People get the politicians they deserve. And when public violence becomes a legitimate way of doing politics, they also get the hoodlums they deserve. It’s a freebie that we have unfortunately accepted with the minimum of protest over years of party-sponsored and state-sponsored vigilantism.
The Hindutva lot just wades in like Pramod Muthalik of Mangalore pub outrage fame and beats up people having a quiet drink, casually holding hands, going on picnics or painting goddesses and such. The Congress has misused state power to ban bar girls in Mumbai and now Ashok Gehlot is madly tolling the curfew for Rajasthani pubs at the peak of the uproar over the Mangalore incident.
We shake our heads and carry on while our political masters righteously claim to have acted for God, heritage, ideology or whatever myth is handy. But given the public outrage over the attack in Mangalore, maybe we're losing patience. The BJP, the self-appointed repository of Indian pride that usually defends the indefensible with muscular vigour and a fine disregard for real Indian values, is scuttling crabwise to distance itself from Muthalik and his Sri Rama Sene. He is indeed indefensible with terror links and a criminal record going back half a decade and as meaty as Silk Smitha's thighs. People have seen Muthalik for what he is — a common thug, the inner hairy bald man of Hindutva.
The Yeddyurappa government reluctantly charged Muthalik with inflammatory speechifying in an unrelated case. Guess it looks better to have a rabble-rouser on your side than a vulgar molester. That he was later charged for the Mangalore incident indicates that a popular feeling is exerting palpable pressure. This is something that the BJP, whose creatures are routinely responsible for outrages, should take note of. The days of the charioteer are over. India has moved on and wants a political alternative to the Congress which is focused on governance, without the distractions of temples, trishuls and moral triumphalism. Almost every country on earth, from the US to tiny Botswana, has a conservative party but India doesn’t. While the local meaning of conservatism varies and has diverse policy implications, in general these parties appeal to people who favour the status quo or gradual change and fear revolutionary catastrophism. That describes the majority of the Indian electorate, which the BJP is doomed to lose touch with. This group is already weary of the Byzantine complexities of the Sangh parivar with its front and rear organisations, organisations celestial and underground. They want to know who's in charge and he is never clearly visible among the wavering tentacles of this Hydra-headed organism.
On top of that, there is the trishul-brandishing, head-banging, skirt-tearing street activism of its vanar senas. To common people who like the quiet life, this looks frighteningly like revolution. Many people vote for BJP only to deny the Congress, and they are uncomfortable about supporting violence. The party may have disowned Muthalik, but it will never be able to step out of the shadow of its violent history. It means that there is now room in the polity for a humane conservative party which can steer us through the tectonic changes of globalisation without spilling blood and dividing the nation against itself.
(Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine)