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Modi government must rein in the hooligans or lose popularity | Opinion

There has been a steady erosion of personal freedoms -- from teachers being told what to wear in schools in UP, to people being set upon by hooligans for not standing up for the national anthem.

columns Updated: Apr 16, 2017 08:36 IST
Hindustan Times
Narendra Modi,UP,Rajnath Singh
Volunteers of the vigilante group of Gau Raksha Dal (Cow Protection Squad) gather to inspect a truck on a highway in Taranagar in Rajasthan.(AFP File Photo/ Representative image)

The unparalleled popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw even lacklustre candidates win in these recent assembly elections. It was a common refrain that the vote was for Narendra Modi whose popularity remains largely undiminished. After the astounding mandate specifically in UP, the issue of the 2019 elections seems all but done and dusted. And with this, expectations from the Modi government have skyrocketed.

I don’t quite buy the theory that it was communal polarisation that played a major role in the BJP’s spectacular victory. No doubt, it played some role, but I feel that many people, cutting across religion and caste, voted for the promise of development and, with it, economic progress. The answer from many young people when asked what they wanted was `naukri’, not mandir or masjid.

But, while I don’t doubt the intentions of the government, the fringe Hindutva elements seem to be pulling in another, dangerous direction. Which is why I felt that there was a disconnect between what home minister Rajnath Singh recently said in Parliament about how India cannot discriminate on the basis of caste, creed, religion or colour and what is really happening on the ground. Either he doesn’t follow the news, which is alarming given his portfolio, or he thinks that what is happening around us is not discrimination. It is no use railing against the media for highlighting what are becoming very worrying trends of exclusion and violence in the name of culture and tradition, caste and religion.

There has been a steady erosion of personal freedoms from teachers being told what to wear in schools in UP, to people being set upon by hooligans for not standing up for the national anthem, to couples being targeted for moral turpitude. The discourse in politics has also become far more incendiary and scary. We get elected representatives today speaking of beheading chief ministers and putting a bounty on their heads. We hear of MLAs who prescribe beheading for those who oppose the Ram mandir.

The latest is the food minister talking of restricting portions in hotels and restaurants to stop wastage of food, blithely overlooking the colossal mismanagement and rot in the public distribution system. The focus on cow protection has now reached alarming proportions and each act of violence in its name is being watched with horror by many Indians and the world. Acerbic reports and analyses have appeared in the foreign media about this lawlessness in the name of protecting the cow. It is clear from the plight of millions of cows in India that this concern is motivated not out of reverence for the animal but by the desire to oppress other castes and religions. The sight of lawless hordes wandering about beating up people is bound to scare off investors.

This is something the government must take seriously. Those roaming the streets looking for people to vent their anger on (Pehlu Khan was one of those unfortunate enough to fall into their hands) seem to do so under the assumption that this is their government and, therefore, they have the licence to act on its behalf. This cannot be allowed by any government and the BJP must be seen to act against them and distance itself from them. The government has taken measures to wipe out corruption, it has tried to build on what the previous government did to enlarge and strength the social safety net. But all this good work may not get the credit that is due because of the actions of the senas and militias which are today telling us how to behave, what to eat, how to dress and what to watch.

The government must pause and consider the extent of goodwill it enjoys as was evident when even the huge hardships people faced due to demonetisation were forgotten. In fact, many people saw this as a blow against corruption. So why is the government prepared to fritter away all this on account of the hooligans who are have become the new age cultural commissars? Why does it hesitate to rein in its MPs and MLAs when they make threats against elected chief ministers and speak of unleashing violence on those who are different. It must take on these elements and force them to retreat into the shadows where they belong.

First Published: Apr 15, 2017 17:43 IST