The life-and-death struggle against Coronavirus doesn’t appear to have dissuaded the BJP from pursuing its Hindutva agenda although there may have been a slowing down. For instance, the party is no longer actively propagating the virtues of the citizenship act or the National Register of Citizens or the National Population Register even if no one is lulled into believing that these measures have been shelved in deference to internal protests and international condemnation.
There has also been a toning down of the party’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. Led by Karnataka’s chief minister, B.S. Yediyurappa, who said that “not a word” should be said against the Muslims, the BJP president, J.P. Nadda, issued a similar directive. These sage words of advice came in the wake of the Tablighi Jamaat misconduct when a fundamentalist cleric and his followers violated the lockdown rules.
However, the sagacious counsel by the BJP leaders was ignored by its captive television channels which have continued with their anti-Muslim propaganda. And it must be the party’s respect for the freedom of the press which has prevented it from telling its camp-followers in the news channels to desist from expressing or at least moderating their venom.
It is noteworthy that the leeway given to these channels has not been replicated in the case of the editor of The Wire, an online news and opinion portal, who is facing arrest for what the hardline U.P. chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, deems an offence for writing about him. It has to be noted that the Wire, along with the NDTV, are among the few media outfits which are known to be less than deferential to the saffron camp.
The centre’s fiddling with Kashmir domicile laws has also been seen as an attempt to “do a Palestine” in the Union territory by changing its demographic profile. Taking a leaf from Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, the BJP has been toying with the idea of similar townships in Kashmir, either only for Hindus or of a “mixed” nature, according to Ram Madhav, the party’s general secretary who looks after the Union territory. He also said that the BJP has long been committed to the return of some of the 200,000/300,000 Hindu pandits who left the Muslim-dominated valley after the beginning of the separatist movement in 1989, abandoning their centuries-old habitat.
There have been occasional assurances, of course, from saffron spokespersons that Kashmir’s distinctive identity will be preserved just like that of the north-eastern states. But these states still have the “shield” of Article 371 for the protection of their unique cultural and demographic exclusivity while Kashmir no longer has this safeguard after the abrogation of Article 370 in accordance with the saffron brigade’s long-pending wish list.
There is little doubt that the BJP will like to aggressively resume the implementation of its Hindutva agenda once the menace from Coronavirus subsides. But much depends on whether the party will succeed in retaining its present high political standing at the end of the traumatic experience through which the country is passing. If the popular response to Narendra Modi’s exhortations for banging thalis (metal plates) and lighting diyas (earthen lamps) to show unity and commend the health workers is considered, the Prime Minister’s base of support remains intact.
It has to be remembered, however, that this show of solidarity was demonstrated mainly by the middle class which has stood by him from the time of the 2014 general election in the hope of better days (achhey din). But the outlook of the poorer sections, especially the migrant labourers, is yet to be assessed in the aftermath of the worst possible days that have befallen them because of the loss of livelihood and places of residence in view of the lockdown. The traditionally fickle middle class, too, may have a rethink if the economic conditions begin to hurt with the growth rate falling to 2.6 per cent as the State Bank of India has said.
In the midst of the present social and economic upheaval, the silence of the RSS, the BJP’s friend, philosopher and guide, is intriguing. Does it approve of the BJP’s carrot-and-stick policy towards Muslims – eschewing sharp attacks but altering Kashmir’s population ratio – or is the patriarchal outfit flummoxed by a menace which falls outside the parameters of its religion-based trajectory of India’s future as a nation?
It is possible that more than the economic impact of Coronavirus, the RSS is preoccupied with the social fallout. There have been reports that it is pleased with the forced coming together of families because of the lockdown, thereby reviving its cherished ideal of joint families rather than the present-day nuclear ones. But today’s joint families are different from those of the earlier days, as portrayed in films like Hum Aap Ke Hain Kaun, since no longer does the father rule like a patriarch whose word is law, nor does the sons and daughters-in-law lose their individuality. Society, therefore, continues to remain as unlike the model preferred by the RSS as before the Coronavirus outbreak.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own