Last week, on a popular and animated television news debate, BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi was asked a simple question on the criminal culpability of a party leader distributing highly provocative material in riot-hit Muzaffarnagar. Never one to give in to Arnab Goswami, Lekhi, who is contesting from a New Delhi seat, stunned everyone on the panel when she said the riots were not to be looked in isolation – the population of Muslims had increased from 5% in 1947, the year of Indian independence, to 18% today.
“Are you asking for a demographic cap?” fired Goswami. Another panelist, industrialist and BJP supporter Sunil Alagh who has started a twitter campaign “Chaiwala Hi Upaiwala Hai”, was visibly shocked at the statement and distanced himself from it. Everyone on the show, be it the news anchor or the panelists, were outraged. If at all Meenakshi Lekhi did feel embarrassed, she concealed it rather well. But there are good chances Lekhi may have seen her comment as only fair and rational considering how long she and many of her party colleagues have waited to express themselves more precisely. Lekhi was among the many BJP leaders and cadres who had received clear instructions from the RSS, the BJP’s ideological backbone, to champion the rise of soft Hindutva, a policy mastered by Narendra Modi in Gujarat, and when needed, put the traditional RSS aggression and intolerance on display.
The BJP is contesting the Lok Sabha elections, but it is the RSS that has been calling the shots. Be it extending covert support to Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption movement or undermining the role of the erstwhile luminaries of the party like Sushma Swaraj, LK Advani, and Arun Jaitley, the RSS has emerged stronger than ever.
Having been out of power for nearly a decade, this was a make-or-break year for the Sangh. The old guard that was keen on adopting a more understated approach towards Hindutva was told it was time to bring the aggression back. Finding itself unable to reinvent itself for a modern, more urban electorate for 2014, it was decided that the selling point of the campaign would be a more alluring idea – development. It didn’t matter if it was a façade, the D-word would go on to define the BJP, and by extension the Sangh’s politics for a new generation.
When Lekhi presented those figures, she was following the Sangh mandate. She is not the one to make a political faux pas on national television. Her comments on the news debate do not reflect her naïveté or overconfidence. If at all, the arguments were woven craftily enough so that the message was loud and clear to those it was intended for. The liberals may have questioned her on social media, but for Lekhi, it must have been time to move on to another day, another show.
Pretty much like the senior leader from her party who has been unequivocal and brazen about the Sangh’s polarising politics in rally after rally in Muzaffarnagar. Sample this hate speech: “A man can live without food or sleep. He can live when he’s thirsty and hungry. But when he’s insulted, he can’t live. We must seek revenge for the insult heaped on us.”
Though reprimanded for his speech by the Election Commission, Amit Shah has planted that damning fear in the Hindu community of Muzaffarnagar which is yet to come to terms with last year’s riots. The BJP chose to be silent on the issue. As for Shah himself, he tweeted that the speech should be seen as a no ball.
Shah was personally handed over the reins of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh by Narendra Modi, his mentor from Gujarat where he served him as the Minister of State and gained a notorious reputation for managing the CM’s dirty tricks department. He was exiled from Gujarat after the Supreme Court gave him bail in three fake encounters in the state where he was charged with conspiracy, abduction, murder and obfuscation in investigation. It came as a surprise to many that with a criminal background, Modi made him the man in charge of one of the most crucial states in the country. An RSS pracharak since his college days, Shah, in Gujarat, was widely seen as a man who could get anything done. He was the man who understood caste dynamics like no one else and could manipulate it with his crass politics.
Political leaders have even hinted of Shah’s involvement in the Muzaffarnagar riots, though there has been no proof so far. Apologists for the Sangh Parivaar have distanced Shah and Modi from the incident calling it politically motivated.
The recent speech by Pravin Togadia in Gujarat has been dismissed by Modi acolytes as ‘far right’ rabble-rousing, which is apparently nowhere related to the mainstream BJP leaders. RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav tweeted that the Sangh Parivar members do not think on such lines and the entire event was attributed to that easy scapegoat, media. The party remained incommunicado despite the video of Togadia’s speech surfacing, where he has gone on record saying, “We should have it in us to take the law in our own hands in an area where we are a majority and scare them (Muslims).”
Togadia is no stranger to the game. During the 2002 riots, he had been the agent provocateur, his hateful speeches are believed to have been given a go ahead right by the CM’s office. Togadia had his first brush with the RSS’s political manoeuvring when he demanded that he should be made the CM of the state. It was the Sangh that suggested he would be required to work with the cadres in the background. Gujarat needed him, Narendra bhai had to be the face of the party in the state, the cadres his backbone. Togadia had stepped back in anger only to return with more vitriol in 2014, the year he was needed the most.
The BJP is not only maintaining a damning silence when it comes to its senior leaders, it is also extending the gesture to the new leadership. In the wake of suggestions that the caste equations in Bihar and its consolidation by non-BJP parties could sully its prospects, sitting MLC and the party’s Lok Sabha candidate from Nawada Giriraj Singh remarked, “Even within the country, there are people with Pakistani mindset who are opposing Modi and their proper destination would be Pakistan, which is their political Mecca-Medina.” Singh was making a last ditch attempt to invoke Hindutva by bringing in Mecca-Madina. While the BJP allies distanced themselves from the remarks, spokespersons from the party remained defiant. Singh is yet to apologise for his comments and stands by it. Was Singh an aberration? Perhaps not, he was a part of the larger Sangh agenda. Alleged loonies like him were the Sangh's trump cards on such occasions.
It is easy to frown upon the communal nature of their speeches, but perhaps the greatest subversion of their politics is the rhetoric used by their own prime ministerial candidate in Gujarat, the man who many believe will emerge stronger than ever in Elections 2014. Be it his ‘hum paanch hamare pachees’ statement or the use of the phrase ‘burka of secularism’ and ‘shehzada’, even in his ‘softer’ avatar, Narendra Modi has played the religion card in the garb of his oh-so-new anti-corruption politics. Scratch the surface of the BJP's campaign strategy, and the Sangh’s idea of Hindutva stares at you. Some speeches manage to make it to national television, sparking outrage, but the intricate planning and manoeuvring which has been taking place over the last one year in mofussil areas and villages goes unnoticed
You can frown upon Indian polity for being a theatre of absurd. But what makes 2014 more intriguing is the prospect of a possible comeback of Hindutva. Bedecked as development-oriented politics, this new brand of Hindutva is unafraid of debunking the secular fabric of the country. The façade had begun to slip over the last few months. As the major constituencies go to polls, it stands stark naked.