He has got off to a start as smooth as silk. A new energy has gripped the bureaucracy, the ministers are on their toes, the people are full of expectations, the neighbours, even antsy ones like China, are full for admiration. Narendra Damodardas Modi and his government are on a roll. But unto each life some rain must fall. And it is beginning to drizzle in the form of the Hindutva loonies.
With the BJP having come to power, a number of people have taken it upon themselves to speak and act on its behalf, all of which seems unbeknown to Modi and co. Since the BJP has espoused the cause of Hindutva, the fringe elements have decided to interpret this in their own warped way. While Mr Modi has been at pains and so has home minister Rajnath Singh to emphasise that the government’s main plank is to foster inclusive development, kickstart the economy and get our foreign policy moving, the crazies have decided that what they actually mean is that they will build the temple and bash the minorities.
This explains why the thugs who murdered the innocent techie in Pune, allegedly to avenge derogatory references to Shivaji and Bal Thackeray on the social media, thought they were doing a signal service to the Hindu cause. The Hindu Rashtra Sena (have you ever heard of it before?) has assumed the role of the custodian of Hindu values and, of course, the easiest way to show their might was to bash to death an unarmed young man wearing a skull cap. Then we have that crusader of the arts and letters, Dina Nath Batra, whose eagle eye has fallen on objectionable books from Wendy Doniger’s seminal work on Hinduism to one on the Gujarat riots now. Not for Batra any reasoned argument or written counter-attack. It is a quick court case which seems to be enough to send shivers down the spine of the commercially-minded publisher.
And can any discussion of self-styled custodians be complete without mention of that uber gatekeeper Subramanian Swamy? On a television channel, the BJP leader spoke fondly of how he and Mr Modi disguised themselves as sardars during the Emergency, his blazing track record in Harvard where he is now persona non grata and the fact that he would not turn down a ministership if it were offered. And, here it comes, that a temple has to be built and Article 370 repealed but not just now. The impression is that the government is lying low for now to establish its inclusive credentials and then will strike at an appropriate moment to fulfil its real agenda.
These are all dangerous portents for a government that is doing its best to cast itself as a modern, progressive and inclusive one. In the first place, what gives any of these people the right to assume that a BJP government at the Centre gives them the licence to carry out their nefarious and regressive agendas? What gives Swamy the right to speak about temples without any seeming sanction from the government? And this is where the BJP should step in forcefully.
It has long been reviled as a party which has the larger aim of establishing a Hindu nation in which the minorities will be either hounded out or will have to live as second-class citizens. Mr Modi himself spoke vehemently against including his life story in textbooks. This was applauded by all and sundry, the Cassandras included. Now when things are going great guns for this government, it certainly does not need fringe elements giving it a bad name. Already, there have been vociferous demands that the prime minister speak against the sort of hate crime we saw in Pune. And rightly so. At least the home minister should unequivocally say that no one has the right to attack minorities in the belief that they can get away with it under a BJP dispensation. As Mr Modi said, his only guide is the Constitution. This must be made clear to people seeking to ban books as well. India’s social fabric is not so fragile that a critical book about Hinduism will cause the nation to collapse in a heap.
Mr Modi has boldly engaged with Pakistan, no doubt to the chagrin of the so-called Hindu custodians. Even the RSS cannot be too happy with this. But he has grasped the nettle. He does not need the likes of Swamy to insinuate that he and his government has just biding their time. This sort of sinister discourse must be stopped in its tracks. This government is far more communicative than the last one. It should use its considerable media skills to make its position clear on issues like the temple, the minorities and so on. A huge mandate no doubt lulls one into a sense of complacency. But with all the nutters running around trying to speak on behalf of the BJP, the party has to leave no room for doubt about its intentions, which seem to have very little to do with all the baggage of the past. Not just the PM, but also his ministers should be open about their positions so that there is no room for misunderstanding. Otherwise, what is now a drizzle of misinformation may well turn into a monsoonal thunderstorm of ugly insinuations and lies from which the party must run for cover.