Judging by Delhi BJP leader Vijay Jolly’s modus operandi, the capital now has its very own friendly neighbourhood enforcer of public morality. Wandering around Saket, he “got to know that Shoma [Chaudhury] lives there”. Presumably, his keenly honed sense of outrage, tuned to alert him to the slightest display of moral turpitude, led him straight to the former managing editor of Tehelka’s house, can of paint and brush in hand. Perhaps he thought he would show the cops how it’s really done; why bother with trivialities such as reason, logic and the rule of law when judging innocence and guilt was as easy as daubing ‘Accused’ on the exterior of someone’s house? Unfortunately for him, no backers materialised. His own party has disavowed his actions. And that, of course, opens another can of worms.
In the larger scheme of things, it hardly matters if Jolly was trying to actively sabotage the BJP’s Delhi election in a fit of pique at not being handed a ticket — an accusation levelled against him on television — or if he was just trying to ride the crest of the outrage generated by the rape allegation against Tarun Tejpal and win some easy publicity. What matters is the justification he offered for the way he acted. According to him, “an anger was seething” inside him — enough, by his lights, for him to take the law into his own hands. Not that he even considered it as such. He may be an MLA, part of the country’s legislative framework, but his knowledge of that framework is not particularly sound — not if he thinks that “as a citizen”, he had the right to do what he did, and that the fact “it was spontaneous” was somehow a valid reason. These are familiar arguments.
The public has heard them time and time again in the wake of disruptive public activity led by or incited by politicians of all stripes. When a political party wishes to make a point, the street is considered the most effective venue and the law optional. Reasonable restrictions on citizens’ rights to do what they will — the ‘your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins’ principle — are apparently irrelevant in this context.
The second dangerous idea on display here is that all matters in the public sphere, never mind their provenance, are grist for the political mill. The genuine grievances of the disenfranchised, the disempowered and the sinned against are weaponised by political parties in an attempt to eke out whatever meagre political advantage they can. In its grossest form, this can be a Shiv Sena or a BJP taking up matters of literature, art or economic development in a way that focuses on sections of the public as vote banks to be captured by any means possible and leaves broken glass and burning tyres on the streets in the aftermath.
Such attempts are, at least, easily recognisable. There are subtler methods as well. Witness BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s rhetoric over the past few days. He may have slapped Jolly down and walked back some of his earlier comments, but his initial reaction was to turn the rape allegation into ammunition to be used against the Congress and the “secular liberal” cohort that is anathema to the BJP and its politics. Never mind the real gender issues at stake here; they were subsumed in the need to make a political point. Jolly may have chosen a particularly crude way to make his point. But he is far from the only politician to be doing so today.