Politics is the punitive art of leveraging prejudice. Since India is in poll mode almost every year, political rivals continue to repackage previous promises and apply new spins to old issues. Once a staple of bandstand grandstanding, the politics of appeasement is out for now. The self-proclaimed proponents of secular polity are refraining from speaking for the minorities as aggressively as they would before India’s most popular nationalist icon Narendra Modi took over as Prime Minister. By adding saffron pigment to all his actions, announcements and pronouncements, he has washed away any dirt that has been flung in the name of Hindutva.
His foes find it impossible to counter his majorityism with old fashioned minority-ism. The politics of Hindu vs. Muslim is losing electoral glamour. Even Muslim leaders abjure making communal noises. The irony is that prosperity no more strengthens and enriches discourse in a democracy, having become just a marginal notation in the manifesto for victory. Even after seventy years, democratic engagement in India’s fast-growing global economy is the prisoner of divisive agendas. Issues like GDP growth, growing literacy, upgraded infrastructure all over the country and even excessive digitalization of commerce and industry evaporate from public debate and dialogue soon after the countdown to any election begins.
This radical change has occurred because the Prime Minister has shaped his policies on Triple Talaq, Haj subsidy, Ram Mandir and other Muslim-related social issues in a manner that the liberals and their fellow travellers find difficult to counter. Modi has projected himself as the sole leader who seeks to protect women from the minority community as well. The less-than-expected muted minority reaction to these moves has forced Opposition parties to change their strategy to beat the Prime Minister on his own turf. While banding together in various configurations with the single objective of humbling him in 2019, they have settled on polarising the minorities through proxy against the BJP.
They are targeting the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) to win Muslim confidence. According to political researchers, Muslim votes decide the final outcome of every sixth Lok Sabha seat and every 10th Assembly seat in the country. Their atavistic fear is the rise of the RSS and its working style. Since the BJP, along with allies, runs 19 state governments and the Centre, the Opposition en masse has decided to broadcast to the voters that these governments are being run by Sangh leaders. Surprisingly, the tone and tenor of statements made by all the non-BJP leaders are similar—the Central government led by Modi is anti-women, anti-poor, anti-inclusive and opposed to social harmony. However, they cleverly avoid uttering the ‘M” word to avoid communal ramifications to their vitriol.
Sample these: Congress President Rahul Gandhi during state Assembly elections:
* “If you see a picture of Mahatma Gandhi, you’ll find women on this side (right), women on that side (left) and women behind. But, if you see a picture of Mohan Bhagwat, he’ll be alone or surrounded by men. He will never be surrounded by women.”
* “We are fighting the RSS ideology across the nation. The idea is that one form of thinking is imposed on the country. What the BJP and RSS are doing all over India, particularly in north-east, is attempting to undermine your culture, language and way of life”, Rahul said. The Congress president also took on the BJP directly: “If they (the BJP) form the government here and continue to capture institutions, then your culture, your religion and your way of life will be under pressure”.
* BSP National President Mayawati on RSS: “I want to warn the BJP and the RSS that if they don’t change their disrespectful, casteist and communal behaviour towards the Dalits and backward caste people and their leaders, I will also convert to Buddhism with my crore of followers.”
* West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee last month: “We also had a lot of respect for RSS. The Sangh had even supported Indira Gandhi, but RSS is now about real estate and shopping mall business. That is what they have been doing in the last four years,” she said when asked about the recent violence during Ram Navami celebrations.
* Tejashwi Yadav, former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar: “Mohan Bhagwat recently came to Bihar for 14 days. In these 14 days, he gave training on how to incite riots during Ram Navami festivities. Now people are getting to know about the agenda of his Bihar visit.”
* Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, in Mumbai last month: “The government, guided by the RSS, is trying to distort the tenets of the Constitution”, he said. “It is trying to create a divide between Hindus and Muslims, between castes. This is harmful, and we know how to deal with it. We will dethrone these people in 2019 and 2022.”
The RSS has to get used to bearing the brunt of Opposition attacks until the 2019 elections. Earlier, Indira Gandhi had painted it as the most virulent threat to communal harmony. Though the BJP’s electoral legitimacy grew during the last two decades, the Opposition would direct its ire against the party while ignoring the RSS. They found the RSS a soft target, since it hardly defends itself publicly like other political parties. The Sangh is anathema to foreign-educated, westernized elitist academics and opinion makers who are ignorant about the real idea of the RSS, Indian history and heritage.
They perceive the RSS as just another secretive organisation whose aim is to unsettle their social, cultural and class affiliations. The RSS has ignored them since it feels these critics are ignorant of the ground reality.But what baffles the cabal of Sangh-baiters is the consistent numerical growth of Sangh Parivar-affiliated organisations in the country. While the number of shakhas has grown by over 30 per cent in the past six years, the number of attendees has risen by 50 per cent. It is possible that this expansion could have partially been caused by the BJP’s election victories, but the RSS has become the major source of volunteers and even office-bearers for the BJP.
Over 100 full-time Pracharaks have been deputed to the party and given organisational responsibilities. For those aspiring to displace Modi, creating hype around the lengthening shadows of the “monstrous RSS” appears to be a ploy using alternative ideological posturing to revive the politics of appeasement through the backdoor. Their communal ventriloquy is aimed at the RSS, but calculated to deafen those who shout out the Modi name as the clarion call for 2019.