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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 20 New Delhi May 4, 2019

The Importance of being Sadhvi Pragya

Sunday 5 May 2019

by L.K. Sharma

The strange case of a terror-accused being fielded as a BJP candidate in the parliamentary elections surprised even some party members and saddened many Modi devotees. They fail to appreciate the critical importance of Sadhvi Pragya for the poll campaign driven by Hindu nationalism and for Modi’s own political future.

Prime Minister Naredra Modi’s irresistible rise in politics has been due to his astute understanding of social fault-lines and the weaknesses of his opponents in every field and within his own party. As the Gujarat Chief Minister, he always moved fast to crush any internal threat demonstrating his power and influence.

Modi cleansed the BJP’s State unit of all his critics. He even saw off the challenge by the Prime Minister belonging to his party who tried to teach him Rajdharma and make him resign as the Gujarat Chief Minister in the wake of communal violence. The way Modi sidelined the elders, including the party’s founder, is well known.

Modi can afford to have a disgruntled Minister or a former party President but he must keep the people like Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Pragya and Shakshi Maharaj satisfied. Those playing the game of religious extremism inevitably get confronted by religious hyper-extremism. The latter tends to follow the former. Extreme Sikh nationalism resulted in the emergence of Sant Bhindranwale. A fiery Super Emperor of the Hindu Hearts lurking in the wings can emerge to outshine and outbid Modi. The Prime Minister has an accurate assessment of threats to him that are not external. Sadhvi Pragya’s past performance establishes her credentials as a braver Hindutva leader.

This explanation should satisfy those of the BJP who were shocked when the party handed over UP to Yogi. Wise politicians bring their potential rivals into their tents unless they can be destroyed. So, Yogi was accommodated as the Chief Minister of UP! Uma Bharati, who called Modi Vinash Purush,was accommodated in the Modi Cabinet.

Such orators mesmerise their audiences and they are assets for the party. If disgruntled, they can cause immense harm either as party members or by forming a more extremist Hindu group that promises three temples instead of one. Modi is not bothered by Shashi Tharoor criticising him in a college. But he cannot have an unfriendly Sadhvi marching on the street shouting slogans against him for letting the Hindus down. Sadhvi Pragya had to be inducted into the BJP and given the ticket for the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat. Sakshi Maharaj can get away saying anything. Like Pragya, he also claims to have the power to “curse” people. God forbid, if such magicians were to turn hostile to their own leader one day!

Advani undertook the Ram Mandir rath yatra and paved the way for Modi. Modi does not want to pave the way for a Hindu monk, male or female. They say that after centuries of insomnolence, Hindus woke up in 2014. India is now ready to see a monk/nun in the Prime Minister’s role. That will resolve the current crisis of confidence caused by the failure of Modi’s magic wand that was to have brought millions of jobs and money into the accounts of every Indian. Trust will be restored by a Sadhvi-like Prime Minister having supernatural powers to curse and annihilate India’s enemies. The people believe. They believe even the sellers of snake oil who mesmerise the street-corner crowds.

Modi had assessed Yogi’s potential and the need for keeping him confined to a state. Yogi could have taken on a bigger political role by attracting frenzied mobs angered by the non-appearance of a Ram temple on the site of the demolished Babri mosque. With his oratorical powers, one can imagine a sea of humanity shouting: Agar India mein rehna hoga, to Yogi, Yogi kehna hoga. He could have shifted his battleground from Lucknow to Delhi! Like the Shiv Sena leaders, he could have gone around badgering Modi for his failure to build the Ram temple.

Once Modi won the 2014 parliamentary elections, as the Hindu Hriday Samrat (Emperor of the Hindu Hearts), the anti-secularism campaigns, both official as well as popular, gathered momentum. The genie of religious nationalism, released from the bottle, marginalised the intellectuals combating communalism through learned papers and seminars. Chased by the mobs calling them “sick”, the secular politicians became discreet. Hinduism scholars and true saints witnessed silently their faith being hijacked by a political force.

Modi sees this set of opponents becoming ineffectual. In an atmosphere of mass frenzy driven by religious nationalism, statements by his English-knowing critics do him no harm. Their quotable quotes are lost in the din. Modi ignores them. Rahul Gandhi matters not as a competitor but as the main hurdle in Modi’s project to destroy the Congress. He knows that without a leader with a pan-Indian image, the Congress can be subverted by the regional and sub-regional leaders lacking mass appeal and shared ideological commitment.

Any criticism of the Modi Government’s performance coming from eminent economists is easily countered by some organisation of chartered accountants, sarkari economists and a newly floated think-tank.

Joint letters of protest against the Modi Government’s dangerous divisive policies signed by retired civil servants are not taken seriously since the India in which these IAS, IFS, IPS and IRS officers served was different. That was the India in which most officers would leave Delhi a day after their retirement. Now, some civil servants start preparing for their post-retirement jobs by being in the good books of the Prime Minister or a business leader.

There was an India in which Bombay’s Police Commissioner could make politically sensitive preventive arrests without securing the Chief Minister’s approval and a Lucknow SP could politely reject the Chief Minister’s request to release the potential rioters detained for the night.

Modi knows from his long experience that faith, fear and favour move individuals and institutions. It is not difficult to spot a civil servant, an educationist, a judge, an intelligence officer or a constable ready to serve the cause of Hindutva. The residual British influence on India’s intelligence service meant that its entire focus was on tracking the threat from communism not from communalism.

In this context, one can see a political party deriving collateral benefit of the vitriolic campaign by a BJP candidate against Hemant Karkare, the police officer who courted death while trying to protect Mumbai from terrorism. Will young police officers fail to note that their acts of bravery can also bring posthumous dishonour unless they serve the cause of a specified religious community? The candle-light marches by those protesting against Sadhvi Pragya’s despicable statements about the late police officer did not dent her popularity.

The people like Yogi and Sadhvi need religious issues. The RSS was wise to abruptly switch off the renewed Ram temple movement in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections. The issue could have slipped out of Modi’s hands and worked against him. Better to keep it safe as a time-bomb for use against a secular government!

The decision to invite a terror-accused into mainstream politics also shows an inclusive approach! Political parties say there is no legal ground to deny electoral opportunity to those facing criminal charges. They also know the forgiving nature of the voters since during every poll campaign the media lists the number of criminal cases being faced by a candidate. Thus, the Prime Minister and the President of his ruling party had no hesitation in defending the candidature of a terror-accused.

This and other undesirable trends reflecting the gradual transformation of the BJP have displeased some of its old-timers. The Modi devotees call them disgruntled elements. Modi’s critics say all this is merely a prelude to the attempted transformation of India. Yeh to kewal jhanki hai, poori picture baki hai!

Arun Shourie, a former BJP leader, previewed this transformation at an early stage when he called the BJP “Congress plus cow”. It is more than that. Even an organisation like the RSS has been affected by the wind of change released by Modi. It is divided as it watches helplessly some of its policies and principles being violated by the government. The RSS seems to have relaxed its strict code of discipline and is willing to sacrifice ideological purity for political power.

These policies have a bearing on foreign investments, the retail sector, self-reliance and labour reforms. The concerned wings of the RSS used to make a lot of noise on such issues when a taller leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee, was the Prime Minister. Modi silenced them all. The RSS keeps quiet even when Modi campaigns for the return of the “Modi Government”, not a BJP Government!

The BJP leaders realised that its core constituency of small traders who visit a temple while going home after closing their shops was not enough and the party must cast its net wider by using Hindu nationalism. Once the Hindutva card yielded political dividend, it was enshrined as a critical element of the BJP’s poll strategy.

Modi is called the most divisive and polarising leader but his critics ignore the unifying role he plays by unifying the party workers around him. It may take time to crush dissidence in the country but dissidence dare not raise its ugly head in the party.

The BJP under the transformative leadership is seeking to be all things to all people. It has been rushing to co-opt all, from Sardar Patel to Ambedkar. It offers entry passes to fighters against communalism willing to be seduced by the ruling party. It courts those who deliver talks on Vedic mathematics, sing bhajans in temples, give discourses on the devotion to Lord Ram, host havans for the leader’s victory in elections,those who can abuse a minority and those who can kill by words or deeds.

Come and watch the Indian miracle of the Sadhvi who causes death by cursing and a US-returned AI expert sipping from the same saucer!

(Courtesy: Open Democracy)

The author is a senior journalist and writer who worked in India and abroad (notably Britain) in several major newspapers. Now retired, he is a freelancer.

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