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Have BJP supporters understood Modi's G-7 message?

By AMULYA GANGULI
June 16, 2021 12:00 IST
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'Given this dissonance between India's age-old multicultural tenets and the anti-minority temper of the present times, it cannot be easy for the BJP to maintain its balancing act to convince the world that all is well,' observes Amulya Ganguli.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi participates in the first Outreach Session at the G7 Summit, June 13, 2021. Photograph: Press Information Bureau
 

Even as India joined the G-7 nations to extol freedom of expression with the prime minister underlining the 'vibrancy and diversity' of Indian society, the culinary distinctiveness in an exotic region of the sub-continent was arbitrarily suppressed by an administrator of Lakshadweep who has a BJP background.

His crackdown on non-vegetarian meals in schools along with a ban on beef consumption in the archipelago denoted scant regard for the dietary preferences of the locals.

Instead, the obvious attempt is to bring the eating habits of the people in line with the BJP's own fetishes about food.

If the Lakshadweep administrator's diktats on diet appear to be authoritarian -- another trait of governance which has been criticised at the G-7 conclave -- the Delhi high court's observation about the government's 'anxiety to suppress dissent' hasn't shown the denizens of the corridors of power in India in a favourable light.

The court made the comment while granting bail to three activists who had been held under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which, the court said, should not be 'casually applied'.

It is not only the UAPA which has been used by the police in a wrongful way, the uniformed personnel have also liberally made use of the colonial-era sedition laws to put pesky opponents of the government behind bars.

Although the Supreme Court has frowned on the officials merrily accusing critics of sedition, that hasn't prevented the Lakshadweep administration from using the same law against a film-maker for what it deemed offensive remarks.

The BJP's expertise in the art of a tightrope walk between the opposing viewpoints of the extremists and moderates in its ranks has long been known.

It is for this reason that the moderate Atal Bihari Vajpayee was called a 'mukhota' (mask) by a saffron apparatchik to denote how his beguiling manner and captivating oratory hid the party's real face.

Since the BJP's assumption of power in 2014, it has been less intent on camouflaging what the party stands for.

In fact, it may have come to believe that a brazen display of its real self is appreciated not only by its supporters, but also by others on the fringe who are impressed by the proud exhibition of the party's machismo, especially when directed against the minorities.

The BJP is also apparently convinced that the linkage of this bravado with Hindutva galvanises the rank and file and burnishes the party's image as the nation's saviour.

While a hint of the 'mask' of Vajpayee's time is still discernible in the sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas message which is intended to convey the party's desire to carry everyone along with it, the cadres seem to have little time for such sophistry.

Hence, a BJP legislator's castigation of Jawaharlal Nehru's pluralism coming in the way of India becoming a Hindu rashtra at the time of partition.

Hence, also, the peremptory arrest of a Muslim in Kashmir for objecting to the presence of an official from outside the Union Territory at a meeting called by the lieutenant governor.

It is obvious that none of these acts is in keeping with India's 'civilizational ethos' which the prime minister stressed at the G-7 meeting.

Given this dissonance between India's age-old multicultural tenets and the anti-minority temper of the present times, it cannot be easy for the BJP to maintain its balancing act to convince the world that all is well.

Only a few weeks ago, the BJP used to be dismissive of those abroad who noticed the gulf between what India professed and what it practised.

The country's disdainful attitude was exemplified by External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar's snooty reference to critics as the 'self-appointed custodians of the world who cannot stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval'.

This was before the second wave of the pandemic took some of the sheen of India's standing.

Now, the need for sobriety is all the greater.

But it is unlikely that the BJP's supporters at the lower levels realise the value of restraint and the meaning of India's 'civilizational ethos', especially when it emphasises the secular concept of the 'idea' of India which they have always trashed.

Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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