Politics and religion a toxic mix that can take down Modi's party
Rahul Gandhi's Congress, fearing an erosion of Hindu votes to the BJP, abetted the anarchy. Fishingin troubled waters is in the Congress DNA.
By Suresh Pattali (Writing on the Wall)
Published: Mon 7 Jan 2019, 8:06 PM
Last updated: Mon 7 Jan 2019, 10:08 PM
Something strange is happening in Indian politics. Democracy and secularism are now considered passé. Religion is no more monopolised by one organisation. The Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which had convincingly saffronised the Indian polity until recently, is in jitters as the Indian National Congress has snatched three key states in the Hindi belt in an electoral coup d'état.
Rahul Gandhi, opposition leader and scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, is offroading for a change, exploring the adventurous Brahmanical route to power.
He is promoting himself as a new avatar of Hindutva. In the Gujarat elections of 2017 and the polls in Karnataka and the Hindi belt last year, Rahul was seen temple-hopping to convince India's 80 per cent of Hindu electorate that soft Hindutva is the Congress's new ideology.
Parts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were awash with campaign posters declaring Rahul to be a Shiv bhakt (a disciple). His Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage in September was part of the party's 2019 electoral strategy to position the youth icon on a Hindu pedestal as tall as the Sangh Parivar (Hindu nationalists). The strategy seems to be working, much to the chagrin of the right-wing.
While the Congress is in a hurry to shed its hard-secularist image, the BJP is day-dreaming about winning over Muslim women because of its strong stand on triple talaq. In the last state elections in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP had won 62 of 82 constituencies where Muslims comprise a third of the population. But there's nothing static in politics. The Indian electorate has never voted on the basis of ideology. Much depends on the emotional reaction of the hoi polloi to contemporary issues. So the jury is still out on the prospects of the key parties this electoral season.
Modi was not voted to power by the Hindu voters alone; a wide swathe of unemployed urban youths who expected some kind of magic from a seemingly honest politician had played a major role. But their hopes for better jobs were unfounded. According to a report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, almost 11 million lost their jobs in 2018 alone. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari is on record saying that unemployment is among the biggest problems facing the country. The data rules out development and employment as the chief electoral plank for the BJP, and now the party may have to fall back on religion to stop the erosion of votes.
The violence over the Kerala government's decision to implement a Supreme Court order letting women of all ages into Sabarimala was precipitated by the Sangh Parivar on second thoughts, after most of the leaders of the BJP and its parent body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) voiced their support for the ruling. Some even said the verdict is in tandem with the RSS's principled position.
Let's take a look at who said what about the Sabarimala verdict:
RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi: "Women must be admitted wherever men are admitted. This is the general stand adopted by the RSS. If one thinks that a custom is wrong, it should be abandoned. The RSS does not hold the opinion that a custom should be followed just because it has been practised for hundreds of years."
Geeta Gunde, head of Bharatiya Stree Shakti, a women's organisation affiliated with the Sangh Parivar: "We are not in favour of restricting women's movements at any place. Women should be free to go anywhere they want."
P. Parameswaran, director of the RSS think-tank Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram:
"If women are demanding that they should be permitted to visit the temple, there is no reason why it should not be allowed. Reforms happen in society only when those who need it the most take it up. Only when women take up the issue on a mass basis will it be heard by the powers that be."
BJP Intellectual Cell convenor T.G. Mohandas: "The RSS has taken a view that all women should be allowed entry into Sabarimala."
Former BJP Kerala unit president Kummanam Rajasekharan: "There is no doubt, customs and rituals should change in accordance with time, but it should be after arriving at a consensus."
BJP Kerala secretary K. Surendran: "Isn't menstruation a biological process from which the mankind is born? Lord Ayyappa is a celibate, but that does not mean he is against women. Hinduism has always evolved with time. I think the Hindu leadership should acknowledge these sentiments and welcome these changes."
BJP Lok Sabha MP Udit Raj: "Why should women be banned from entering the Sabarimala temple? Both genders are equal before God. God does not reside in one particular place. He is omnipresent and women are everywhere. Then is it not impossible for God to stay away from them?"
Great minds! Noble thoughts! I felt ashamed of myself for misunderstanding a 'liberal' party as fundamentalist. But the political chameleons didn't take much time to change their colour. The BJP's national-level strategists, who saw a political opportunity in the Sabarimala issue, ordered a U-turn. What followed was an avalanche of denials and efforts to make Sabarimala the Ayodhya of the South. But they would soon realise the game is up. The brands of Hinduism in the north and the south are functionally different. The politics of violence the Sangh Parivar has unleashed in Kerala in the name of God will only sound the death knell for the Hindu party seeking a foothold in the state.
Rahul Gandhi's Congress, fearing an erosion of Hindu votes to the BJP, abetted the anarchy. Fishing in troubled waters is in the Congress DNA. The grand old party, which advocates gender equality at the national level, would soon realise it has stepped into a political quicksand by asking to bar women from Sabarimala.
As for Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the Marxist strongman has already sought bail stating that his government's only priority is to lead the state on a progressive path and not be afraid of losing a few seats or votes. Long live political rectitude.