It was inevitable that the kind of muscular nationalism favoured by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would lead to hooliganism by its followers among the lawyers in the Patiala House courts where Kanhaiya Kumar, the Jawaharal Nehru University (JNU) student leader, was being charged with sedition. However, as a result of the thuggish behaviour of the saffron lawyers, the high ground which the BJP had thought it had climbed by playing the patriotic card in the JNU affair has slipped from under its feet.
Apart from the party, the two persons whose reputation has been tarnished are Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Delhi Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi.
Once called a “provincial” by former party member Jaswant Singh, the credentials of the politician from Uttar Pradesh to hold the home minister’s post, once occupied by the BJP’s icon, Vallabhbhai Patel, have generally been doubted.
Now the misgivings of the doubters have been substantiated not only because he mistakenly believed that by leading the charge against the JNU “anti-nationals”, he would be able to refurbish his image, but also because of the certificate he gave to the police commissioner for cracking down on campus within a day.
While the premature praise apparently persuaded Bassi to go easy on the saffron hoodlums among the lawyers for two days in succession, Rajnath Singh’s castigation of the “traitors” encouraged the hoods to take the law into their own hands.
It is evident from the conduct of a dyed-in-saffron home minister and his rowdy followers that a fascistic party has no time even for the advice of one of its favourite godmen, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, to be “compassionate” towards wrong-doers.
There is little doubt that in the saffron camp, only Atal Behari Vajpayee displayed such an attitude of understanding towards an adversary when he said that the solution to the Kashmir insurgency would be sought within the parameters of “insaniyat” (humaneness) and not only within the limits of the Constitution.
Narendra Modi, too, gave glimpses of such a spirit of accommodation when he observed the sadbhavna (goodwill) fasts, apparently to atone for the distress and divisiveness caused by the Gujarat riots of 2002.
To an overwhelming number of his partymen, however, the charge of betraying Mother India is like a red – sorry, saffron – rag to a bull.
This is the xenophobic dogma on which they have been reared in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) shakhas (schools), where the nation is seen as a victim of invasion by Muslims in the medieval ages and of Pakistani conspiracy today.
Moreover, to the saffronites, the homegrown “secularists” are hand-in-glove with the conspirators, which is why the persistent call to beef-eaters and critics of Modi to go to Pakistan.
It is not surprising that the same slogan about emigrating to Pakistan greeted the team of lawyers sent by the Supreme Court to survey the situation in the Patiala house court. Evidently neither constitutional propriety nor compassion has any meaning for the Hindutva Gestapo.
However, the BJP was apparently unprepared for, first, the antics of its supporters — one of them, the Union minister Girijaj Singh called for shutting down the JNU — diverting attention from the supposedly traitorous activity of a handful of naive and excitable students and, secondly, for the possibility of the charge of sedition against Kanhaiya Kumar not being upheld by the judiciary. Even the “video evidence” shown with alacrity by some channels has now proved to be fake.
The party’s expectation, therefore, that it has been able to overcome the setback it suffered after the suicide of the Hyderabad central university student, Rohith Vemula, may not be fulfilled.
What the BJP has to realize is that the kind of divisive policies which it routinely follows – Hindu vs Muslim, patriots vs traitors – appeals only to its rabid followers and are of little relevance to the average citizen.
It is even possible that such tactics may prove to be electorally counter-productive for they show that the BJP has remained stuck in the days of rath yatras and riots during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement and that Modi’s sabka saath, sabka vikas slogan is meant more for public consumption than implementation in an atmosphere of social harmony.
The ministerial interventions in the affairs of autonomous institutions – Rajnath Singh in JNU, Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya in Hyderabad – also show that Modi has little control over his team despite his “strong man” image.
While he has apparently been able to calm down some of the trouble-makers like Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj, the ministers and the saffron goons among the lawyers have been running amok.
Like his call for a 10-year moratorium on sectarian conflicts, the prime minister will do well to say openly that the kind of hyper-nationalism which makes the party members describe the JNU and Hyderabad central university as hotbeds of anti-national activity is uncalled for.
As the support which the agitating students have received at home and abroad shows, few believe what the ministers say.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)