The beauty of an open society is that its air of freedom has a calming effect on fundamentalists.
They soon realise that their chest-thumping display of seemingly potent sentiments not only fails to impress for long, but even causes amusement after a while.
What was initially perceived, therefore, by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a surefire recipe for success has subsequently turned out to be a damp squib.
It is probably such a realisation about the limited shelf-life of provocative endeavours which persuaded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, to make a u-turn on his suggestion for encouraging the young to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.
Since coercion is antithetical to democracy, the powers-that-be in the saffron brotherhood must have mulled over the counterproductive nature of an attempt to push a slogan down the people’s throats.
The BJP, therefore, has lost its much-vaunted patriotic card. Moreover, it may not be a coincidence that the retreat by the RSS followed its disapproval of Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu’s praise for Narendra Modi as “God’s gift to India”.
The signal from Nagpur, the RSS headquarters, can be interpreted as one favouring discernible achievements in governance rather than depending on emotive slogans and promoting a personality cult.
Notwithstanding the parivar’s monopolistic claim on nationalism, it probably has begun to differentiate between its own brand of the credo and xenophobia.
The awareness that ultra-nationalism can degenerate into hooliganism – as was evident in the assault by BJP sympathisers among lawyers on JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar – may have played a part in persuading the RSS to take a step back.
Although the initial target of the RSS was youth, the BJP interpreted the call to chant the slogan as a diktat for everyone. Venkaiah Naidu said, therefore, that no one had the right to decline to say it.
Hence, the decision of the BJP, the Shiv Sena and even the supposedly secular Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to suspend a member of the Maharashtra assembly for refusing to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.
There is little doubt that the next few days will see a great deal of backtracking by those who tried to be more loyal than the king.
While the BJP’s somersaults will be amusing to watch, the party with a lot of egg on its face is the Congress which tried to emulate the BJP’s nationalism in the hope that it will be able to garner some Hindu votes.
Now that the RSS chief has said that no one should be forced to say the slogan, the Congress will be in a quandary, for the episode has once again exposed the fact that it no longer adheres to secularism, or any other ideology for that matter.
It meanders along under an inept leadership with no principles to guide the party. All that is of interest to the doddering 131-year-old organisation is whatever ploy will help it to grab power even if it is palpably opportunistic.
It is the same with the NCP – or the “naturally corrupt party”, as Modi once called it – if only because its members come from the same stable of the Congress comprising time-servers.
For the BJP, the question will be: why did the RSS leave it high and dry after providing it with a slogan which the party thought would help its electoral cause.
Moreover, the patriotic card was expected to counter the “anti-nationals” among the student community in the JNU, the Hyderabad Central University and elsewhere.
Now, the ultra-Left and the jehadi elements in these institutions, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has alleged, will not be as much under pressure from the closet saffronites among the university officials as before.
However, what the short-lived “Bharat Mata ki Jai” episode has underlined is the fundamental difference between the BJP and other parties – the fact that the latter do not want to impose their writ on the country.
Yet, this is exactly what the BJP has been reflexively trying to do since its assumption of office at the centre in 2014.
While the planting of party faithful in various “autonomous” institutions like the Indian Council of Historical Research or the Film and Television Institute or the National Book Trust is in line with what is followed by all ruling parties, what has come to the fore is the BJP’s objective of moulding the country in its own saffron image. The “Bharat Mata ki Jai” tactic was the latest endeavour in this respect.
But good sense has prevailed with the country’s tolerant multicultural tenets exorcising authoritarian tendencies.
It is to be hoped that this evidence of moderation, emanating from the RSS, is strengthened with a firm admonition from Nagpur and New Delhi to the extremists in the saffron ranks to remain within the bounds of the law.
Mercifully, some of them, like Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj, have been silenced either by Modi via BJP president Amit Shah or the RSS.
But there are others like the followers of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parisahd (ABVP), the parivar’s student wing, who have vowed to prevent their bete noire, Kanhaiya Kumar, from entering Aligarh to deliver a lecture. It is for the police to enforce such restrictions, not vigilante groups.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)