Updated: March 7, 2020 11:42:01 am
I remember attending a meeting with a group of young social media enthusiasts in South Delhi a few months after the BJP won the general election. The meeting had been organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living. The invitees had been involved in the election campaign in one way or another. Most of them worked for the BJP without ideological inclination but more for the sake of Hindutva.
Other than the excitement at meeting Sri Sri, I had no agenda. Suddenly, one of Sri Sri’s disciples began an informal talk. The agenda was to discuss the ways and means to create a leadership pool in various spheres, including politics.
One of the invitees, who had come from Uttarakhand, sensed that this discussion would ultimately move towards the idea of forming a new political party. He immediately stood up and snubbed any such notion: “Why do you want to dent the Hindu consolidation, which has been happening after such a long time?”
What was articulated in this meeting is now being understood by political parties. A case in point is the U-turn in the attitude of the Aam Aadmi Party’s leadership — though this is just a façade. After the Delhi assembly election results, AAP leaders raised slogans of “Bharat mata ki jai” and “vande mataram” from the stage. Remember, the top leadership of AAP was an integral part of the “India against corruption” movement in 2012-13 in Delhi. The picture of Bharat Mata was removed from the dias at that time and the same leadership refrained from chanting “Bharat mata ki jai” and “vande mataram”.
The new avatar of the AAP has its top leader Arvind Kejriwal reciting the Hanuman Chalisa and going to the Hanuman mandir. One of its national spokespersons and a newly elected MLA has announced that there would be reciting of the Ramayana’s Sunderkand in temples every Tuesday in his constituency. The same MLA, without knowing the reality of Ayodhya, demanded a grand hanuman statue to be built along with the Ramjanmabhoomi temple. In Ayodhya, historically, there cannot be a temple higher then Hanuman Garhi. These tricks are clearly part of a strategy to capture a section of Hindu votes. The same AAP government is giving salaries to the maulvis of mosques. Isn’t it strange that no political party ever thought of giving salaries to priests and clergy of other religions?
This phenomenon will likely be repeated in other states going to the polls in the coming days. Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and the RJD in Bihar are next in line.
It will be interesting to see how Banerjee co-opts Hindutva symbols. Till now, she has been at the forefront of Muslim appeasement. She has gone several extra miles to keep Muslims, especially the radical elements, happy by taking steps such as banning the immersion of Durga idols on Muharram, paying salaries to Muslim clergy, allocating funds for construction of prayer halls in Muslim-majority schools. She has done everything over the last few years to appease Muslims, who are around 30 per cent of the population in West Bengal and generally tend to vote on religious lines.
Banerjee believes her Muslim supporters are “dairy cows” and she has gone on record to say she will not punish a cow which provides her milk (gains). Since Muslim appeasement now might have an adverse effect, 50 Muslims have recently have written a letter to Banerjee asking her to punish Muslim criminals found involved in two incidents in West Bengal. These people are surely aware of Banerjee’s previous resolution to provide monthly stipends of Rs 2,500 to about 30,000 imams. She had also promised land to build houses to imams.
Not once has the West Bengal CM made similar promises to the priests or clergy of other communities. When, despite being a Hindu, Banerjee was praying like a Muslim, no open-minded progressive Muslims tried to stop her. Even her support for the controversial imam of the Tipu Sultan Masjid in Tollygunge, Kolkata, Nurur Rehman Barkati, who has lamentably emerged over the years as the chief political adviser and guru of Mamata Banerjee, was blessed by TMC to the extent that he held a press conference to announce a booty for chopping off the beard and blackening the face of Prime Minster Narendra Modi. And he was being accompanied by a sitting TMC MP during the press conference.
Another important character is Firhad aka Bobby Hakim, mayor of Kolkotta, known for his infamous remark, describing his constituency as “mini Pakistan” in an interview to Dawn. He recently visited a temple offering puja! He reportedly even offered the sacred rudrabhishek at the local temple.
In the long run, these promises have done more harm than good to Muslims. Now, after the results of the last general election and the Delhi election, their might be a shift in her stance. She has already started signalling and following the path of Delhi’s AAP.
Given the population of Muslims in West Bengal, it will be interesting to see how she balances both sides. But then, politics is the art of managing the impossible.
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 7, 2020 under the title ‘More right turns ahead’. The writer is a member of the state executive of the Delhi RSS.
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