.

The party will have to reckon with Gadkari’s episode in the next elections. Therefore, it does not have to confine its strategy of finding out whether the wind is blowing in favour of Hindutva by giving currency to Modi’s name. There are other issues which the opposition will be exploiting. And corruption, so far tagged to Congress, will be a charge against the party to which it will have to reply. One’s scams will be pitted against another’s to the confusion of the electorate.

India is a country which prides itself in the spirit of accommodation and a sense of tolerance. Unfortunately, communal riots still take place, not on the scale they used to in the 1950s, ‘60s and even later, but the nation is sensitive enough not to return those to power who have only religion to sell.

In the last six decades, India has come to settle down as a democratic, pluralistic nation. Whatever else happens it happens, democracy has got entrenched deep. Religious slogans cannot destabilise it. It may well be truism, but the fact is that there can be no democracy without pluralism. It is a pity that the BJP has not yet understood this very basic thing. It should remember that when it came to power at the centre, it had to cut off its communal fangs and give an undertaking, among other things, on giving a special status to Kashmir and not build a temple at the place where the Babri Masjid stood before it was destroyed.

In fact, Modi himself should withdraw his claim for the post of prime minister because he reduces the stature of the position as well as the chances of the BJP. If he were to say sorry and undo the wrongs he has done to the Muslims, he would perhaps come to be known as a reformed Modi. Then there may be a chance for him and his party.

[Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian high commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.]

(Courtesy: Gulf News)

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