By Amulya Ganguli
The Jan Sangh-BJP has always had a token Muslim in its ranks to counter the belief that it is purely a party of the Hindus, just as Mohammed Ali Jinnah included a scheduled caste member, Jogendra Nath Mandal, from the then East Pakistan in his party to show that the Muslim League was not a party of Muslims alone.
One of the most prominent token Hindus in the saffron outfit earlier was Sikandar Bakht, who even became a minister in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s cabinet just as Mandal was a minister in Liaquat Ali Khan’s ministry in Pakistan. Since the BJP has become much larger than what it was, there are now two front-ranking token Muslims – Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Hussain, of whom the first is now a minister.
However, their tokenism is a result of their party’s essential, though unstated, power structure which stipulates that no Muslim can be its president or be in a position of real authority. In recent weeks, the intrinsic lowly status of the Muslims as well as the Christians in the BJP’s eyes has been accentuated by the renewed emphasis on the saffron brigade’s ghar wapsi or homecoming programme, which entails the re-conversion of the members of these two religious communities to their “original” religion of Hinduism.
It is noteworthy that the Hindutva Gestapo have been targeting the minorities in the poorer sections of society, presumably because they can be easily intimidated with a display of political and official power or induced to change their faiths with the offer of ration cards, BPL cards and other allurements. The relatively well-off cannot be targeted in this crude manner because they will not only be immune to the inducements, but also have greater social clout. So, Naqvi and Hussain are safe for the moment.
In addition to the obvious political objective of consolidating the BJP’s Hindu base, the ghar wapsi campaign denotes the quintessentially medieval outlook of the RSS-led Sangh parivar, of which the BJP is a part. As in the pre-modern age, when all religions other than the most dominant one in any country were not only regarded as inferior but also needed to be wiped out either through physical extermination of their followers or their conversions, the parivar storm-troopers, too, believe in the primacy of Hinduism and the lowliness of the rest.
It is, of course, no different in Islamic countries where Islam has the pride of place and infidels are there only by sufferance. But, the problem of the saffron fundamentalists is that their imitation of Islam (or of orthodox Zionism) in this respect is incompatible with democratic norms where even a religious creed with only one follower has the same status as the faith of the majority.
However, the saffron medievalism fits in neatly with the BJP’s innate fascism which made external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj call for declaring the Bhagwad Gita as a national scripture. It may not have occurred to her that such an elevation of a Hindu holy book will automatically relegate the Quran of the Muslims, the Bible of the Christian, the Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs, the Avesta of the Parsis, the Old Testament of the Jews and other to a secondary position. To a fascist, however, there is nothing unexceptionable about either the extollation of the holy book of the “master race” or the lowering of the status of the scriptures revered by others.
The reason why the ghar wapsi drive and the earlier love jihad campaign have been started by the Hindu extremists is their belief that the coming to power of a BJP government at the centre means that the road is now clear for establishing their cherished Hindu rashtra. Just as the ultra-left section of the CPI(M) interpreted the Left’s assumption of power in West Bengal in 1967 as a signal for starting a proletarian revolution in Naxalbari, the ultra-right in the saffron parivar has seen in Narendra Modi’s ascent an opportunity for giving expression to their long-suppressed hopes.
Hence, the revival of an atmosphere reminiscent of the 1990s when the BJP began its journey to power with the destruction of the Babri masjid on December 6, 1992, which is still celebrated as shaurya divas (day of glory) by the saffron militants. However, the latter may not have noticed that there has been a slight change in the BJP’s tactics.
Having realized that violent majoritarianism is not applicable on a nationwide scale, the party no longer targets mosques and churches – as till 2008 when churches were burnt in Odisha – but focusses instead on development. The BJP’s new kinder, gentler face means that the radicals are likely to be dissuaded from pursuing their virulent agenda. As a result, the Mahatma’s assassin can no longer be praised or the legitimacy of the parentage of the party’s opponents questioned.
Although the hardliners have always been larger in number than the moderates in the BJP and the parivar, the hawks have had to face a formidable opponent like Vajpayee earlier and Narendra Modi now. While the former kept the fundamentalists at bay with his gentle persuasiveness, Modi’s emphasis on the economy means that he cannot allow the Hindu fanatics to scuttle his agenda by stirring the communal pot. It is anybody’s guess who will win. (IPA Service)