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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 20, May 13, 2023

Prime Minister Modi Using a Religious Slogan, Jai Bajrang Bali, For Votes Offends Law, Gandhi and Ambedkar’s Vision and Mixes Religion With Politics | S N Sahu

Saturday 13 May 2023, by S N Sahu


During the last decade, religious slogans are being raised with frightening regularity in India in a calculated manner to mobilise people for political and electoral purposes and intimidate those of minority communities and unleash violence against them. Several leaders do it but disproportionately most BJP leaders including Prime Minister Modi and those from Hindutva organisations are also engaged in such activities. These constitute an assault on secularism and secular values sustaining our State structure, civil society and body polity.

 It is with utmost outrage the entire nation watched Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi while campaigning in Assembly elections in Karnataka for his party, BJP, raised the religious slogan, Bajrang Bali, and even asked voters of the State to vote for BJP by reciting it.

 Modi Erroneously Equated Hanuman with Bajrang Dal 

He did so after the Congress party in its manifesto equated Bajrang Dal, an outfit founded in the early 1980s and affiliated to the Viswa Hindu Parishad and the larger Sangh Parvivar, with the banned Popular Front of India (PFI) and pledged to ban the Dal. Modi gave a spin to the pledge and asserted that the intent of the party is to lock up Bajrang Bali, the deity Hanuman, in whose name the Bajrang Dal has been founded. He made a false claim that earlier Congress locked up Ram and now it has vowed to lock up Bajrang Bali. Charging Modi that he equated Bajrang Dal with Lord Hanuman, Congress asserted that, in doing so, he insulted Hanuman and His countless devotees.

 Bajrang Dal’s Record 

Being one of the foremost devotees of Lord Ram, Hanuman is revered as an exalted divine figure in the epic Ramayana where He is depicted as an energetic and mighty figure with abounding virtues of restraint and discipline. Bajrang Dal bearing Hanuman’s name tramples upon all restraint and discipline and has a proven record of targeting minorities. On Valentine’s Day many women representing diverse faiths become the victims of its violent methods just for exercising their choices to love someone.

 SC’s Bommai Judgement Separating State from Religion 

It is documented by the Supreme Court in the S R Bommai judgement that the Bajrang Dal along with Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad was banned by the Government of India after the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6th December 1992. Those organisations were very active then in BJP ruled States of UP, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh which came under President’s rule under Article 356 of the Constitution because there was breakdown of the constitutional order owing to several factors one of which was their unruly activities which contributed to the demolition of that Mosque. In that judgement Supreme Court declared secularism as the basic structure of the Constitution and stated that, “To the State, all are equal and are entitled to be treated equally” and “In matters of State, religion has no place”. “No political party”, the apex judiciary observed, “can simultaneously be a religious party” and remarked, “Politics and religion cannot be mixed”. It then significantly stated, “Any State Government which pursues unsecular policies or unsecular course of action acts contrary to the constitutional mandate and renders itself amenable to action under Article 356".

 The observation of the Court that “In matters of State, religion has no place” needs deeper reflection in the context of Prime Minister raising a religious slogan “Bajrang Bali” and asking voters to do so while exercising their voting rights in Karnataka. What he said actually violated the Model Code of Conduct which clearly states that “There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. ” The inaction of the Election Commission on complaints against the Prime Minister for reciting that slogan and infringing the Model Code is inexplicable. Even Modi violated several provisions of the Representation of People Act prohibiting political parties and their leaders to ask for votes in the name of religion and caste.

 The Prime Minister forms an integral of the definition of the State for the purpose of governance and exercise of the executive powers vested in his office. Therefore, he is duty-bound to adhere to the Supreme Court’s articulation that, “In matters of State, religion has no place.” His deliberate utterance of the religious slogan “Bajrang Bali” goes against the very essence of that articulation.

Ali-Bajrang Bali Polarising Narrative of Yogi Adityanath 

Earlier in November 2018 UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath while campaigning during elections in MP gave a provocative binary that if Congress has Ali then BJP has Bajrang Bali. Quite discernible in it is a polarising narrative aimed at inciting religious sentiments and putting one community against another for electoral consolidation based on religion. Even on another occasion, he referred to Lord Hanuman as a Dalit. Such narratives depict narrowness of vision.

 Shyama Prasad Mukherjee on Britishers Mixing Religion with Politics 

Founder of Jan Sangh Shyama Prasad Mukherjee while participating in the discussion on the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly on 17th December 1946 stated that not Indians but Britishers during their rule over India introduced religion to politics to divide people and consolidate their power, He was refuting the charge of Lord Simon that the Assembly consisted of Members who were only caste Hindus and urged the Assembly to point blank dismiss such false campaign.

 Mukherjee who was part of the Hindu Maha Sabha had founded Jan Sangh, which preceded the formation of BJP. Prime Minister Modi as also the top leaders of BJP often reverentially invoke Mukherjee’s name and his legacy for the cause of Hindutva and electoral politics. While doing so they stridently introduce religion to politics which Mukherjee said only Britishers did to divide people.

 The logic applied by Mukherjee against the British rulers is fully applicable to BJP, its leadership and Prime Minister Modi who recited a religious slogan, Bajrang Bali, in the election speeches in Karnataka and asked people to cast votes by raising the same slogan. Even prior to that he has done so on many occasions in appealing to religious binaries and seeking votes for his party. Is not the Prime Minister’s utterances based on a religious slogan, Bajrang Bali, and his exhortation to people to recite it while voting constitute an attempt to mix religion with politics and divide people on the basis of religion?

Rajagopalachari’s Depiction of Hanuman to Save Suffering Women 

During freedom struggle, C. Rajagopalchari authored his famous book Ramayana in which he described Hanuman as one who brought the message of hope and love and the assurance of relief to Sita after tracing her in Lanka following her abduction by Ravana. Underlining the social significance of the imagination of Hanuman he thoughtfully wrote, “All the women in our land who suffer sorrow in any way are so many replicas of Sita” and fervently affirmed, “May all the men be like Hanuman, pure and heroic helpers of such suffering women!”

 By following the spirit of Rajagopalachari’s narrative of Hanuman Prime Minister should reach out to the award-winning women wrestlers who are agitating against President of the Wrestling Federation of India Brij Bhushan Sharan against whom FIRs have been filed on the directions of the Supreme Court for allegedly sexually harassing many of those women wrestlers If he does so that would be better than raising the slogan of Bajrang Bali for winning votes in Karnataka.

  Gandhi’s Inclusive Slogans 

In 1920 during the Khilafat agitation the recitation of Vande Mataram by the Hindus met with ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ by Muslims. To resolve the issue Mahatma Gandhi wrote an article ‘Three National Cries’ in Young India on September 8, 1920, and urged people, irrespective of faith, to recite three slogans — Allah-o-Akbar, Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata ki jai and Hindu Musalman ji jai. Very appropriately, he stated that without Hindu Musalman ki jai, Bharat Mata ki Jai would not be complete. It is a proven fact that Gandhiji stressed the plurality of slogans in spite of his exceptional fondness for Vande Mataram.

 Gandhi Against Compulsion To Recite Slogans 

In the early 1940s he authored a text titled “Constructive Programme” containing 18 points to achieve independence for India. In the point concerning students, he categorically wrote that ‘they may not impose Vande Mataram or the National Flag on others’.

 In the late 1940s Gandhiji when getting to know that some people faced coercive action at the hands of the general public for not reciting Jai Hind wrote ‘’....inasmuch as a single person is compelled to shout “Jai Hind” or any popular slogan a nail is driven into the coffin of Swaraj.

 Ambedkar Against Slogans and Words Causing Fear 

Even Dr. B R Ambedkar while participating in the discussion on the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly on 17th December 1946 very insightfully said, “Let us leave aside slogans, let us leave aside words which frighten people”. He then added, “Let us even make a concession to the prejudices of our opponents, bring them in, so that they may willingly join with us on marching upon that road, which as I said, if we walk long enough, must necessarily lead us to unity.”

 His appeal to shun slogans and words that frighten people so that unity of people could be achieved is of immense relevance for our time confronting majoritarianism and the attendant religious slogans threatening people. Slogans like Bajrang Bali ki Jai, Jai Shri Ram and many others have been raised to strike fear and insecurity in the hearts of people particularly of minority communities. Tragically several of them lost their lives by violence accompanying such slogans.

 The constructive approach advocated by Rajagopalachari to locate Hanuman in the context of attempts to address the sufferings and sorrows of women victims of society and Gandhi and Ambedkar’s approach to take everyone along constitutes the finest examples from our own history to uphold the idea of India. Prime Minister Modi must eschew majoritarianism by following those examples.

* (Author: S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan)

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