If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny, so satirist G Khamba decided to tweet his response to Bihar’s BJP leader Giriraj Singh’s comment charging all Modi-baiters and Modi critics to emigrate to Pakistan to the well-known travel site makemytrip.com.
The travel site’s tongue-in-cheek retort soon crashed Twitter:
@gkhamba Already overbooked! Business has been good today :-D Though we may start some charters given the sudden rise in demand.— MakeMyTrip (@makemytrip) April 19, 2014
With only three weeks to go for news on who the next prime minister of India will be, the general election is getting polarised along predictable lines. Giriraj Singh, fighting his election from Nawada in Bihar, and Pravin Togadia, president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, have, in the last couple of days, equated the secular state with the appeasement of Muslims and therefore of Pakistan.
As the stink from these extreme right-wing elements hits the fan, Narendra Modi himself — or at least his team — was forced to tweet his disapproval of the statements, appealing to people to refrain from making them.
Is that good enough, though? Can we take Pravin Togadia seriously, knowing that he is himself a Modi-baiter and probably wanted to provoke him into saying something that would reassure the hard-line, Hindu right-wing sentiment in the country? Or can we be certain that the tiger, smelling power, cannot change his pinstripes? Should Modi have expelled Giriraj Singh from the party, or at least cancelled his ticket — even though elections in Bihar have already taken place?
It is obvious that Modi has been trying to shed the image of administrative incompetence or deliberate instigator of riots that has followed him since the Gujarat carnage of 2002 in which about 1,000 Muslims were killed. He has focused his election campaign on the planks of good governance and development, pointing out in every poster, radio jingle, newspaper advertisement or television exhortation that the ‘abki baar, Modi sarkar’ hope is underpinned by his determination to end corruption, control price rise and reduce unemployment.
However, if he expels Giriraj Singh and openly criticises Togadia, he is at risk of alienating his extreme right-wing Hindu vote. If he doesn’t, he is at risk of confirming the worst that his secular and liberal critics believe of him.
At best, this is the Gujarat model of development: a few bureaucrats run Modi’s office in Ahmedabad, doling out contracts to big businesses and small. More or less, his cabinet is sidelined in the decisions he makes. Similarly in Delhi, Modi has wielded the whip so effectively that senior leaders like LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi have fallen in line. Only Jaswant Singh had the courage to leave the party.
The solution to Modi’s dilemma is easy: follow the rule of law. Punish or reward people according to whether they have respected or flouted the law. In a country as diverse as India, where the dialect changes every few kilometres, invoking Hindu-Muslim tension is equivalent to plucking low-hanging fruit. There are tribal people and castes and creeds and religions of every colour and size. The question is, if Modi becomes prime minister, can he take all kinds of people along with him?
Modi’s friend and confidante from Gujarat, who is now in charge of Uttar Pradesh, Amit Shah, allegedly polarised the communities by allegedly instigating the Muzaffarnagar riots last year. The majority Hindu community consolidated its vote and voted BJP, while the Muslims and other communities voted for the candidate with the best chance of defeating Modi.
But if the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate really wants the job, he has to only answer one simple question: is the BJP and the RSS bigger than India?
If the answer is no, he has to grit his teeth and throw the law book at people like Giriraj Singh and Pravin Togadia and Amit Shah. Alongside, he could inform them that he has sent a delegation to Pakistan to reassure its people that he wants to get to know them better.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2014.
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