Why does the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat constantly remind us that India is a Hindu nation? Last week he seemed to suggest all Indians, whether Muslims, Sikhs or Christians, are culturally Hindus. Bhagwat chose to repeat the line yesterday as if to rub it in further.
Modi in his independence day address argued that society cannot progress in the midst of social tensions and recurring violence caused by communal and caste factors.
Modi asked for a ten year moratorium on all forms of violence so that India can embark on a truly broad based development process. But shouldn't the moratorium also cover the unceasing public reminders to the minority communities that they are "culturally Hindus"? Modi's moratorium will carry zero credibility if the RSS continues to play the bad cop while trying hard to make Modi look moderate. Social sciences are not given to genetic engineering so easily! The Sangh Parivar has experimented with all kinds of political and social alchemy since independence. So much that Modi today worships both Gandhi and Savarkar. The irony should not be lost on anyone.
Modi's grand announcement of a moratorium on violence must be seen in this context.
Many saw Modi’s idea suggesting a moratorium on violence as a response to the criticism in the media over the widespread communal clashes in Uttar Pradesh since the BJP-led government came to power at the Centre. Modi had been totally silent on the growing communal clashes in UP in recent months. The clashes have happened largely around areas which are due to go for assembly by-polls. This provoked an elaborate debate in Parliament last week when a Muslim leader said, “If you try to build a mansion over our dead bodies it will never have a strong foundation”.
Communal clashes seemed to be the immediate context for Modi to call for a moratorium on violence though he broadened the issue by talking about all forms of violence, including those emanating from caste tensions and militant left wing politics practiced by Maoists in tribal areas of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.
Modi struck the right note by urging Maoist leaders in India to follow the example of their counterparts in Nepal who have joined the Constitutional mainstream.
However, what is to be really seen is whether Modi matches his words with deeds in the future. The Prime Minister will be really tested on how he deals with the growing aggressiveness shown by the Sangh Parivar activists who are greatly emboldened by the scale of BJP’s victory in the Lok Sabha polls. This aggressiveness is showing at the ground level. The growing incidence of communal clashes in Western UP, especially around areas preparing for assembly by polls, is possibly an indication that the BJP-Sangh worker at the grass root level thinks that the strategy of majority consolidation, which worked wonderfully in the Lok Sabha election, will succeed again in the assembly by-elections.
The workers are emboldened because they clearly see that the BJP has rewarded with a ministerial berth a Member of Parliament from Western UP who is an accused in the worst riots which happened in Muzzafarnagar last year.
Can Modi urge the same elements in the Sangh Parivar to strictly observe a moratorium on any form of provocative behavior and work on social reconciliation by bringing the Muslim refugees back to their land and homes in West UP? The robust economy of Western UP has been torn apart because thousands of Muslims, uprooted from their homes, were an integral part of the economic interaction between capital and skilled labour. The economy of Western UP will never recover without a proper reconciliation and rehabilitation process. Modi should take this up as a pilot project to redeem his pledge, however partially. In many ways Western UP will be the litmus test for Modi’s statement of intent on creating lasting communal peace.
Modi was also directly addressing the militant wing of the Sangh Parivar, such as Bajrang dal, Hindu Sena and other variants, when he called for a moratorium on organised social violence. For a start, Modi must make sure that the BJP publicly condemns the speeches and actions of the extreme rightwing Hindutva elements. Otherwise the PM's statement on shunning violence will not carry any credibility.
It is instructive that the mainstream Parliamentary Left represented by the CPI(M), CPI etc openly condemn and oppose the militant left wing groups like the Maoists. There is no ambivalence in the way Parliamentary Left treats the militant left. But the Parliamentary right, BJP, does not publicly oppose or condemn the militant Hindutva elements.They maintain a deliberate ambiguity. This is why Modi's moratorium on violence could be suspect. In the past Bajrang Dal and VHP activists have entered Parliament under the BJP ticket. Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders routinely made highly provocative public speeches in Modi’s presence during the election campaign in UP and Bihar. On one occasion, a top VHP leader urged a large audience in Bihar to “produce more children to counter the muslims”.
As head of the NDA government, can Modi ensure that vocabulary used by the Sangh Parivar members is stripped of its violent undertone? That is another question altogether.
Last week, in a discussion in Parliament on the recent communal clashes in UP, the BJP member Adityanath made a sweeping statement saying, “Communal are those who say my God, my Prophet is the most superior. Only those who believe in him have a right to live… The Hindu philosophy does not permit this..” If this is the level of intervention by a BJP member in Parliament, then the party leadership seriously needs to rethink how they want to communicate with the minority community. Adityanath ended his intervention with a mild threat , “Hindu is a symbol of nationalism… These people will have to pay the price if they defame the symbol of nationalism, Hindutva”. Can there be a ten year moratorium on such speeches in parliament, to begin with?