Bigotry is not easy to calibrate, as Indian Prime Minister narendra Modi is learning this week. Many interesting things emerge from the manner in which the Bharatiya Janata Party attempted to handle the fiasco created by its spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal.
First, the party didn’t anticipate a problem. Sharma spoke on May 26, did not back off in the days that followed, and nor did the party intervene.
India’s Muslims were aghast but the government didn’t care. Jindal tweeted, repeating Sharma’s slur, five days later. The headlong retreat of the government happened on Sunday, the 10th day after Sharma spoke: first an anodyne statement, then hours later action against the duo, and hours after that a conditional retraction from Sharma. It shows how unaware the party was of the damage it had caused. Hate speech has been so efficiently and thoroughly normalised in India under Modi, that society and even the state have become desensitised.
The stumbling that followed, including the apparent retraction of the words “fringe elements”, tell us that even when action was ordered, it was not thought through. Most astonishing for the Ministry of External Affairs, where statements are rejected even for the misplacement of commas and colons. This, in turn, tells us that our diplomatic corps, the jewel of the Indian state under Nehru, has lost its quality or its nerve, or has been hammered into submission. Possibly all three.
The absence of Jaishankar and Modi from the largest foreign mess one can remember India being in, is also telling. No personal accountability, and the generals fight from the rear if they fight at all.
Two other things emerge.
One is the astonishing revelation that there are many who think the BJP is not extreme enough and that the spell of madness we entered in 2014 is not intense enough. Social media has exposed us in a way that would not have been possible a decade ago. A significant number of Indians are angered by the BJP’s retreat and muffled apology. It would be interesting to learn what else they think Hindutva should do to India.
When Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s term in the Rajya Sabha ends next month, India will not have a Muslim minister in the Indian Cabinet or a Muslim chief minister for the first time in history. For the first time also, a ruling party will have no Muslim legislator at all, neither in the Lok Sabha nor the Rajya Sabha. It is total exclusion ― the condition Deendayal Upadhyay called for in 1965: the “political defeat of Muslims”.
After 2014, the BJP has legislated to target Muslims over food, namaz, marriage, divorce, citizenship, dress and azaan. What more can be done to harass Muslims through law and policy is difficult to conceive. And yet there is a constituency in the party that wants more, and is offended by its attempt to resolve the damage the mess the spokespersons created.
Calibrating bigotry, to return to where we started, is difficult. The BJP has effortlessly pushed the thread of prejudice through the eye of the needle of the constitution.
The government has not bulldozed the property of Muslims for resisting rioting; it has only conducted civic acts related to unauthorised constructions. India is not targeting its Muslims through the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens pincer; it is only showing solidarity with non-Muslims from neighbouring nations. Allowing mobs to prevent congregational prayer in designated spaces is really to ensure that traffic flows smoothly.
There cannot be many who are innocent of what is actually going on. Certainly, there are none among the votaries of Hindutva.
The problem is that having democratised violence against Muslims across the country, and having been electorally rewarded for this, Modi must consider what it means for India. He has been given a taste of that this week and, as the sequence of events shows, he has not found it appealing.
Trouble on this front will return unless Hindutva retreats and returns India to the normative secular state its Constitution prescribes. This is not going to happen under Modi, of course.
The next best thing is to backpedal a bit and try and calibrate Hindutva to a level where it pleases its constituency but doesn’t offend the world. This will not be easy, as we are all about to find out. Courtesy The Wire
Disclaimer: Having spawned it, Modi Govt will now learn the challenges of calibrating bigotry - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view