Sanjay Raut's 'We respect Modi for Godhra' taunt is telling
Whatever Shiv Sena's petty whine was with BJP, what it has now become is an open challenge to the prime minister.
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Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut caused a storm when he said "अगर हमारे प्रधानमंत्री ने दादरी मामले में ऐसा बयान दिया है तो यह हमारा दुर्भाग्य है.... जिस नरेंद्र मोदी जी की पहचान विश्व में गोधरा और अहमदाबाद से होती है और वो अगर ऐसा बयान देते हैं तो यह हमारा दुर्भाग्य ही है. उसी वजह से हम मोदी जी का आदर करते हैं."
Translation: "If our Prime Minister has made such a statement about Dadri, then it is our misfortune.... If the Narendra Modi who is recognised the world over for Godhra and Ahmedabad makes a statement like that, then it is our misfortune only. We respect him for those."
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut on PM Narendra Modi pic.twitter.com/OXkGpWiazE— ANI (@ANI_news) October 14, 2015
In my view, this is a bigger can of worms than the Dadri lynching, because it states something that has been openly known, yet officially denied with Mexican stand-off like challenges to "prove it", even as a robust defense of the Gujarat riots remains a signature of Modi supporters, including the opinion makers who are seen more as journalists and intellectuals than right wing fanatics.
This view is rarely stated openly by Modi supporters with official positions in any party or government, but it is an open secret among supporters without accountability. It is an equally stringent accusation of opposition parties.
I confess I am no fan of the prime minister. Apart from having a problem with the communalism that thrives under his benevolent shade, I find his lack of intelligence embarrassing that is further perpetuated by an organised reduction of "intellectualism" to something resembling profanity. This is a prejudice I own upfront that does color my opinions about the Prime Minister.
In my view, Narendra Modi is a narcissist. His desire is to be a great leader of a great nation and who knows, perhaps one day, the world. Some of his supporters have already started calling him a "world leader". In my view, the accusation of the opposition parties that Modi bears malice to minorities is slightly flawed. I believe he plays to the gallery. So far his gallery is Hindutva.
Just as easily he finds his inner Gandhi when he goes abroad, changing colour easily to become a representative of one who is respected about India to the proportions of a legend.
The one thing Modi does not want is any shadow on his greatness as a leader, and condemnations that reach far and wide crimp his style.
Contrary to what is commonly believed, the PM has, in the past attempted mild criticism of the hate expressed by his followers on social media by urging them to respect women, and so on. His social media followers have typically used his quotes as proof of him respecting women, while scaling up attacks on women simultaneously. On one notable occasion, a very nasty hashtag about Congress president Sonia Gandhi was trended by his supporters within an hour of him making such a speech. The writing on the wall is clear - the fanatics have their own agenda and Modi is their shield as well as mascot. They will highlight the suitable things he says and simply ignore what is inconvenient.
When Modi had praised Islam in Kazakhstan, a Hindutva activist had openly remarked that such things need to be said in diplomacy. But not even in diplomacy have the Hindutva fanatics tolerated the slightest call for moderation from him.
At times, it has backfired, like when Sakshi Maharaj had crudely advised "Modi will have to be a boatman: One oar must focus on the economy and the other must concentrate on the Hindu agenda." He went on to say "I am a powerful man. I can make or break the government."
BJP supporters then made vague noises that he had been reprimanded. I suppose they forgot to tell Sakshi Maharaj, because he does not seem to have noticed any reprimand. There are countless such Hindutva zealots who have supposedly been reprimanded by a Modi "unhappy" with them, with no noticeable discomfort to them, let alone any loss of authority or position. Counter statements are made through carefully engineered reassertion of an agenda of Hindutva violence.
Perhaps a reason the prime minister remains silent on communal violence is that he does not have the authority to comment on it. He depends on Hindutva for his legitimacy and support. He cannot afford to alienate them, and they aren't tolerant people, for all their propaganda claims. On the other hand, a prime minister so devoted to his own image is having a rough time with the condemnations piling, even as the gloss of an astute advertising campaign wears off, leaving behind a Prime Minister who increasingly says inane things - right from the hilarious "M-R-S Sirisene" to comparing Badal with Nelson Mandela because he had spent a long time in prison.
In the meanwhile, the opposition has increasingly figured out that the one weak spot in a government with no intention of accountability and the numbers to brazen it through, is a Prime Minister who wants to be recognised as a great leader. With demands for action and accountability now piling up, the next three and a half years are going to be entertaining - apart from the sadly escalating incidents of violence with impunity.
In his indignation over the BJP's acceptance of Ghulam Ali and Kasuri (or more likely picking the easily available fight to vent a growing discontentment), Sanjay Raut has touched what had so far been a holy cow. No one really cares about Ghulam Ali or Kasuri beyond a few comments and then the moment passes. On the other hand, an official spokesperson of a party allied with the government openly expressing disappointment at tolerance and stating their admiration was for a violence that the Prime Minister has always been accused of and has always denied... is like a flame at a petrol pump.
Whatever Shiv Sena's petty whine was with BJP, what it has now become is an open challenge to the prime minister. In essence, Sanjay Raut has sent a veiled message to the prime minister, "Don't start catering to demands of seculars, we know who you are, and you know you can't do without us". This can only go one of two ways - with the prime minister digging in his heels and denying the "Godhra-Ahmedabad" comment, which would inherently discredit the admiration he receives because of it - something he has avoided doing even in the aftermath of the riots, or letting go of his dignity, ignoring the insult and capitulating to the zealots, because The Sadhvi-Yogi brigade will not let him get away with denying legitimacy to Hindutva violence. The opposition parties would be complete idiots if they let it pass as has been the case with many calculated silences in the face of inhumanity.
The way I see it, Modi is fast approaching an overdue crossroads. His own dignity and reputation as a leader cannot survive the Hindutva agenda. On the other hand, he needs the Hindutva extremists for political survival. Which way he proceeds would determine many things.