The Bigger Picture
India voted Modi to power for development, not bans. Has BJP forgotten this?
Time has come for the saffron party to be more forthright in keeping its atavistic Parivar elements in line.
- Total Shares
Wrapping up a three-day visit to India in January, US President Barack Obama observed, "India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith."
He added that it was of utmost importance that Indians understood that every person had "the right to practise their faith how they choose or to practise no faith at all and to do so free from persecution."
Obama's warning comes to mind as the peculiar drama of meat bans plays itself out across the country. There can be little doubt that this is being seen as part of the anti-Muslim project of the extremist elements of the Sangh Parivar.
This is yet another manifestation of the belief among many in the Parivar that Narendra Modi's election triumph victory was a victory for their pernicious ideology and not a consequence of the failure of the UPA II in delivering economic growth to the country. From the time the Modi government took office, there has been a sharp uptick in communal violence accompanied by a cacophony of declarations from right-wing groups, promoting projects like ghar wapsi and banning beef. Modi himself has distanced himself from such views, or, has chosen to keep silent. He has sought to position himself as a development-oriented prime minister and has, in his speeches, focused on social issues. Earlier this year, speaking at an event organised by New Delhi's Christian community, Modi emphatically declared, "We cannot accept violence against any religion".
In blunt terms, the mandate that Modi has got was for economic growth and good governance. At a time when people are awaiting a transformation of the economy and its direct impact on their personal lives they are bemused by the spectacle of our municipal and state governments getting involved in banning meat and policing abattoirs to prevent the eating of beef. At one level it is being used as a tool of political mobilisation, at another it is to distract the electorate from the inability of the governments, state and local, to come to grips with their substantive challenges.
Modi himself should be aware that his government in New Delhi, too, is facing the test of credibility with regard to its tall electoral promises and its performance.
People do not expect miracles to happen overnight and will not, like media commentators, switch to an attack mode overnight. However, they do expect that the government gets down to work on the real issues of the day instead of chasing the will o' the wisp.
In a diverse country like India, sectarian peace is something that must be prized. One way to maintain it is to allow communities to live with their customs and traditions and define their own pace of change.
This is the premise of Indian secularism which has ensured that India's 170 million Muslim population has been remarkably peaceable despite the pulls of extremism in the other parts of the Islamic world. But now Sangh Parivar hotheads appear determined to push the Muslim community to the margins. Given the numbers, that is simply not a viable project and will instead result in a rendering of the country's social and political fabric.
Actually, animal sacrifice is not alien to the Hindu faith as anyone who has travelled to Nepal during Dussehra knows and visit any Puja pandal during the season you will find a great deal of excellent non-vegetarian fare. There are groups who tend to be vegetarians. But by no means can they be seen as representatives of the Hindu faith.
Moreover, at what point does the state decide that you can eat this and that, or wear this or that. Could the Mumbai municipality decide that men and women must cover their heads? How different is it from khaps which ban jeans and cell phones for women?
Time has come for the BJP to be more forthright in keeping its atavistic Parivar elements in line. The agenda is development and its mandate is for economic growth and good governance. If the BJP does not understand this, it will pay the price for it the next time elections come around. Unfortunately, that will be a messy process, and the country would have lost another five years that it cannot afford to lose.