The Narendra Modi government’s image as a development-oriented regime may have taken a hit due to controversial remarks by some RSS members-turned-parliamentarians but the BJP’s ideological parent isn’t willing to put its Hindutva agenda on the backburner.
Senior leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh told HT that while they appreciated the government’s focus on development, they saw no reason to chastise leaders like Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, infamous for an expletive-laden poll speech, or Sakshi Maharaj, who termed Mahatma Gandhi’s killer Nathuram Godse a patriot.
An RSS pracharak associated with the BJP’s organisation claimed ‘Hindutva’ was supplement to the development plank and only a mix of the two could ensure electoral victories.
“You may have a problem with the way certain MPs articulated their view but the larger sentiment was that the Hindu society should not be taken for granted. The result of the Lok Sabha elections, particularly in UP, is a case in point,” he said, requesting anonymity.
The BJP is also not averse in using the Hindutva proponents to woo voters, deploying Niranjan Jyoti to campaign in the riot-hit Trilokpuri locality of Delhi.
Aligarh MP Satish Gautam and Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath continue taking vows to carry on the controversial ‘ghar wapsi’ (homecoming) programme that has been accused of forcibly converting Muslims.
BJP president Amit Shah has defended these leaders, saying on Thursday that they couldn’t be asked to retire from politics because of a mistake.
BJP secretary Shrikant Sharma told HT that development was the government’s focus and decisions in last six months – Jan Dhan Yojna, petrol price cut, FDI in defence and others – were reflective of that. “There is no case to be apologetic about Hindutva. It is a way of life and not a religion,” Sharma said.
These comments come in the wake of a stormy month for the NDA government. Earlier this month, minister of state for food processing industries Niranjan Jyoti asked the audience at a Delhi poll rally if they wanted a government led by the children of Ram (Ramzaade) or illegitimate children (haramzaade). The comments caused prolonged disruptions in Parliament with the Opposition relenting only after an appeal by PM Modi.
This was followed by Unnao MP Sakshi Maharaj’s endorsement of Godse, which led to a retraction and apology.
The latest flashpoint is the alleged forced conversion of 300 Muslims in Agra this week and plans for more such ceremonies by Hindu groups affiliated to the RSS. Cornered by the Opposition again, the government suggested all states and the Centre have anti-conversion laws.
Senior RSS leader Manmohan Vaidya agreed with the Centre, saying there was no contradiction between development and having an anti-conversion law.
“The entire debate (on conversion) would stop if a strong anti-conversion law is put in place. Christian missionaries have been opposing it and so are many other parties. We are opposed to conversion through force and allurement,” Vaidya told HT.
A party office bearer also pointed out the BJP has to play its cards carefully with key electoral challenges lined up in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where OBC stalwarts Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar were trying to revive the old Janata Parivar. The saffron party had won 71 of UP’s 80 and 22 out of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats.
“Those most vulnerable to conversions are backward castes and Dalits, who had also spearheaded the temple movement in its heyday. When we win them over, it automatically marginalises parties like the SP, JD(U), RJD and BSP – our main rivals in Bihar and UP,” the leader said.