Reverse Swing: The BJP versus the jholawala

Some lessons from the national embarrassment that is the JNU sedition affair. Will non-Hindutva Modi voters be left in the lurch?

Written by Tunku Varadarajan | Published:February 21, 2016 12:36 am
JNU, Kahaiya Kumar, Supreme Court, JNUSU, Jawaharlal Nehru Univeristy, Sedition, Anti-National, Delhi High Court, Patiala House Court, Shehla Rashid Students will hold a solidarity march Saturday. Oinam Anand

As the sedition case against a student at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University lurches forward — baseless in law, toxic in morality — some observations are inescapable.

1. The government now has to perform a daunting feat of damage-limitation. Narendra Modi has squandered his credibility among the many people who, while not his natural voters, were willing to back him as a way to rid the country of its Congress curse. He had two sources of support in the elections: the Hindu right, which skews in a frequently rabid direction; and the many good citizens of India who are fed up with stagnation and national decline. This second camp voted for Modi not for undemocratic crackdowns on free speech, nor for State intervention in the kitchens and fridges of Indian citizens, but for liberation from cronyism and corruption, from dynastic politics and quasi-socialist economics. They wanted an India of which they could be proud, led by an assertive, self-made man, not by the mousy puppet of a former PM’s widow. Modi is losing this cohort of citizens — if he hasn’t lost them already.

2. What will these citizens do now — those who voted for Modi, but who had no love for the RSS, the ABVP, and the other forces of Hindutva that seek to infiltrate all facets of Indian life? There is a danger that these non-Hindutva Modi voters will switch off from participatory politics. They are an increasingly homeless bunch. Where do they turn? The Congress party — a collection of witless nobodies, sycophants, and socialists — isn’t an option; nor are any of the other “national” parties, rooted as they are in the politics of caste and/or handouts. This presents Indian politics with a real crisis of civic engagement. The only way that Modi can restore his credibility is by more governance, and less government. It is shocking that the JNU catastrophe — created entirely by this government’s hubris — should derail India at a time when Modi should be focused on how to create a million jobs a month, and on fixing the dysfunctional banking system.

3. Next, a word or two about India’s forensic levels. It should astonish us that the frenzy that was whipped up against a standard-issue jholawala — OK, he was a little more eloquent than that — was done on the basis of a video-clip so clearly and crudely doctored that it should have had us in fits of laughter, were it not for the fact that it so inflamed a lynch-mob that it put in peril a young man’s life. How pathetic the Delhi Police of Commissioner “B.S. Clouseau” has seemed — and how hair-raisingly irresponsible India’s visual media — in treating political forgery as dispositive evidence.

4. Finally, there’s Rajnath Singh, the worst Home Minister in the history of independent India. Incoherent, incompetent, and a dangerous partisan to boot, his war on free speech has damaged Indian democracy. His handlers should ensure that he never again comes within a mile of a Twitter account; and if he does, that he never again uses a parody tweet purporting to be from a Pakistani terrorist as evidence against a citizen of India. In a more accountable democracy, he’d be stripped of his job, one he shouldn’t even have had in the first place after making a pig’s ear of India’s response to the terrorist attack on the Pathankot Air Base. In the space of two months he has imperiled national security and degraded the country’s legal system. What other horrors might he wreak in the months to come? Allow me to shudder.


The writer is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Twitter: @tunkuv