This week we had a minister separating Indians as being either Ramzadas (meaning Hindus) or haramzadas, meaning bastards. The minister is one of the many illiterate and half-literate sadhvis (meaning a sort of self-anointed holy person without any clerical status), who have joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Another such is Uma Bharti, who according to her Lok Sabha resume, has studied up to class six.
The minister who made the haramzada remark was initially surprised to know people felt she had said anything wrong. When the media climbed into her, she gave a mumbled statement of regret. This sort of nasty language is commonly used by the Hindutva parties to rally their base, as I shall show later. When the media picked up the issue, the opposition brought it to parliament. Arun Jaitley, one of the few BJP men who is uncomfortable with Hindutva, disowned the statement and condemned it. Jaitley is politically unimportant and cannot even win his own seat. The prime minister, who knows the mood of the Hindutva base, did not respond immediately. He knows that such signaling is important. He leaked a report through his preferred agency — ANI — that he had said at a closed-door meeting that people should watch what they say, which is as oblique as a condemnation can get.
The Hindu wrote in an editorial that “if the prime minister is indeed shocked at the Sadhvi’s choice of words, he should have said so explicitly instead of couching his reprimand in generalities. If he intended to get his no-nonsense message across to his ministers and MPs, the right course for him would have been to drop Niranjan Jyoti from the Ministry. Criticising the actions without criticising the actor does not go far enough. Actually, the apology seems to have been offered to deflect the attacks of the opposition parties who were demanding her resignation.”
The opposition had spotted Modi’s error and pressed its advantage. Modi then came to parliament and said such things should not be said by anyone and that took the sting off the issue as far as the media was concerned. The question is, why do those who speak in the name of Hindutva say such things and why are they not condemned properly?
During the election campaign, Giriraj Singh, an unknown BJP candidate, came into prominence by saying: “Woh log Narendra Modi ko rokna chahate hain, woh Pakistan dekh rahe hain. Aane wale dino mein aise logon ke liye jagah Hindustan mein nahi, Jharkhand mein nahi, parantu Pakistan mein hoga, Pakistan mein hoga (Those who want to stop Narendra Modi are looking to Pakistan for support. In the coming days, there won’t be place for such people in India, in Jharkhand because their place will be in Pakistan).”
Around the same time, a tape was leaked of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia talking at a meeting in Gujarat. He was offering advice to a Hindu neighbourhood where a Dawoodi Bohra, one of the most peaceful and prosperous communities of India, had bought a property. Bohras are wealthy and prefer to live in the more affluent urban areas, which tend to be Hindu. The neighbourhood that had called Togadia for advice did not want the Bohra family. Togadia told them they ought to create an atmosphere of a riot and spit on the family to get them to move out of a property they had legally bought. This was recorded on video and there was no ambiguity in what was being planned.
As I said, both these things happened around the same time. The media was incensed and Modi responded by putting out this general tweet: “Petty statements by those claiming to be BJP’s well-wishers are deviating the campaign from the issues of development and good governance.”
Modi later made Giriraj a minister, showing us what he actually believed. The RSS similarly lied about Togadia, saying there might be some misunderstanding (I translated the thing in full for livemint.com and it is totally transparent) for those who did not speak Gujarati. Togadia remains VHP’s international president.
The reason is that, despite their mumbled half-condemnations, Modi and the RSS approve of such statements and inevitably reward the people who make them. And this of course is because a large part of India responds favourably to them, despite the media’s anguish.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2014.