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The BJP is far from winning the ideological war

By Amulya Ganguli
March 12, 2016 11:15 IST
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'What the BJP will have to ensure in order to score an ideological victory is to demonstrate not only its commitment to the rule of law -- which is the first prerequisite -- but to introduce a sense of compassion,' says Amulya Ganguli.

On the day Finance Minister Arun Jaitley claimed that the Bharatiya Janata Party had won the ideological war at the Jawaharlal Nehru University because student leader Kanhaiya Kumar had waved the national flag and said, 'Jai Hind', a group of saffron activists vandalised a church in Raipur in Chhattisgarh.

They were not chanting 'Jai Hind' while attacking women and children and tearing up copies of the Bible, but 'Jai Shri Ram', the battle cry of the Hindutva brigade since the early 1990s. According to a spokesman of the Christians, this was the sixth attack in as many weeks in the state.

Jaitley was speaking at a convention of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, one of whose members had been expelled a day earlier for threatening to cut off Kanhaiya Kumar's tongue. Another saffronite has been arrested for putting up posters in Delhi, offering a reward of Rs 11 lakh for decapitating the JNU student leader.

Considering that goons among the pro-BJP lawyers had beaten up Kanhaiya Kumar at the Patiala House court and a BJP MLA of Delhi, O P Sharma, had said after participating in the assault that he would have shot him if he had a gun, it is clear that the BJP interprets ideological victory and defeat more in terms of what takes place at the physical level than in the mind.

It is probably this penchant for violence, which has also been manifested in the murder of a suspected beef-eater and attacks on others, which made film star Aamir Khan's wife speak of leaving the country.

It is odd that the BJP's muscular approach to the left-right division has made even the Shiv Sena say that such tactics have made a hero of the JNU student union president. Since the Sena is an outfit which knows a thing or two about thuggery, its views have to be taken seriously.

That there are a few among the BJP's supporters who also believe that aggression does not pay is evident from Anupam Kher's observation at a Kolkata function to evict the combative yogis and sadhvis from the party

The politically naive actor is apparently unaware of the value of the belligerent storm-troopers at election time. He was probably only thinking of how their antics detract from his claim that there is no intolerance in the country.

For the BJP, however, it will not be enough for one minister to declare the party's ideological victory and another to dub Kanhaiya Kumar as an 'aberration.'

Nor will the denial of visas to an American team put an end to a growing sense of worldwide unease over the current events in India.

What the BJP will have to ensure in order to score an ideological victory is to demonstrate not only its commitment to the rule of law -- which is the first prerequisite -- but to introduce a sense of compassion (as the closet saffronite, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, had advocated) to the application of a law on sedition.

The BJP's failings in these respects is due to its self-belief about being vested with the responsibility of protecting the nation against ungodly aliens and its Hindu ethos, which is reflected in a prime minister who wears the tilak, as BJP president Amit Shah has said.

It is this exaggerated concept of the party's role which encouraged the lawyers to indulge in hooliganism and others to threaten to shoot Kanhaiya Kumar or cut off his tongue or put a price on his head.

Since none of this suits an avowedly democratic party, the BJP runs the danger of losing the ideological war even before it has begun.

Kanhaiya Kumar and his leftist supporters do have their faults, as Professor Makarand Paranjape told them in the left's 'hegemonic space' of the JNU when he reminded the audience of the millions killed by Stalin.

Evidently, the battle has now been really and truly joined. But it may well prove to be one which is not between the left and the right, but between the left and the middle.

If the BJP is losing out, the reason is that it could not check its innate tendency to move to the extreme right whenever the situation appeared propitious, as it did when Narendra Modi won.

Modi did try to restrain the party by checking the love jihad and ghar wapsi campaigns despite the support for them from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat, and saying how his heart grieved over Rohith Vemula's death.

But Kanhaiya Kumar's eloquence has apparently unnerved the party so much that it has gone back to its xenophobic garv se kaho hum Hindu hain days of the 1990s.

Modi also made the mistake of leaving it to the 'provincial' (as Jaswant Singh once called him) Rajnath Singh to deal with the situation which required sensitive handling because students were involved.

Amulya Ganguli is a Delhi-based commentator on current affairs.

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Amulya Ganguli