Condemning Niranjan Jyoti: PM Modi's RS speech signals end of hardline Hindutva?
PM Narendra Modi not be able to discard the Hindutva band on his sleeve to wear a secular badge but he can certainly give Hindutva a more acceptable face.
The indulgent indifference to foul-mouthed and openly communal colleagues won't work any more. At stake is his personal reputation as a strong leader. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has woken up to the realisation finally. His statement in Parliament today, urging members to accept the apology of Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti is a reflection of that.
To add to that, the Delhi BJP has cancelled Jyoti's public meetings in light of the storm her remarks created in Parliament.
For six months he had been carefully silent about the activities of the elements of that great Hindutva joint family, better known as Sangh Parivar, by keeping himself busy in foreign affairs, and what some would sarcastically say 'public relation' gimmicks. The Niranjan episode was perhaps the last straw on the proverbial camel's back. His image taking a hit, he had to do something. In fact, he had already started cracking the whip on party colleagues, asking them to show restraint in language and conduct in public. The opposition's determined effort forced him to make his view on the matter clear in Parliament.
"I had made my displeasure clear on the very day the abusive statement was made in the media," he said asking the members to allow the houses to function. That he is serious about the utterances of his ministers was clear when Union Minister Giriraj Singh suddenly discovered the virtues of secularism. He condemned the arson at a church in Delhi. "There is no space for any sort of mischief at places of worship," he is reported to have said. Given his hawkish image Giriraj was required to add that he respected all religions and his problem was with the appeasement of minorities.
It is not easy to push Modi on the back foot. But his colleague’s self-goal botched up all the good work done to woo the Delhi voters. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti did express regret for her "Ramzade vs Haramzade" remark. The visual media showed her apology was bereft of remorse. She may have found some support on the social media but her crass behaviour did not go down well with the cosmopolitan electorate in Delhi. Articulate party colleagues like Arun Jaitley and spokesperson Dr Sambit Patra were fumbling for words to defend her.
The week began with an unusually strong and concerted offensive from the Opposition. As the Congress came up with documents on the U-turns of the government Union Minister of State Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti served up an opportunity to the media and opposition to send the government on the defensive.
While he has opened up to a new secular world after frequently interacting with international leaders Modi is hemmed in by absurd acts of hard core right wingers on the domestic front. The difficulty level is rising with hardliners going off the handle and the opposition and media making the most of the issue.
Amit Shah’s offensive outburst against Rahul Gandhi in Jharkhand was also unbecoming of his stature. Modi has used mild words but the stern tone amply reflected his displeasure. In the Rajya Sabha the strong opposition has forced Modi to cut down appearances in the House and the ruling party faced greater blushes there. Modi’s present flock in the Lok Sabha resembles that of former UP chief minister Mayawati’s after the 2007 assembly elections. She had to put most ministers and MLAs on mute mode to avoid public embarrassment.
Thankfully the scattered election calendar keeps the ruling party on its toes. The media that was accused of giving an undue advantage to Modi quite effectively highlighted the Congress document on U-turns of the government and Niranjan Jyoti’s misadventure. If the Modi government were high on the performance the media could not have amplified the weak voice of the opposition.
Modi's gesture today is befitting of a prime minister. He might not be able to discard the Hindutva band on his sleeve to wear a secular badge but he can certainly give Hindutva a more acceptable face. The big question though is managing ministerial colleagues is fine, but will he be able to control the several offshoots of the Hindutva family? They have gone berserk, insulting the liberal tradition of the country. His real challenge lies here.
It's time he became more than the foreign minister of the country that he appears to be now. A comparison with Atal Bihari Vajpayee is apt here.
Vajpayee did not choose his secular path just out of compulsion to sustain a coalition. He would have run the government the same way even if he had come to power with the same majority as Modi’s. He made no bones about his respect for Nehru and practiced secularism against the wishes of the saffron brigade. Times have changed but Vajpayee’s Raj Dharma is still relevant. BJP-run governments in states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan have been practicing it of their own volition. There is no reason to be squeamish about it.
The party plans to dedicate its achievements to the patriarch on his birthday on December 25 calling it Sushasan Diwas (good governance day). Can good governance be possible without being inclusive? The long shadow of RSS hard line can be seen in the way BJP parliamentarians have adopted the villages for development under Modi’s dream scheme for model villages. Most MPs have shunned villages with sizeable Muslim population. In Uttar Pradesh which has the largest Muslim presence all 70 MPs have adopted non-Muslim village. In states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh the picture is only marginally different. Modi can take the initiative to earn more credibility as an even-handed ruler.
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