New Year Musings for India
By Sidharth Bhatia, in Free Press Journal, Jan 01, 2016
(Note: It is all about the Achhe Din promised one and a half years ago by Modiji and the prospects of it arriving any time soon after this long wait. We often hear about delayed monsoon, not a cancelled one. In the case of Achhe Din, it looks it got cancelled for one whole year. Does it mean that 2016 going to give us a downpour as it happened in Chennai recently? We hope and pray the weather Gods punish us that way. The writer here faults the “Sangh hothead” and the silence of a loquacious PM, at least partly for the delay. Should one give the present government one more year to prove itself? Then what about the popularity chart of Modiji showing a steep fall from Delhi defeat to Bihar wipe out, asks the writer, and rightly. “Delenda est Carthago” (Carthage must be destroyed.) Development must be brought in by hook or crook and it must be time bound. You can fool people for one month, few months, one year but not one’s whole term, five years, in office. That is the dilemma, the writer sees, facing the Modi Sarkar. james kottoor, editor)
“Faith in Modi govt. high, but Sangh hotheads a concern” was the headline on the front page of the Times of India on January 1, 2015. The TOI had carried an eight city survey in which the key finding was that people wanted and expected the government to focus on development. The Modi government was freshly minted, just seven months old and there was much hope that it would deliver what it had promised — higher growth, investments, jobs. The Modi wave had not dissipated. The BJP won elections in several states on the back of robust campaigning by Narendra Modi.
But the ‘hotheads’ were a matter of concern already. ‘Hotheads’ is a misleading term — it suggests temperamental mavericks who shoot their mouths off. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti (‘Raamzade and Haraamzade’), Laxmikant Bajpai (“99 percent of rapes are committed by Muslims”) or Yogi Adityanath (‘Love Jihad’), the stars who emerged in 2014 were not hot heads — they knew exactly what they were saying. Those who had voted for the BJP in the expectation of Achhe Din were taken aback at the emergence of so-called fringe elements who seemed to hog all the headlines. They came out of nowhere. Who had ever heard of Sadhvi Jyoti before the elections? Yet here she was, at her fiery worst, hurling invective at an election rally, unmindful of the fact that she was now an elected MP and a minister and thus obliged to uphold the Constitution.
The Prime Minister did get her to apologise and gave a sort of explanation on her behalf (“The minister has apologised, she’s new and we are also aware of social background. She comes from a village.”) But that did not stop others from using the most unacceptable language in public.
That was in 2014; what did 2015 turn out to be? More of the same. While the government did its best to work on the economy and the Prime Minister roamed the world to raise India’s profile, there was no end to the unending stream of controversial statements — usually connected with minority bashing, subtle or blatant — by BJP worthies. Who can forget Minister of Culture Mahesh Sharma declaring that A P J Abdul Kalam was a good nationalist “despite being a Muslim?” Ironically not long after, he was given the prestigious bungalow where Kalam had lived.
Kailash Vijayvargiya, Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj, ministers of state Mahesh Sharma, Sanjeev Balyan, General V K Singh and Giriraj Singh and UP MLA Sangeet Som—they were all out there in the front, saying the most appalling things. And it is not only the “liberals” who criticised them; even Arun Jaitley, one of the more sober elements of the government, agreed that their statements had definitely hurt the BJP’s campaign in the Bihar elections.
Possibly the ugliest episode was the lynching of a villager in Dadri for allegedly eating beef. Since then it has been proved to be mutton, but that is irrelevant. The main accused is the son of a local BJP worker. Mahesh Sharma — him again — who represents the area immediately called it an accident and said no communal colour should be ascribed to it. Sanget Som, who had made inflammatory speeches during the 2013 communal riots in Muzzaffarnagar, immediately jumped in warning the UP government not to go after innocents otherwise it would get a “befitting reply.” The message was clear.
News of these incidents and these statements spread far and wide. International media were reporting them in great detail, which naturally reflected poorly on the country. We had the ironical situation of the Prime Minister travelling to ask for investments and getting much media coverage, while a parallel narrative showed the country as unsafe for minorities. As Indians living here we may say such perceptions do not match with the ground reality, but for a person sitting far away, such news stories can be worrying.In any case, it is not for the international community that we need to prevent such episodes. And while the lynching may be a local incident, the outbursts by many senior leaders of the ruling party can certainly be stopped.
The BJP’s constant refrain is that the Prime Minister cannot keep on making statements on the same thing over and over again. This is a somewhat disingenuous claim. Firstly, it bears asking why such things happen over and over again. And if the PM is too busy to react or tweet (though he does tweet on many other things that may not be considered very crucial), all he has to do is to make an example out of one motormouth and the others will get the message. What if Mahesh Sharma was pulled — surely the others would have thought twice before opening their mouths. He has now been rewarded — what is the message that goes out? That making communal pronouncements is okay and perhaps even appreciated. In any case, why can’t the party president take action?
Let us hope that this year is different. A year and a half after the BJP was elected, many promises remain unfilled. Achhe Din is yet to arrive. The economy has improved, but it is nowhere near where it should have been. Businessmen are unhappy. This is going to be a crucial year. The country — and the Prime Minister — cannot be distracted by the likes of Yogi Adityanath or Giriraj Singh.