Modi''s surrealistic dilemma : The Tribune India

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Modi''s surrealistic dilemma

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, having scored two own goals in recent weeks, has decided to take an assertive posture to overcome the crises they represent.

Modi''s surrealistic dilemma

Come election time, the Dalit suicide will haunt the BJP.



S Nihal Singh

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, having scored two own goals in recent weeks, has decided to take an assertive posture to overcome the crises they represent. One was a consequence of an unsuitable political appointment of a Governor - such appointments were the rule, rather than an exception in the Congress days. The problem in the case of Mr Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa in Arunachal Pradesh is that he has muddled ideology with governance and made himself and his leaders a laughing stock by citing cow slaughter as one of the reasons for recommending President's rule.

Second, the suicide of Rohith Yemula at the University in Hyderabad, which has snowballed into a national issue, has greatly damaged the BJP in the eyes of the electorally important Dalit community, with the next assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh probably facing its full force. There is little profit in decrying the politicisation of an issue crying to be exploited. Here was a Dalit boy penalised, together with four fellow Dalits, for an alleged scuffle with a fellow student belonging to the Sangh Parivar at the apparent instigation of a Union minister. Led by Mr Rahul Gandhi, a horde of politicians descended on the university to take pot shots at the BJP.

Mr Modi made a mistake in appointing the person he did in a sensitive border state. In the latter case as well, the confusion between the Sangh Parivar's predilections and the task of governing often come into conflict, as was revealed starkly by RSS ideologue Ram Madhav promoted to be a BJP functionary putting his foot in his mouth at a sensitive time in the Indo-Pakistan relationship.

Being the deft politician he is, Mr Modi sought to defuse the crisis by seeking to humanise it in empathising with a mother's loss of her son although there were others in the government stirring the witches' brew such as minister Smriti Irani and her fellow minister Sushma Swaraj, the latter even questioning Yemula's Dalit status.

Sensing that the Dalit suicide was blowing in the BJP's face, Mr Modi went on the offensive publicly to blame the Congress for sensationalising the issue. It is another matter whether the Congress vice-president did not do an over-kill. But this is one suicide that will come to haunt the BJP, come election time.

The problem with the BJP is a larger one. How does the governing party at the Centre, bred in the school of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), reconcile its task of governance with deeply-held beliefs in what India is, was and should be? The problem started with Mr Modi and his early comments, even after assuming office in New Delhi, on the miracles of ancient India with planes flying around, plastic surgeons at the ready and head transplants on the go. But he realised soon enough that however fervently he believed in this extraordinary genius of ancient India, much of the Indian elite and the outside world laughed at these formulations.

It is a different matter with Mr Modi's followers to switch off the absurdities they have imbibed as items of faith. So we have the Governor of a state enumerating the killing of a nilgai - part of a ritual traditional sacrifice - outside the Raj Bhawan as one of the reasons for recommending President's rule. And we have a general secretary of the BJP openly confessing his belief in the indivisibility of the subcontinent enshrined in the concept of Akhand Bharat.

In the case of anti-Dalit feelings, the Sangh Parivar's problem goes deeper. Despite the number of parliamentary and assembly tickets the BJP has given to Dalits in acknowledging their electoral power, the Parivar's leadership is predominantly upper caste, a fact accentuated by the more conservative mores practised in southern states. This is true in spite of the admonitions of the RSS chief, Mr Mohan Bhagwat, against the caste system. Indeed, it has been the endevour of a long line of Parivar leaders to wean their followers off deeply-ingrained caste prejudices, without producing significant change.

Mr Modi has not been able to replicate his adaptability to reconciling the demands of realpolitik in governing a vast diverse country to modernity among his followers. And since he himself was bred in the same school of fantasies, he has not been able to muster the courage to tell fellow members of the Parivar to change their mores and beliefs.

The larger problem is the ad hoc solution he has opted for. It is essentially to pile the instruments of modernity in such fields as computing and technology and Facebook and Twitter on the shaky surface of myths the Parivar believes in. How this extraordinary arrangement will work remains to be seen. Modernity has handsomely paid off in contesting elections because Mr Modi has changed how elections are fought in India today, as the recent Bihar assembly election showed, with the then Opposition using the Modi copybook to achieve a famous victory.

Mr Modi thus faces two kinds of problems. How can he change his followers' thinking without damaging the core set of beliefs that underpin the RSS and the army of followers who spring to life at election time? Second, how can the RSS leadership that forced the Prime Minister to appoint dummies in key ideological posts in human development and culture be seduced into adopting modern methods of thinking?

It is very much a work in progress because Mr Modi has not yet found the answer. It was all very well to shut out the Sangh in one state, Gujarat, to rule as he did without constraint although his last nail still fails to find its niche in the draconian public order Bill being returned by the President yet again. But India is a vast canvas, with the Opposition playing a vigorous role and the RSS unwilling to be bullied in its dream run of exploiting a lifetime opportunity to mould India after its desire.

How far Mr Modil succeeds in resolving this dilemma will determine the future.

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