While a video of Railways Minister Piyush Goyal that went viral on 22 July is actually three-years-old, the same politician had embarrassed the first Narendra Modi government and posed a threat to the BJP of losing many of its core voters when he had appeared in an interview with Hindu writer-activist Rajiv Malhotra during the Lok Sabha election campaign, wholly unprepared to face questions on the NDA administration’s policy for Hindus. Goyal looked so awkward in the course of the interview that Malhotra had to pull the video down from his website and social media. The attitude of the Modi government towards the majority community would have, however, not been questioned if Goyal had been the odd man out in the dispensation. Even Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s overzealous attempt to push women into Shani Shingnapur shrine and his wife’s gestures towards Christians during Christmas could have been brushed under the carpet. But none lesser than Prime Minister Narendra Modi had shocked the core voters of the BJP when he asserted, in an address to Kashmiris, that they ought to follow the teachings of Prophet Mohammed. Hindus in general and Pandits in particular then wondered whether the cleansing of 1989-92, which involved murder and rape of thousands of Hindus for whom the Valley was their home and hearth, was in contravention of what the Prophet’s Army had perpetrated on the enclaves of Jews and Christians, especially on the prisoners of war, during his quest to spread Islam in West Asia.
This is not to say that the government or Prime Minister Modi is of one Indian community alone. The expectation from a politician who rose from Gujarat and reached the high seat of power in New Delhi, refusing to sport a skull cap on the way, is but different. Clarifying his take on multiculturalism, Modi had then said in quite a few televised interviews that while he held all religions in high esteem, he would follow the rituals of his own faith alone. That was the right policy, as fancy-dress events like Iftar parties thrown by Indian politicians during every Ramzan are, for example, charades that are not only spiritually hollow (because the Hindu participants are not undertaking any other prescription for the roza) but also a senseless act (as they did not fast so as to require a ritual of breaking the fast). It is as ludicrous as Goyal saying la ilaha il Allah Mohammed ur-rasool Allah, and then continuing with his worship of millions of gods other than Allah, and the next day repeating the shahada again only to violate it anew! The worst consequence of all in a government practising this distorted version of secularism is that India will remain saddled with the status quo in terms of treatment of its citizens by the state. The grotesque sarva dharma samabhava translates to considering, in legal matters, an act of any individual citizen right or wrong not according to the merit of the action but on the basis of the community he or she hails from. It means a candidate will qualify for a position not on his or her merit but based on the fact that he is a member of a certain community. It implies that, while the state cannot muster enough courage to interfere in the matters of churches and mosques, it will meddle in the affairs of temples with impunity. It means, in short, that all the BJP governments, whether at the Centre or in any of the States, will perpetuate the Congress’s way of ruling the country.
What Modi & Co forget in the process is that this funny manner of reaching out to the non-Hindu communities does not impress them. It did not when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Himayat Committee was formed to woo Muslim voters, only to see the BJP lose the 2004 election miserably. There is indeed a section in the ruling party that sees this as a more nuanced strategy. They say they are aware of the ‘psychological block’ of the minorities in the electorate but they pursue Muslims and Christians nevertheless in view of the mentality of a majority of Hindus! They hold that Hindus are averse to political groups that betray ‘intolerance’ for other communities and, therefore, a hard line would alienate the BJP’s core voters, too. The strategy for sure needs a review. Not turning farcical to humour every community is certainly not the same as being intolerant. Modi’s ploy of expanding the voter base of his party by turning a socialist in economic policy might have worked; turning a quasi-Muslim or pseudo-Christian will not. Even the claim that Muslim women are now voting for the BJP, thanks to the triple talaq legislation, has not been established as a foolproof theory. The electoral rigidity of these communities coupled with the alienation of Hindus should remind the government of the proverb, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” before 2024 becomes irredeemable. Its best bet is making a U-turn as it did on the Sabarimala issue forthwith.