Now the BJP may begin to have second thoughts about aggressive pro-Hindu tactics. Even if it has won over large sections of the communal-minded Hindus at home, it will be wary of an Arab boycott of Indian products abroad, writes Amulya Ganguli for South Asia Monitor
For the first time since 1985 when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) cleverly mixed up religion and politics on the Babri Masjid issue to enable the BJP to reap electoral rewards, India's Hindu nationalist ruling party is in trouble over the egregious remarks of two of its spokespersons on Prophet Mohammed.
Until now, the BJP was in the habit of summarily brushing aside any foreign criticism of its domestic policies by describing such censure as ill-informed, as it did when US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken blamed India for attacks on Islamic places of worship.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar even ticked off critics by arguing that the views of Indians only reflected “who we are” and, therefore, there was no need to apologize for any hurt sentiments abroad.
But the BJP could not react in the same casual manner when the Gulf countries took umbrage over the offensive comments of the party’s spokespersons. It is not only the uneasiness over antagonizing the Islamic world which made the BJP suspend one of them and expel the other; it also had to take into account the fact that thousands of Indians work at various social and economic levels in the Muslim world and that India was heavily dependent on Islamic countries for its energy security and trade.
The BJP also had to clarify that it had respect for all religions in order to explain why it acted against the two offenders. At the same time, the party was aware that its action might be seen at home as
"appeasement" of the Muslim minority, a charge that the BJP has long levelled against the Congress. Now, the BJP is being pilloried by the party’s maverick leader, Subramanian Swamy, who has said that while the BJP has kowtowed before the Chinese, the Russians and the Americans, it is now bowing before a small country like Qatar, which demanded an apology for India for the anti-Prophet remarks.
However, there has been some respite for the BJP with several of its ever-faithful TV channels coming to its rescue by saying that the Islamic countries which are now criticizing India are not “paragons of virtue” when it comes to religious freedom at home. But since two wrongs do not make a right, the BJP is aware that it will have to tread carefully by ensuring that the saffron hotheads do not run amok yet again – at least in the near future.
Restraint for now?
That the party is acting with caution is evident from the fact that no bulldozers have been called in to demolish the properties of the rioters who had taken to the streets in Kanpur in the aftermath of the comments of the spokespersons. The show of restraint is obviously due to the realization that targeting Muslim homes and properties at present will further inflame public and official opinion in the Arab countries.
Even then, the BJP could not but have realized that the genii of toxic communalism is out of the bottle. The party had deliberately let it out in order to, first, serve its electoral purpose by demonizing the Muslims; and, secondly, because a vitriolic anti-Muslim philosophy is the cornerstone of the Sangh Parivar - the Hindu rightwing - led by the RSS and comprising the BJP and the VHP among other rabid outfits.
As a result of this vicious outlook, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s accommodative sabka saath-sabka vikas (government for all, development for all) mantra generally falls on deaf ears among the saffronites. As much is again clear from the caustic comparison drawn by the BJP MP Tejasvi Surya between the Holocaust and the Muslim invasion of India at a time when the Narendra Modi government is trying all it can to soothe frayed tempers in the Gulf countries.
As of now, the BJP had apparently presumed an easy continuance of the targeting of mosques to look for broken temples underneath (against which the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has cautioned), the harassment of Muslim girls for wearing the hijab, the campaign against the use of loudspeakers for reciting the azaan, the disallowing of Muslim traders to open shops in Hindu religious fairs, the proposed ban on halal meat, etc.
All these provocative acts were par for the course in keeping with the BJP’s anti-Muslim worldview and its steady push towards a Hindu rashtra (nation) by marginalizing the left-liberal intellectual elite. The sponsoring of anti-Muslim films by the party’s pet directors and actors was a part of this journey towards the promised land of, by and for Hindus.
But now the BJP may begin to have second thoughts about such aggressive pro-Hindu tactics. Even if the party has won over large sections of the communal-minded Hindus at home, it will be wary of an Arab boycott of Indian products abroad.
Moreover, the resentment among the saffron hawks over India’s efforts to keep the Muslim world in good humour cannot but put a spanner in the works of the BJP’s longstanding Islamophobia. It is yet to be deciphered if this switching of tracks will derail the party’s run-up to the 2024 general election.
(The author is a current affairs commentator. Views are personal)