It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as Rajasthan BJP legislator Suryakant Vyas found out recently. Had it not been for the late Gujjar-Meena crisis that swept Northwestern India, Vyas, a state legislator, would have been knee deep in trouble over an outstanding act of sycophancy: he and fellow BJP member Hemant Bohra printed a poster depicting Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje as Goddess Annapoorna accompanied by other “deities” such as AB Vajpayee, LK Advani and Rajnath Singh in their roles as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Sorry. To continue, Vyas and Bohra were only doing what apparently comes naturally to others in the state unit. Raje is already worshipped by at least one member of her cabinet and has a hymn, the Vasundhara Chaleesa, to her name.
But other people seem less inclined to join the cult.
Not only have other members of the BJP expressed dismay, including the wife of former Defense Minister Jaswant Singh (of “I know a mole in the PMO” fame) who says the poster “hurt her religious sentiments”, but it has also offended at least one Congress activist.
I think they’re just jealous. The Congress guy is probably kicking himself for not having thought of it first – imagine the brownie points he could have scored by putting Sonia Gandhi in similar fancy dress. As Supreme Leader or Big Honcho or Queen Bee or whatever it is they call her nowadays, she could even have had the whole poster to herself! As for Singh and his wife, they’re probably pissed that a leader of his “national stature”, as they call ‘em in political circles, got left out when relative unknowns like Pratap Singh Singhvi (who?) received a place in the re-imagined pantheon as Indra. Unfair!
But seriously speaking, apart from the issue of freedom of expression, there are two things to ponder upon here.
The first is the attitude of the media and the police. When Chandramohan, a poor art student in Vadodara, stood accused of “hurting religious sentiments” by a member of the BJP only a few short weeks ago, not only did the police lose no time in clapping him up in jail but the media didn’t lose any time in turning the events into a circus either.
Here, however, matters are exactly opposite. Not only is the police taking its own sweet time investigating matters, but the media barely reported the incident. One could say the mainstream press has had other matters on its mind – such as the Gujjar riots – but those channels run for 24 hours a day, mostly telling us which fascinating celebrity will now come on to put us to sleep on Koffee with Karan. Could they not find two minutes out of 1440 to defend the right of these men to print one bloody poster?
Not that Vyas and Bohra really need any “defending” given that the police are yet to even register a complaint. A striking difference when compared to Chandramohan who was beaten up and put in jail before he could so much as blink. And please, don’t tell me how the cases are so different because of the amount of clothing involved. The charge is exactly the same: “hurt religious sensibilities”, both leveled by people with links, direct or indirect, to the BJP. What was that line about equality in the Indian Constitution?
The second issue here, of course, is the confusion within the BJP.
[courtesy: Tribune India]
The BJP is often described as a party on the Right of the political debate. The religious right, the social right, the economic right. But are they really? When even people as committed to the party as Swapan Dasgupta begin to talk about the lack of clarity in the BJP’s ideology, it is time for someone to pay attention.
It seems to me that the BJP and those who follow its politics have spent more time and effort on defining themselves in “anti” terms than actually establishing what it is that they stand for. They’re anti-Left, anti-Congress, anti-pseudo-secularist (oh, how they love that word!), anti-this and anti-that. Sometimes different parts of the larger organization are pro and anti the same things, like liberalizing the economy for example.
Even the one issue that they’ve hugged close to their bosom these many years is confused: how Hindu is Hindutva after all?
India needs a Right of Centre political party. But the BJP needs to figure out whether it wants to be that party or just go along with the label, as it has for a while now.
[Originally published at Desicritics.org]