For someone who occupies the hallowed post of the BJP national general secretary, Ram Madhav can sure come across as a fumbling, unprepared and almost embarrassing envoy tasked with the delicate job of arguing against the provocative motion - "Is Modi's India flirting with fascism?", as was the case on the recent Al Jazeera show Head to Head.
Somewhere in between a hard-hitting interview to a full-fledged, no-holds-barred debate of sky-rocketing ferocity and passion, Mehdi Hasan's popular political talkshow was something that Ram Madhav should have worked hard for, if only to tackle the questions - point-blank, frank and without the fig leaves of saving graces that ruling dispensations are often used to, not just in India but also in Britain - effectively.
By effectively, I clearly mean skilfully skirting, deflecting and dodging the severe criticisms that have been levelled against the present, Narendra Modi-led, government at the Centre. By effectively, I also mean being able to clothe and cloak the openly trumpeted supremacist fantasies that Sangh Parivar, the ruling BJP included, and its ideologues, parade in a domestic setup, while cleverly couching them in secularist, nationalist and neo-liberal dreams at international forums.
By effectively, I certainly mean explaining that glaring dichotomy with a glib dismissiveness that the BJP spokespersons, such as MJ Akbar and Nalin Kohli, display every now and then.
Given the raging controversy over Ram Madhav's supposed "error" in handling the question on "Akhand Bharat" that Mehdi Hasan asked, it is evident that the BJP national general secretary wasn't quite "effective" at keeping the lid on over the boiling broth that is India's current political climate. However, that was because after years of being an integral part as well as a spokesperson of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a mere one year in BJP hasn't yet converted him into an expert at doublespeak.
Actually, it is Ram Madhav's ideological consistency, in the line of the Sangh Parivar's expansive vision of consolidating a "Hindu Rashtra", with its subcontinental reach and hold, certainly not limited to mere cultural manifestations, that gave away what many, the prime minister included, try their best to keep inside the peephole-laden closet of India's domestic politics.
Hence, when Madhav is asked about the "intolerance" issue, he brazenly brushes it off as a plot to defame the Centre. When he's questioned on "beef ban", and the murders, lynchings etc that followed in its heels, Madhav takes refuge in the 60-year-long embargo on cow slaughter as suggested in Part IV of Article 44 of Indian Constitution, or the Directive Principles of State Policy, which is not legally binding, but is a matter of state subject, and obviously, is seeing logical ends in BJP-ruled states of the country.
When he's confronted with a quizzical take on Haryana government's spending of public funds to publicise Bhagwat Gita, and asked if similar state sponsoring of the Koran or the Bible is possible, Madhav says it's a matter of what the particular state and its legislators deem fit. When asked about rising communal crimes and hate speeches and frequent admonitions from members of Parliament belonging to the BJP for the critics of the government to "go to Pakistan", or branding them as "anti-nationals", Madhav falls back on an imagined "goodwill" that minorities must earn of the majority community in order to establish "peace". On Kashmir, he tows the usual government line, hardly different from previous UPA dispensations.
|File pic of Al Jazeera's Mehdi Hasan and BJP's Ram Madhav on Head to Head.|
Hence, the furore on social media over Madhav "walking into a trap" set up by the Qatar-funded Al Jazeera, and its "Muslim employee" Mehdi Hasan, to showcase India in a negative light, is not just baseless, it's frankly comical. An office bearer of the BJP must have been briefed about the template of the show - Head to Head, or at least, Madhav, when he consented to appear on the programme, must have demanded to be apprised of the basic format, which is not a pleasant, pre-arranged Q&A.
In fact, Hasan's show is anything but: it is, according to its homepage on the Al Jazeera website, "forum of ideas, a gladiatorial contest tackling big issues such as faith, nationalism, democracy and foreign intervention in front of an opinionated audience at the Oxford Union".
One may recall how convincingly Shashi Tharoor had defended the rather awkward motion - "Should Britain pay reparative damages to India for the Raj?"- at the very same venue, Oxford Union hall, only a few months back. If Ram Madhav was unable to suitably demolish the charge and argue compellingly that Modi's India, in fact, was not becoming a fascist state, it was because his political training, in the close quarters of RSS,BJP,VHP and other affiliated bodies under the saffron umbrella, hasn't yet made him adept at explaining both the dream of a composite Hindu utopia stretching across the subcontinent as well as governing a democratic republic which needs to maintain bilateral ties with neighbouring sovereign states, without batting an ideological eyelid.
Commentators and designated explicators who have attempted to excavate a vision of a pre-colonial mercantile utopia, an undivided continent of commerce, thriving and bustling through trade routes and economic interests, or find "civilisational ties that are pre-Islamic", in Madhav's "unwitting gaffe", clearly want to bury the fact that by citing unifications of the two Germanys and the two Vietnams, Madhav was not, in fact, alluding to any happy, cultural rebooting of any kind, but rather, expressing the longstanding RSS dream of realising its Hindu imperial ambitions.
Of course, in Golwalkar's manifesto, that dominion of Hindus would have the cute ingredient called "goodwill", that like God's grace, would be showered on some, as religious minorities battle it out to "earn" that ephemeral, politically inconstant virtue.
Evidently, Ram Madhav, and his colleagues in BJP, as well as in the government, do not see these two ideas as contradictory. However, the fantasy of "Akhand Bharat", at least its voicing in this context, might seem ill-timed because it comes right after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "birthday diplomacy" in Lahore, meeting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the "Af-way" and touching his mother's feet as a "Hindu" gesture of respect for his "Muslim" counterpart.
Defenders of Madhav allege that Al Jazeera deliberately aired it on the day PM Modi was making "historic overtures" to Pakistan, is a conspiracy to derail Indo-Pak peace process. Others, however, point out that before the PM tweeted his stopover in Lahore to wish the Pakistan PM, unless it's a clear case of clairvoyance on the part of the respected media house, a strategic airing of the pre-recorded show to defang the Modi government wasn't quite possible.
Now, Madhav's "apology" (in an interview to India Today's Rahul Kanwal) over the comment later, if what he has said is part of a widely-held belief system that the RSS-BJP combine adheres to, at least from an ideological standpoint, then why should he be singled out for exposing an open secret? And when he betrays his case by saying "your ISIS" to Mehdi Hasan, a British-Muslim journalist of Indian descent, isn't he belying the very prejudice - that all Muslims must be held responsible for Islamic fundamentalism and global terrorism that ISIS, Al Qaeda perpetrate - that was being debated on the show?
And, weren't the panellists Nitasha Kaul and Mehboob Khan proved right when their co-panellist Gautam Sen, a professor at the London School of Economics and "president, World Association of Hindu Academicians", said India was "under a 1,200-year-old occupation" until Independence? Or, did he mean until Modi Sarkar?