In the days after the “surgical strikes” announced by the Indian government and the DGMO, we are witnessing Hindutva flexing its muscle in way perhaps not yet seen before and confirming the worst fears of those who warned of growing intolerance.
Like the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, led by Hindutva parties that unfolded in the public view culminating in the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindu Kar Sevaks, Hindutva forces are rising again, only this time linked to nationalism. The images and rhetoric are alarming.
A Dadri accused, who died in judicial custody reportedly due to health complications, lies wrapped in the tricolour, with villagers refusing to cremate “the martyr” till their demands, including the arrest of Akhlaq’s kin and an investigation into the accused Ravi’s death, are met. Like during Babri, as well as Dadri more recently, VHP and local BJP leaders are present even as hate speeches are made.
Also in UP, actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui has been forced out of the local Ram Leela by Shiv Sena on grounds that a Muslim cannot participate in the Indian mythology production, even though crew has said that Muslims have been part of the production before in backend, though not leading roles, and the event with Siddiqui has been advertised and many were keen to see it because he is a star attraction.
Also in poll-bound UP, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who post strikes referred to the Indian Army as Hanuman in a vulgar gloat over surgical strikes, is being trotted about and felicitated by BJP after the “100 per cent” (Parrikar’s words to audiences) success rate of strikes under Modi rule.
This is only after MNS has been carrying out a relentless campaign in Mumbai to drive Pakistani actors out of the country - an inexplicable campaign, considering visas are given by government and there is no restriction on other trade and travel diplomacy announced by government, therefore becoming a tool of harassment of individuals. Nevertheless, the move has found support in the leading English channel Times Now which has carried out a nightly exercise in drumming up support for this boycott, in the name of national interest and patriotism.
The situation is dangerously like a lead up to Babri redux, only this time on a national scale, and unlike Ram Janmabhoomi, which invoked Hindu sentiments, this is nationalism with a distinct saffron tinge -- from the tricolour tribute to Dadri accused to defence minister’s invoking of Hanuman for surgical strikes.
As sentiments are whipped up – an Indian Muslim targeted for the crime of participating in a “Hindu” play, or Salman Khan told to “Go To Pakistan” for supporting Pakistani artistes in India, Pakistani Muslims working in India being singled out via media and told to decry Uri attack by fellow artistes like Anupam Kher. This even as “beef” continues to be used against lynching victim Akhlaq even after his death. Given all of this is taking place in the garb of nationalism, with no regard to reason, the situation calls for serious introspection.
Moreover, drawing from our lessons from the Ayodhya blot in our history, where then PM Narasimha Rao of Congress government at the centre, along with the Kalyan Singh BJP government in UP as well as BJP and other Hindutva leaders were held morally or directly responsible for the collective shame, key organisations, administrators and individuals must step up to their duties of national responsibility instead of whipping up passions in the name of nationalism.
Prime Minister Modi, who has reportedly told his colleagues to refrain from chest thumping (once in the immediate aftermath of the strikes, and again, after Parrikar’s Hanuman hungama) cannot absolve himself of responsibility just by statements even as his colleagues and supporters do exactly the opposite of what he says.
This was observed in the Liberhan report on Babri, which noted that the reported appeals made by BJP leaders at the site in Ayodhya to stop the demolition were “feeble requests” that were “either in earnest or for the media’s benefit.”
As PM, Modi cannot afford to say he tells Hindutva elements to pipe down but they don’t listen, especially – though not only -- his own cabinet ministers. It only adds to the already existing perception in some quarters that the BJP is two tongued, speaking its core ideology Hindutva to one audience and Constitution to the other, for legitimacy.
Unlike during the Ram Janmbhoomi mobilisation, there are now twenty four news channels giving live updates on the (Hindu) nationalism mobilisation around the country. That would be reassuring as a check if it were not for the worry that a large section of this media is seen as complicit in whipping up passions. Consider, for one, the coverage of the “politicisation” of the Army Ops.
While the news of the surgical strikes were conveyed by both DGMO and government spokespersons with restraint and responsibility, and Opposition equally rose to the occasion by standing unequivocally with the nation. The aftermath saw media whip up a storm about “politicising of strikes” by politicians like Arvind Kejriwal who asked government to expose Pakistan’s counter claims and Congress member Sanjay Nirupam who had questions on the strike.
However, little or no space was given to the objectionable statements by BJP, not least among them defence minister Parrikar himself who by all accounts was the first to “politicise” the matter with his empowering Hanuman remarks, belittling the long legacy of the army's services.
Even if the BJP would like to take credit for the "surgical strikes" for their scale and the message their announcement sent out both domestically and internationally, the Army's endeavours in defending the borders, even when it does not cross them, should not be dismissed in this way.
Yet, Parrikar's statement "Indian troops were like Hanuman who did not quite know their prowess before the surgical strikes" went virtually unnoticed by TV media in comparison to the storm whipped up over Rahul Gandhi's "Khoon Ki Dalali" jibe on the politicisation.
Such bias in editorialisation while eroding the credibility of the electronic media has potential for more damaging repercussions of misinformed public sentiment and incitement.