Competitive communalism is India’s new gladiatorial sport

The Ramesh Bidhuri episode in Lok Sabha betrays the blurring lines between the parliamentary and unparliamentary, and the rot that has set in under the Narendra Modi regime

BJP MP from South Delhi Ramesh Bidhuri hurled abuses at fellow MP Danish Ali in the Lok Sabha, 21 Sept 2023 (Photo: Sansad TV)
BJP MP from South Delhi Ramesh Bidhuri hurled abuses at fellow MP Danish Ali in the Lok Sabha, 21 Sept 2023 (Photo: Sansad TV)

Jagdish Rattanani

The abusive and communal epithets hurled by Ramesh Bidhuri, the Bharatiya Janata Party MP from South Delhi, at Bahujan Samaj Party MP Kunwar Danish Ali represent a race to the bottom. The language that should be banned on the streets was spoken in Parliament from the treasury benches.

At this stage, when the BJP is sick with the disease of competitive communalism and attention-seeking, some of its ambitious members are desperate to grab the stage with displays one worse than the other.

The lack of strong and swift action against Bidhuri legitimises such vile abuse, and indeed sends the message that it is okay to contribute to a rising crescendo of communal hatred in the run-up to the 2024 elections.

The claim by another BJP MP that Bidhuri was provoked is just another example of how to add more fuel to the fire.

That Bidhuri’s unspeakable and violent words were in apparent defence of the prime minister should ideally, in normal circumstances, have been seen as an affront to the office.

There were other ways of responding to the charge that Prime Minister Modi grabbed attention and took credit for the moon mission instead of letting ISRO bask in the glory that was rightfully theirs. That the rebuttal took the form of abuse actually gave the accusation credence, did a disservice to the prime minister and the party and should have shocked the leadership.

Further, the fact that Bidhuri defiled Parliament with such ‘unparliamentary’ language in its inaugural session in the new building hijacked what is being touted as an important achievement by the BJP. The prime minister himself has called the new edifice “not just a new building but the symbol of a new beginning”.

Bidhuri gave that “new beginning” a very ominous meaning.

He also succeeded in diverting attention from Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, the women’s reservations bill, which the Prime Minister referred to as “a historic legislation which will further boost women’s empowerment”.

If nothing else, this should have called for stern action. That such action was not forthcoming as of Sunday night beyond the issuance of a show-cause notice raises many questions.

Prime among them is the nature and character of the new BJP as it prepares to fight for 2024, overtly confident that it will be voted back to power but not exactly unconcerned about the ‘surprise’ that Rahul Gandhi says awaits it.

The coming together of the Opposition (despite being derided by some as a patchwork solution rather than a unified presence) has undoubtedly worried the BJP. There is also a strong anti-incumbency undercurrent at play, aided by the vigour with which the Opposition is taking its story to the people and responding on social media.

And there’s plenty of grist to the mill—the communalism of the BJP, the pet industrialists’ (and one “friendly monopolist”, to quote Rahul Gandhi) being consistently favoured by the leadership, the pro-rich and anti-people approaches that have run the gamut from demonetisation to soaring fuel and gas cylinder prices to tomatoes that recently sold for Rs.100 a kilo.

Under these circumstances and given reports that the INDIA bloc appears to be picking up steam, the easiest approach would be to fall back on the staple of communalism.

If communalism is the sure-shot winner that many in the BJP tend to think it is, then the nation must brace for a rather horrible campaign as individual candidates race ahead of the sanctioned narrative, and land up in spaces like the one Bidhuri occupied in Parliament.

The nature of the rogue speech, the silence of the BJP leadership, the obvious pain expressed by Danish Ali who said he couldn’t sleep the night the remarks were made follows the exact cycle of abuse and violence being played out on the streets.

The question raging among the oppressed outside Parliament has now reached Parliament, with a member of the Lok Sabha asking: “Where do we go for justice?” As Shakespeare put it, ‘O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!’

At the root of this fall is the BJP’s belief that assertion is aggression, that offence is the best form of defence, that violence must be met with double the violence, that the ‘other’ must be put down mercilessly, that the grammar of leadership is masculine in form, shape and action.

This is the old language of power and control, a spent force in the world of today. It projects the nation as a harsh and desolate landscape of bitterness. It represents the poverty of a Bharat conceived without ideas of grace, love and togetherness. In the absence of these, India cannot thrive as a nation, however advanced our infrastructure, our businesses or other tools of modernity.

Some of these beleaguered ideas will come up during the election campaign to challenge the BJP. Love is a language that the Congress has spoken often in recent times. There is no doubt that the BJP campaign will be even more slick, well-oiled, smoothly timed and lavishly funded than before.

Tasters of the campaign have been emerging on social media over the last month or so. A carpet bombing of messaging is to be expected. Sections of the media will continue to be in the BJP’s pocket.

The Opposition will be no match when it comes to money or media power. Yet, there are no guarantees. As a savvy former prime minister once said: “In India, you can lose an election for want of money, but you can never win an election just because you have money!”

While we await the formal blowing of the campaign bugles, there is a simple way to ease the situation created in Parliament. The BJP leadership can apologise, as one; its senior leaders including the prime minister can meet with Danish Ali and assure him and the nation that this will not happen again; the party can befittingly punish the offender, ameliorate the ugliness and choose to take the high ground.

Just how many from those among the BJP ranks and those ranged against the party think that such a path is possible, desirable, even profitable?

And thereby hangs the tale of a nation that can break all barriers to reach the moon while it builds new barriers in the hearts and minds of its own people.

(Jagdish Rattanani is a journalist and faculty member at SPJIMR, Mumbai. Courtesy: The Billion Press)

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