On the day Finance Minister Arun Jaitley claimed the BJP had won the ideological war in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) battle 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 chanting not “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 (BJYM), one of whose members has been expelled 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 student union president.
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 that he would have shot him if he had a gun, it is clear that the BJP interprets ideological victory more in terms of what takes place at the physical level than in the mind.
It is noteworthy that the BJP’s muscular approach to the Left-Right divide has made even the Shiv Sena say that such tactics have turned the student leader into a hero. 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 in favour of evicting the combative Yogis and Sadhvis from the party.
The politically naive actor is apparently unaware of the value of belligerent storm-troopers at election time. He was probably only thinking of how their antics detracted from his claim that there was 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 as well as electoral victory in the coming weeks is to not only demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law but also to act with a sense of compassion (as the closet saffronite, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, has advocated) with regard to the law on sedition.
The BJP’s failing in these respects is due to its self-belief about being vested with the responsibility of protecting the nation against ungodly aliens while flaunting its Hindu ethos, which is reflected in a prime minister who wears a “tilak”, as BJP president Amit Shah has said.
Since a Hindu-oriented xenophobia does not suit a democracy, 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 Prof. Makarand Paranjape pointed out how the JNU had been converted into a “hegemonic space” of the Left or how millions killed by Stalin were brushed under the carpet by them.
Evidently, the battle has been really and truly joined not only between the Left and the Right but also between the Left and the Centre.
How it pans out will depend on the performance of the BJP and its opponents in the forthcoming elections, especially in Assam, Kerala and West Bengal.
If the Left wins in Kerala, as is likely, and improves its tally in West Bengal with Kanhaiya Kumar addressing a few rallies in the two states, the JNU crowd will consider it as their victory.
On the other hand, if the BJP pips the Congress at the post in Assam, the party can look forward with some hope to next year’s UP elections.
The danger, however, is that in the event of the Assam outcome not going the BJP’s way because of the uncertainty over its alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad, there is a possibility of the hardliners in the saffron camp becoming even more hawkish.
Some of their belligerence can be explained by their inability to score brownie points in their confrontation with students because their follies do not attract the same condemnation as those of the grown-ups.
Moreover, the militancy of the extreme Right reflected in the threat to cut off Kanhaiya Kumar’s head embarrasses the BJP and is bound to be exploited by its opponents during the election campaign.
The government’s mistake was its high-pitched response to the “sedition” charge in the JNU. Ever since Kanhaiya Kumar’s release from jail, however, it is finding it difficult to retain the high ground which it claimed to have occupied and is not too certain, therefore, of having won the battle of ideas.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)