By Sagarneel Sinha
At a time when there have been protests in several parts of India against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, mostly organised by Muslim groups supported by Left liberals and the opposition parties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rather chooses to connect with the majority community. Modi was on a visit to Kolkata where after his scheduled official tasks, including a meeting with his bête noire, state chief minister Mamata Banerjee, he stayed at Belur Math the whole night. The next morning, PM Modi observed the 158th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, the most revered Hindu monk of the modern times — whose life has influenced many leading nationalist leaders and leading Indian thinkers of the British era, including Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghosh and C. Rajagopalachari.
It was not that Modi’s two-day visit wasn’t accompanied by no street protests. Obviously, there were protests, particularly from the Left-backed student and youth organisations, with continued slogans of “Go back Modi” ringing across Kolkata and other parts of the state. Even Mamata Banerjee faced the ire of strong opposition from the Left students for meeting with Modi. Mamata was taken by surprise when the youth protesters chanted “Go back Mamata” along with “Go back Modi”.
The ruling Trinamool Congress and opposition CPM-led Left Front, the two arch rivals for decades in Bengal politics, are presently united, at least in opinions, against CAA. But, the stiff rivalries among the camps of anti-CAA groups are still openly visible in Bengal. Although, it would be wrong to say that this divide is only in Bengal — it can be also witnessed in Uttar Pradesh where Mayawati’s BSP, despite being critical of CAA, is avoiding the shadow of the Congress.
Nevertheless, there has been a narrative going across the country that Modi government is dividing India on religious lines, as some say bringing smiles on pioneer of two-nation theory Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s face, and also crushing the students’ dissent— whether it is in Jawaharlal Nehru University or Aligarh Muslim University or Jamia Millia Islamia. The protesters, including a section of youth, argue their agitations as a battle for secular India — as, according to them, secularism is at stake under Modi’s “authoritarian” regime.
At this juncture, Modi instead chooses to address a youth rally at the Belur Math of Ramakrishna Mission on the occasion of Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary — the celebrated modern Hindu monk who is highly valued by Modi himself. Modi, addressing this rally, touched upon CAA and said that it wasn’t divisive — which the opposition parties too are aware of but for the sake of politics, they are criticising it. Modi clearly iterated his government stand that CAA doesn’t take away the citizenship of any Indian and it also doesn’t alter the present naturalisation policy of giving citizenship to any refugee irrespective of any religion.
Although, critics will argue, that Ramakrishna Mission itself distanced from Modi’s views on CAA, denting his own image. They are wrong because Ramakrishna Mission itself is a non-political body, which they clearly said. So, it is nothing unobvious for a non-political organisation to distance itself from Modi’s statements on CAA — which has strictly bi-polarised the Indian society.
But, the fact is that Modi remained busy in observing the birth anniversary of Vivekananda at Belur Math — when his critics were busy in organising protests. One must not forget that there is a silent support for CAA from a large part of the majority Hindus too. According to a report of a leading national daily in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Hindus, including those who didn’t vote for Modi in 2019, are too supporting CAA.
Never mind, a positive message is more powerful than a protest. Positive messages easily strike a chord with a large section of people. And if that positive message is fully woven with threads of religion and spirituality, it strikes to the minds more powerfully. Modi’s Belur Math optics too isn’t different. And when it comes to Indians, whether the Leftists and liberals accept it or not, the concepts of religion and spirituality are deeply rooted in their minds. Also, no one can deny that culture acts as the backbone for a country’s holistic development. That’s why Indians continue to highly admire monks like Swami Vivekananda, who spread across the world the ancient Hindu teachings of universal tolerance and peace, and the list of revered monks and sages is longer — which also includes feminine figures.
Reality is Modi understands the importance of culture in India — the subject which the opposition often chooses to ignore. That’s why he indulges in positive optics — mainly to counter the opposition’s arguments of his regime being authoritarian. And, in politics, never underestimate the power of optics — that too, the silent positive ones. (IPA Service)