Mainstream BJP must acknowledge its responsibility to confront its hate-mongering fringe.
In the second half of this election, the voices of majoritarian triumphalism in the BJP’s campaign, though scattered, appear to be getting louder. After its Lok Sabha candidate from Bihar, Giriraj Singh, said that those opposed to Narendra Modi should be sent to Pakistan, the BJP’s top leadership has not publicly reprimanded him, or taken any action against him. In the event, the message that is sent out is that such “fringe” opinions are free to do their work, unchecked.
Even Pravin Togadia, the VHP’s old face, is back at it, encouraging a Hindu gathering to forcibly take over Muslim property, armed with stones, tyres and tomatoes. For all that Togadia and his ilk have been sidelined in Gujarat by Modi, they seem to be empowered anew by Modi’s ascendance in the national arena.
The onus is on the BJP to disprove the perception that its vote-maximising strategy involves employing several vocabularies, depending on the context and their utility. This is an old charge against the party that has been renewed in this election. In Uttar Pradesh, its lieutenants and footsoldiers have used the language of communal incitement. Party general secretary and Modi’s trusted assistant, Amit Shah, has invoked themes of revenge and self-respect in Muzaffarnagar, where the memory of such violence is still raw.
Meanwhile, as prime-ministerial candidate, Modi himself speaks of growth and the Gujarat model, avoiding a forthright engagement with the charges of 2002, but he is not above making references to cow slaughter and meat exports to receptive audiences. When asked in interviews about why he refuses to wear a skullcap, he says he does not believe in gestures of “appeasement”, though he has been ready to wear the headgear of other (non-Muslim) communities and switch his idiom to appeal to them, when needed.
Many of these incomplete responses and conspicuous silences would appear to draw a continuum from Modi to Togadia to the RSS — regardless of the admittedly fraught relationships among them. The RSS has recently released pamphlets exhorting Hindus to vote and make history unless they wanted to be consigned to history themselves.
The BJP’s pragmatic establishment recognises that “India has changed” and pledges to put “India first” and not make instrumental use of minorities like the “secular” parties do. But their protestations will carry little credibility unless they also acknowledge the mainstream BJP’s responsibility to confront its fringe.
If the Modi-led BJP comes to power backed by these forces, even if he has the best intentions, it will be difficult to contain these violent energies. It is important that the BJP distance itself from the voices of hate within the parivar, wherever and whenever they make themselves heard.