Isn’t it ironic that today, what Vajpayee and Advani were embarrassed to associate themselves with is now the official BJP line?
BY: Louise Khurshid
‘Love jihad’ crusade underscores that what was once an extreme perspective has now become party line.
As a journalist, one has had occasion to run into a host of strange characters. One such time was when an inter-religious marriage in a small Haryana town had the media on alert. A journalist friend recalled an article in India Today, wherein one such “crazy” character boasted of an organisation whose entire focus was on preventing inter-religious marriages. I looked up the magazine’s archives, located the name and found out that he was the founder of the Akhand Hindusthan Morcha and a national secretary in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. I called him and was promptly invited to his flat in Delhi for an interview.
The interview started. He proceeded to explain how the organisation operated and what methods it adopted to prevent Hindu-Muslim marriages. Everyday, young people would examine the lists in the lower courts to check marriage intimations. “Invariably,” my friend glibly said, “the boys will be Muslim and the girls Hindu.” Designated elders are then dispatched to meet the families of the Hindu girl — first to intimate them of their daughter’s impending step and then to convince the girl just how bad a step she was about to take. There was talk of how the girl would be one of four wives; that she had no protection against verbal divorce (talaq) and that she would be mistreated by her new family, which was anyway “alien” to her own past experience of family. The success rate? Over 90 per cent, he boasted! If that was not bad enough, he proceeded with a vicious tirade against Muslims, most of which was unprintable and certainly incendiary.
When the interview ended, he picked up his diary and started to take down my name and address. He painstakingly wrote down: “Louise Fernandes” (because I was a journalist before I got married and continued to write under my maiden name). Address? “2 Motilal Nehru Place,” I said. “That’s a VIP area — are you a paying guest?” came his prompt question. When I said no, that’s where I lived with my husband and family, he stopped short. “Salman Khurshid, Khurshid Alam Khan, Zakir Husain — they are alright. But these Muslims…” And the unprintables flowed again.
The scary part came later. I called Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha, for a comment. He said, “Forget it, the man’s crazy. If I make a comment he’ll get a mob to abuse me outside my house.” I called L.K. Advani, then BJP president. He said more or less the same. Two years later, Advani put the seal on the ticket of my friend, B.L. Sharma “Prem”, and he was elected to the Lok Sabha on a BJP ticket from the East Delhi constituency.
The other incident occurred a few months later. It was October 1991, and Advani’s rath yatra was well on its way to Ayodhya. I was at a dinner with some interesting people, including some Central ministers. An argument arose as to whether the yatra should be stopped. As a daughter of a former IAS officer who had been told how tense situations could be defused, I felt the yatra should be stopped before it entered Uttar Pradesh. Many others concurred. Some didn’t. One safari-suited gentleman got particularly agitated and said that stopping the yatra would result in mass riots. As tempers rose, the man turned to me and said “You people are only 13 per cent in this country and you think you can dictate to us.” I was shocked, stunned. I made the mistake of arguing back and, in an aside, said: “Incidentally, I am not a Muslim. I am a Christian.” To which he shot back: “Then you don’t matter anyway.” The scary part of this story also came later. I discovered shortly after why others were not keen on taking him on. He happened to be the lieutenant governor of one of our Union territories.
But all that was in the silly season, when swords came out on the streets and passions threatened to destroy bonds of camaraderie forged over generations. How many there were to echo Vajpayee’s regret and shame, expressed on no less hallowed ground than Parliament. So
isn’t it ironic that today, what Vajpayee and Advani were embarrassed to associate themselves with — what seemed to be the ravings of a stray lunatic fringe exemplified by the late B.L. Sharma “Prem” — is now the official BJP line?
True, reports say that this issue will not officially feature on the BJP agenda but will be a “covert” operation. Perhaps to avoid questions about the credentials of two of their own media stars who may be accused, by the BJP’s new definition, of the so-called love jihad. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that under the veneer of civility lies a mindset that does not bode well for the secular fabric of this land we call India, but some like to call “Bharat”.The writer has been a journalist for over 20 years but is more recently associated with the Congress.