BJP unable to wish away Nehru but its 'Islamophobia' causing international embarrassment

It remains to be seen if MEA describing BJP's national spokespersons as ' fringe elements' satisfies Arab and gulf states; or if their expulsion by the BJP repairs the damage done

BJP unable to wish away Nehru but its 'Islamophobia' causing international embarrassment
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Sujata Anandan

I do not know whether to be smug or sorry.

I am smug that after years of badmouthing India's first prime minister, the BJP should want to build an image of its leaders like that of Nehru and Indira Gandhi. I was tickled pink when Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, until recently a moderate leader but following in the footsteps of his Uttar Pradesh counterpart in the wake of his bulldozers, asked his party workers at a local meet to “build Modi's reputation in the image of Nehru's and Indira Gandhi's".

Now that is quite something. It is an admission that despite trashing Nehru and Indira Gandhi, BJP recognises that no one yet – and certainly not Narendra Modi – has the kind of statesman-like and international image as India's first and third prime ministers. They may trash the Nehru-Gandhis publicly but behind closed doors there seems to be a longing to be like them and they are clearly wannabes in this regard.

Though I do wonder if Chauhan was playing some mischief of his own here by longing for a Nehruvian image for Modi and putting his Party leader in a bind – Modi is more likely to find a place along with Adolf Hitler than with Pandit Nehru, Queen Elizabeth or Abraham Lincoln. Yet, given the kind of Nehru-bashing he himself has been doing, he cannot openly acknowledge or admit to the desire to be revered like Nehru around the world or pull up Chauhan for expressing that desire so loudly. Because, after all, Chauhan was merely wishing for a world-class image for Modi, wasn’t he? So if not an image like Nehru, then who? Hitler? Idi Amin? Nicolae Ceaçescu? Oh well...

Then there was the other incident where this government is simply unable to escape Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. In a recent statement External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was presumed to have said something profound in warning world leaders that the world did not consist of just Europe alone and Europe's interests could not be equated with the world's interests.

Now that was a straight lift from Pandit Nehru's address to the United Nations as long back as 1948. Jaishankar, who for some reason known only to himself, refrained from attributing that statement to Nehru, now is being accused of plagiarism and widely trolled on social media.

Jaishankar was a career diplomat before joining the Modi cabinet and, given that India's foreign policy continues to stand on the foundations laid by Pandit Nehru, it is impossible that he was not conversant with that statement by Nehru or had not come across that during the course of his career. So why did he not attribute the statement to Nehru – doing so would, after all, only have strengthened India's case, basing it in history and Europe's continuing self-serving interests a century after the first world war and a few years short of the second, given that both world wars were about Europe and no other continent.

Now my guess here is the same as with Chauhan. Jaishankar knew he was quoting Nehru almost verbatim but then there was no better measure than Nehru to quote from. But he dared not attribute the statement to Nehru for fear of annoying his boss and he would have a fair idea anyway that sooner or later some diplomats or journalists would pounce on that statement and expose his plagiarism – note, he has not denied the intellectual theft.

However, it is the sacking if two BJP spokespersons for their anti-Islamic statements that makes me feel sorry – not for the spokespersons for they well deserve it but for the consequences, as is now obvious, that India is now suffering because of BJP and VHP's Islamophobia.

Hindutva bigots were calling for the economic boycott of Muslims in India but now that has been turned on its head against the country. Turkey has returned our wheat, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stopped buying our products, Indonesia has stopped selling us palm oil, the cheapest and most frequently used oil by people in this country – the possibilities of a complete collapse of India's economy because of an international boycott are enormous.

For all their Islamophobia, some reigning political leaders in this country, it is whispered, are ferreting their money away not to Swiss Banks (which are now charging them huge interest), but to Dubai and banks in the UAE. Any freezing of those accounts would devastate their personal and institutional wealth. I suspect that is the reason why RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat actually issued a statement to stop the witch hunting of Muslims and the propensity to look for a Shivling under every mosque. It was not merely because the US Secretary of state had expressed concern about India’s minorities.

There has to be a breaking point for any extremism and the badmouthing of Prophet Mohammad by the BJP spokespersons seems to have been the last straw for these nations. There was a time, I remember, when Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray simply could not fathom why the Vajpayee government at the Centre was wooing and seeking cordial relations with the country's Muslims. At that time a minister in his cabinet had told me, a point that was reinforced later by a Congress leader of Indira Gandhi's vintage, that any government at the Centre has to be conscious of India's oil deficits. Any Muslim-bashing and the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, comprised mostly of Muslim majority nations, could freeze their exports to India thus crashing our economy.

Of course, India is also looking to Russian imports now but that does not quite solve our problem and there is much of our exports that Gulf nations could freeze up. Hence the highly hypocritical statement by the BJP that the party does not believe in badmouthing any religious figure and the resultant suspension of the spokespersons from primary membership of the party.

However, badmouthing is the BJP's first, middle and last name, as it were, (remember its youth leader Tejaswi Surya's statement on Arab women and orgasms?) and it is now beginning to feel the squeeze. Whether in handing a backdoor compliment to Nehru twice over or in backtracking on their Islamophobia, all their chickens are slowly coming home to roost.

( The writer is Consulting Editor, National Herald, Mumbai. Views are personal)

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    Published: 06 Jun 2022, 10:04 AM