Debate by deflection distorts dissent. Discourse in any vibrant, healthy democracy involves the constant catechism between facts and alternatives. Arguments are rebutted with counter-arguments. But perception is also paraded as truth. For the past few weeks, Internet interventionists, liberal lieutenants and figurative foodies with a moral appetite for beef are vocally assuming a growing threat to freedom of choice. The spurt in nationwide attacks on poor animal traders by self-appointed Cow Bhakts is a matter of genuine concern. However, the new flag-bearers of plurality and inclusiveness consider it their dharma to exaggerate every such incident and paint the current dispensation as a mercilessly moral monster.
Be it the lynching of seven men in Jharkhand, the assault on an innocent Muslim cattle trader in Rajasthan or a retiring Rajasthan High Court judge’s ridiculous remark on the reproductive prowess of the tear glands of celibate peacocks; all such actions are placed at the door of the Sangh Parivar and Modi Sarkar. The insinuation is that the fringe has the official seal of approval from the government and its ideological mentors. Every vicious incident in BJP-ruled states goes viral on social media showing gory visuals of blood-stained victims. Recently, conscience-driven Twitterati went to town on the Jharkhand lynching by posting footage of a young man begging a violent mob for his life with folded hands. They claimed he was from a minority community which later turned out to be untrue.
Undoubtedly, there is a worrisome spurt in incidents of intolerance by fringe elements who misuse their connections with the ruling establishment to find space in a distorted version of Hindutva. They are the ones who go on rampage against innocent citizens and institutions. A five-star hotel in Rajasthan was forced to suspend operations for over two months after goons ran amok on the premises accusing the Muslim owner of selling beef even after a lab test on the meat proved otherwise. Ever since Yogi Adityanath took over the reins of Uttar Pradesh, gaurakshak goondaism has gone vertical; mistakenly presupposing his approval.
By sticking to hardcore, Hindutva agenda, Yogi is the new eyesore for the preachers of vote bank politics who accuse him of being an intolerant ruler. But he quickly clamped down on Romeo Squads and homicidal cow activists. The new DGP is ruthlessly hunting down vigilantes. UP has always been a difficult state to run in terms of law and order. Still, the 45-year-old saffron-clad Ram Bhakt’s ascension hasn’t gone down well with the champions of multicolour politics.
The current slugfest between liberals and nationalists has more to do with retaining control over the nature and contours of political narrative, than factual fundamentals.
Nationalists are using every institution and organisation at their command to organise the Making of Developed India (M.O.D.I) Festival to celebrate three years of NDA rule. Liberals are hitting back by finding holes in government claims and showcasing the uncivilised behaviour of philistines who claim proximity to the ruling establishment. What makes their claims sound credible are the brutal attacks—offline and online—on persons courageous enough to question the Centre’s decisions. For example, even as an Ahmadiyya student was lynched on a prominent Pakistan university campus for imagined blasphemy, a student leader in IIT-Madras was mercilessly beaten because he was part of a group which had organised a beef festival.
Modi baiters use beef parties as provocative mediums of protest inviting violent reprisals, which are then used to paint the Sangh as an intolerant constellation of cabalists. But the macabre public butchery of an innocent calf by Congress activists didn’t evoke the same condemnation reserved for rogue cow protectionists. Counter-propagandists are creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity among free thinkers by misinterpreting many administrative decisions and government orders. A perfectly legal order, meant to prevent the smuggling of cattle for illegal slaughter, was marketed as an attempt to curb the sale of meat.
The Centre’s decision to ban the sale of animals at cattle markets has led to a spate of litigations in various courts. While one court stayed the order, another posed a question: “Where is the ban?” Those who hate the very name of Modi have converted the holistic issue of animal protection into an attack on the freedom of lifestyle and culinary choices. As the toxic icing on the cake, some prominent BJP leaders openly supported beef consumption to protect their local constituencies. Union MoS for Home Kiren Rijiju and Arunachal Pradesh CM Pema Khandu made their preferences for beef public. A BJP leader from Meghalaya rebelled against the Centre’s directive and was promptly suspended.
If unchecked, fringe elements will be the nemesis of genuine Hindutva. They are distorting and damaging the image of the BJP government and Sangh Parivar. Some of them have been inexplicably inducted into the party structure at the lower levels. They conceal their nefarious motives with excessive sycophancy and publicity stunts. So far, the media has adopted a policy of restraint in giving them undue publicity. While state governments such as Punjab and Rajasthan have arrested many of them, the BJP leadership seems shy to take political action and disown them. An impression has gone down the line that such unacceptable conduct brings political dividends such as party positions and government sinecures. Modi doesn’t need such criminal elements to retain and rev up his popularity. He rode to power on his own credibility and charisma.
Amit Shah has also kept a respectable distance from anti-social attention-seekers. But the rowdies are giving a handle to liberals who are successfully tarring the image of the PM at home and abroad. As the countdown to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections begins, every word and action of anyone even remotely connected with saffron ideology is under intense scrutiny by Modi’s detractors. He appears to be an invincible political leader at the moment. However, the PM has to be alert to sabotage from within more than from outside.
The Opposition neither has a leader nor an alternative agenda. By whipping up panic over aggressive anarchists and pusillanimous pretenders, his opponents have been laying the groundwork to demolish Modi’s image as a Development Messiah—guilt by unsubstantiated association is a powerful propaganda tool. Caesar’s wife and animal husbandry don’t mix in the current context. A section of media and the Opposition are already looking for holes in the Gujarat growth story. The Opposition message to Indian voters and the international community will be that Modi is more myth than reality. The only way to stymie detractors is to destroy the cabal of fake Bhakts and sycophants who are hijacking genuine Hindutva.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla