There is no end to the gaffes strung out by senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ministers, on all kinds of issues, international and domestic. The latest instance of such a gaffe — which some might even find a bit sinister — is BJP Home Minister Rajnath Singh's comment about how America’s President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to follow in Narendra Modi’s footsteps.
As reported in The Indian Express, at an election rally in Uttar Pradesh earlier this week, Singh said: "America, jo duniya ka sabse taqatwar desh mana jaata hai, wahan rashtrapati ka chunav ho raha tha. Ek Mrs Clinton thi aur ek Mr Trump. Trump card. Taash wala trump card nahi. Trump. Mr Trump. Mr Trump ne chunav kaise lada hai? Trump ne apne America mein kaha hai ki agar main America ka rashtrapati ban jaata hun toh America mein jo Shri Narendra Modi ki neetiyan hain unhi neetiyon ke aadhar par main aage kaam karunga. Us Trump ko vijay haasil hui hai [There were presidential elections in America. There was one Mrs Clinton and one Mr Trump. Trump card. Not the one found in a deck of cards. Mr Trump. How did he fight elections? He said that if he became President, he would work keeping in mind the policies of Narendra Modi. That Trump has won]."
If this in itself wasn’t ridiculous enough, the Home Minister also told the gathering that Trump’s adulation of Modi was indeed "an honour for the people of India". It seems Singh is either unaware of or simply not bothered by knowledge of how many sections of America dislike and fear the Presidential-elect. He would do well to remember that Trump’s Democratic Party adversary Hillary Clinton even won the popular vote in this election. However, cynics may underline that the Home Minister was indeed speaking the truth — that Trump and Modi are truly bonded by their shared espousal of majoritarian politics and in their marginalisation of minority communities. While Trump has consolidated the racist politics of white supremacy, Modi has done the same with India’s majority community of Hindus.
Adding more fodder to the growing list of such irresponsible outlandish remarks, is the latest statement by Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar, the very man the media praised nineteen to the dozen when he was Goa Chief Minister, first between 2000-2005, and then 2012-2014. Addressing a gathering at the launch of Brigadier (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal’s book The New Arthashastra, Parrikar said: "Why a lot of people say that India has No First Use policy. Why should I bind myself to a… I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly. This is my thinking. Some of them may immediately tomorrow flash that Parrikar says that nuclear doctrine has changed. It has not changed in any government policy but my concept, I am also an individual. And as an individual, I get a feeling sometime why do I say that I am not going to use it first. I am not saying that you have to use it first just because you don’t decide that you don’t use it first. The hoax can be called off."
Parikkar’s words seem to be inspired by the sort of rhetoric that came from Donald Trump during his election campaign. A report in UK-based The Telegraph on 3 August, said, "Donald Trump asked a foreign policy expert three times why the United States couldn't use nuclear weapons if he becomes president, it has been claimed." The report went on to say, "Mr Trump, the Republican nominee, was said to have posed the question during an hour-long briefing on foreign affairs, saying: ‘If we have nuclear weapons why can't we use them?’”
His disturbing statement has however fuelled controversy about India’s tradition No–First–Use (NFU) Nuclear doctrine even as the Defence Ministry clarified that the Minister had made that comment in his personal capacity. In its 2014 election manifesto, the BJP had pledged to “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times”.
In times as extraordinary as these, with aberration becoming the new normal, one seriously wonders what to make of these bizarre statements — especially when they emanate from offices as powerful as those of the Defence and Home Minister. Do these words stand for benign, comic interventions — or do they portend even darker days ahead of us?