Friday, June 14, 2024



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By Amulya Ganguli

It has been quite some time now that the RSS chief hasn’t dwelt on his favourite theme of India as a Hindu nation. Nor has any minister in Goa called for a ban on the wearing of bikinis on beaches. Has their enthusiasm for provoking controversies dimmed or have they been told to pipe down by the powers that be ?

Interestingly, the RSS and one of its most belligerent affiliates, the VHP, have announced their decision to put the Ram temple on hold for a year. Considering the centrality of the issue for the Sangh parivar – the temple is its “soul”, as a BJP election manifesto once said – it is not a little significant that the matter has been put on the back burner.

The timing is all the more noteworthy because the BJP’s assumption of power with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha may have been expected to persuade the RSS and the VHP to accentuate their longstanding demand for the construction of the temple. Instead, they have decided to shelve it, just as Atal Behari Vajpayee did in 1996 to woo the “secular” parties to his side.

Since such a purpose cannot have motivated the RSS, its reason for the retreat is evidently to ensure that Narendra Modi’s development plans are not hampered by an increase in the communal temperature. It is probably not a coincidence that the move by the RSS has come close on the heels of Modi’s call for a 10-year moratorium on sectarian acrimony.

For the Nagpur patriarchs, however, the retreat from their agenda must be disheartening. The entire history of the last two decades starting with L.K. Advani’s 1990 rath yatra to remove the “ocular provocation” of the Babri masjid has again been nullified. Vajpayee was the first BJP leader whose lack of enthusiasm for the temple prevented any forward movement on the issue through the ’90 and up to the BJP’s defeat in 2004.

Not surprisingly, the RSS chief of the time, K.S. Sudarshan, wanted Vajpayee to make way for a new leadership. The former prime minister had long been regarded by the RSS as a major impediment for its dream of establishing a Hindu rashtra. Now, another prime minister has put up a road block.

This turn of events must seem all the more disconcerting to the RSS since Modi was seen as a hardliner till he started his sadbhavna or goodwill fasts in aid of communal harmony in Gujarat. Since becoming prime minister, he has become all the more focussed on social stability since any sign of discord will put off both foreign and domestic investments.

For the saffron hawks, reared in the RSS shakhas on the propaganda against Muslims which depict them as invaders who destroyed temples, the emphasis on amity cannot but be odd. Yet, they are also aware that Modi’s present popularity makes him politically unassailable. Besides, for the BJP, the present period is its best ever – even better than Vajpayee’s 24-party coalition – not only because of the party’s majority in the Lok Sabha, but also because it can look forward to victories in the forthcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra and elsewhere based on the Modi wave.

There is no question, therefore, of anyone defying his writ even if it militates against a Hindu agenda. Moreover, it isn’t only Modi’s wide acceptability which will silence any nay-sayer, but also his domineering personality which brooks no dissent.

If Vajpayee’s moderation was temperamental and the non-confrontationist style of the BJP chief ministers – Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh, Manohar Parrikar – is due to the responsibility of running governments, Modi’s sadbhavna enterprise is the result of a new orientation in Indian politics, where the bijli-sadak-pani factor, or improvements in living conditions, has taken precedence over the earlier preoccupation with caste and religious communities. For the RSS, and also for the likes of Mulayam Singh or Lalu Prasad, this new preference of the average voter for living in comfortable circumstances is a disadvantage, for they can no longer exacerbate subliminal sentiments to whip up sectarian passions.

Just when Modi sensed this change in the voter’s mood is not clear. Till the 2002 Gujarat elections, he was banking on communalism to see him through. But, even after repeated successes in the state, he apparently realized that stressing Gujarati asmita and Hindu pride may enable him to win state elections, but not at the national level.

Hence, the bow to Indian pluralism. It isn’t only that he has persuaded the hotheads to freeze the temple issue, the BJP’s U.P. unit was also told to keep the words, love jehad, out of any resolution that it will adopt. Since the hardliners have latched on to this issue to foment communal tension and consolidate the BJP’s base, the advice to go easy is not without significance. Not only that, it has been announced that one of the foremost leaders of the storm-troopers, Yogi Adityanath, will not be a star campaigner in the forthcoming by-elections in U.P., as was earlier believed. Instead, it will be the present and former party presidents, Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh. Is the BJP turning over a new leaf? (IPA Service)


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