Sunday, March 3, 2024

A race to the bottom

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By Jagdish Rattanani

The abusive and communal epithets hurled by the BJP MP from South Delhi Ramesh Bidhuri against the BSP MP Kunwar Danish Ali represent a race to the bottom, a steep if inevitable fall as language that should be banned on the streets is spoken in Parliament from the treasury benches. At this stage, the BJP is trapped by the disease of competitive communalism and attention-seeking, some of its ambitious members trying to grab the stage in desperate ways with displays one worse than the other. The lack of strong and swift action against Bidhuri legitimises such abuse, and indeed messages others that it is okay to play in this muck and contribute to a rising crescendo of communal hatred as we prepare for the 2024 elections. An immediate example is the claim by another BJP MP that Bidhuri was provoked, but that statement, too, is an attempt to inject more communalism into the picture.
That Bidhuri’s unspeakable and violent words came while he appeared to be defending the Prime Minister should ideally and in normal circumstances be seen as an affront to the Prime Minister. There are other ways to respond to the charge, which essentially was on a different topic – that the Prime Minister grabbed attention and took credit for the moon mission instead of leaving ISRO to bask in the glory. That the rebuttal to the accusation is abuse actually makes the accusation stick, does a disservice to the Prime Minister and the party (never mind the merits or demerits of the accusation) and should shock the leadership. Further, that Bidhuri defiled Parliament in the very first session it met there in the new building marks another hijacking of what will be billed as an important achievement by the BJP. The Prime Minister himself has called the new edifice “not just a new building but the symbol of a new beginning.” Bidhuri got to give that “new beginning” a very ominous meaning. And he also ended up diverting attention away from the The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, the women reservations bill which the Prime Minister has called “a historic legislation which will further boost women empowerment …”. This should be enough to attract stern action. That this action was not forthcoming as of Sunday night beyond the issuance of a show-cause notice raises many questions.
The key of these should be the nature and character of the new BJP as it prepares to fight 2024, overtly confident that it will be returned to power but not exactly unconcerned about the “surprise” that Rahul Gandhi says awaits the party. The coming together of the Opposition, even though decried by some as a patchwork solution rather than a unified presence, has without doubt worried the BJP. There is also a strong anti-incumbency undercurrent at play, not to add the vigour with which the Opposition is taking its story to the people and responding on social media. In it, it has rich material on the communalism of the BJP, the pet industrialists’ (and one “friendly monopolist”, to quote Rahul Gandhi) that the leadership has consistently favoured, the pro-rich and the anti-people approaches that have run the spectrum from demonetisation to high fuel and gas cylinder prices to tomatoes that recently sold for Rs.100 a kilo.
Under these circumstances, and particularly since there are reports that the India alliance of the Opposition appears to be picking up steam, the easiest approach would be to fall back on the staple of communalism. If this is considered a sure-shot winner, as many in the BJP tend to think, then the nation must brace for a rather horrible campaign as individual candidates race ahead of the sanctioned narrative, and land up in spaces like the one Bidhuri occupied in Parliament.
The nature of the rogue speech, the silence of the BJP leadership, the obvious pain displayed by Danish Ali who said he couldn’t sleep the night the remarks were made is the exact way the cycle of abuse and violence has played out outside of Parliament. The question that was thought to be outside on the streets for those oppressed: “Where do ordinary people go for justice?” has now reached Parliament, with a Member of the Lok Sabha now asking: “Where do we go for justice?” This is without doubt a terrible slide for the nation.
At the root of this fall is the belief among the BJP that assertion means aggression, that hitting out is the best form of defence, that violence is in our grain and must be met with double the violence, that the “other” must be put down, that the grammar of leadership is masculine in form, shape and action. This is the old language of power and control, a spent force positioning in the world of today. It represents a poor projection of this nation as a harsh and desolate landscape of bitterness. We are creating a Bharat without its ideas of grace, love and togetherness. In the absence of these, India cannot thrive as a nation, however advanced the infrastructure, the businesses or other tools of modernity.
Some of these ideas will come up during the election campaign to challenge the BJP. “Love” is a language that the Congress has spoken of often in recent times. There is no doubt that the BJP campaign this time will be even more slick, well oiled, properly timed and luxuriously funded. Samples of the campaign have been emerging on social media over the last month or so. Expect a kind of carpet bombing of the nation with the BJP messages. Select sections of the media will be in its pocket. The Opposition will be no match in money power. Yet, there are no guarantees. As the savvy former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh once said: “In India, you can lose an election for want of money but you can never win an election just because you have money!” However, a huge mismatch of resources with the BJP loaded with money flows will still hurt the Opposition.
While we await the formal blowing of the campaign bugles, there is an easy way out of the situation created in Parliament. The BJP leadership as a whole can apologise, its senior leaders including the Prime Minister can meet up with Danish Ali and assure him and the nation that this won’t happen again, suitably punish the offender in this case and walk away from the ugly and choose to take the high ground. Just how many from those among the BJP ranks and those ranged against the party think that such a path is possible, desirable, even profitable? And thereby hangs the tale of a nation that can break barriers to reach the moon while it builds new barriers in the hearts and minds of the people.
(The writer is a journalist and faculty member at SPJIMR. Views are personal) (Syndicate: The Billion Press) (e-mail: [email protected])

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