If you walk across a room filled with dust, you will need to sneeze after a while. Maybe a step, maybe a few strides – and then, aachoo! It’s inconvenient, but you know why it’s happening - damage control. Your body is no home for dust, after all.
BJP, however, has been walking through a dust storm and on a tight rope far too long without sneezing. The allegations of intolerance, Award Wapsi, the Dadri lynching, the beef bans – all that was the dust. And now, the sneeze is here. It seems, the party is finally feeling the heat.
Hundreds of intellectuals including historians, filmmakers, authors and scientists have returned their state-affiliated awards as a sign of protest against the Dadri-lynching and MM Kalburgi’s murder. Nayantara Sahgal, who initiated the Award Wapsi trend, also considered the murder of progressive intellectuals such as Narendra Dabholkar, and Govind Pansare as reasons behind her action. Additionally, beef as a contentious issue, whether it includes the row at Kerala house, the beef ban in Maharashtra, or the police cracking down on various ‘beef-fests’ and ‘beef consumption meets’, further fuels this atmosphere.
Oddly enough, the PM has pursed his lips regarding this issue, and his underlings continue to make statements that are certainly not helping the cause. An even bigger blow to PM Modi was a report by Moody’s Analytics, expressing ‘concern’ that India risks losing domestic and international credibility due to ‘belligerent provocation of various Indian minorities’. Although the PMO dismissed the report as ‘opinion’ and not ‘fact’, the firm stands by its conclusion. Adding all these factors together, it seems that the party’s leaders have finally decided to initiate a role reversal – a series of damage control measures.
On Tuesday, the Modi government surprised quite a few. They told the Supreme Court that BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s book titled Terrorism in India: A Strategy of Deterrence for India's National Security promotes ‘enmity between Hindus and Muslims’ by violating IPC Section 153 A. This response was a part of an affidavit filed by the Government in response to Swamy’s petition against the IPC section. In effect, the government was cracking down on Swamy for hate speech against a minority group.
The next day, Arun Jaitley too partook in this damage control, making a statement that he is “willing to speak to any of their [Congress’s] leaders”, including Rahul Gandhi, to fast track the passing of the goods and services tax (GST), that remains stuck in limbo. He, along with Maneka Gandhi and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, furthered this crisis management drive by proclaiming recent incidents of intolerance as being “aberrations” to an otherwise ‘peaceful’ fabric of democracy and politics. The BJP leader told Times News Network, “There is an atmosphere of harmony. This country has never been intolerant and will never be”.
Earlier, Jaitley had called these protests against intolerance as ‘manufactured’ by anti-Modi and anti-BJP sections that want the Congress (under which they received patronage) back into power through any means possible.
Further, in an interview with Karan Thapar during the show ‘To the point’ on India Today TV, cabinet Minister Prakash Javadekar explicitly joined the bandwagon. He accepted that what BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya had spoken against Shahrukh Khan was ‘unacceptable’. Vijayavargiya had called Khan a ‘Pakistan sympathiser’ amongst other things after the latter spoke against rising intolerance in India.
However, there is an absolute sense of tightrope walking even in this case. At the same time the above-mentioned damage control took place, Meenakshi Lekhi spoke in favour of remarks against Shah Rukh Khan. Prime Minister Modi had, on 2nd November, attacked Congress for fighting against intolerance when the latter itself had abetted the murder of 3,000 Sikhs during the 1984 Sikh riots, all while refraining from commenting regarding the current climate of intolerance. In the abovementioned interview, Javadekar could not justify Jaitley’s remark that called all intellectuals returning awards “rabid anti-BJP elements”. Certainly, the damage control doesn’t seem to be helping much. After all, there’s not much a vacuum cleaner can do during a dust storm. PM Modi will have to speak.