Like Janus, the RSS and the BJP have two faces, one face has marks of the actions of the past on it. Some of these marks are too clear and deeply etched to allow a makeover, writes Ganesh N. Devy for South Asia Monitor
‘Sorry’.. just a common word exchanged between people who feel related. One hears it frequently in everyday life. It has been in use for the last thousand years. The Old German language inherited it as 'sore', meaning 'pain'. Later, in Old English, it became 'sarig', meaning 'pained or distressed'. It continued with a variant spelling ' sorry'. A word easy to say when it is necessary to say it. But even simple words prove difficult to say in some rare circumstances. Shakespeare's Macbeth, having just killed the king, confessed that, in response to the church bells ringing, he could not say 'amen’. The word that means “so be it”, was just stuck in his throat. That was in medieval times.
More recently, in 2007, during a television interview with the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the Chief Minister had to rush for a glass of water and bring the interview to an abrupt end when it came to this simple word.
The interviewer recalls the scene at the point the Chief Minister was asked: "Why cannot you say that you regret the killings that happened? Why can't you say maybe the government should have done more to protect Muslims?" The answer was: "What I have to say I have said at that time, and you can find my statements."
However, the statement was "action creates reaction". Then the interview was brought to an abrupt end.
The word 'sorry' has been a peculiar difficulty for this Chief Minister of Gujarat, who is now the Prime Minister of India. And the difficulty has increased with time. Recall the long lines of migrant workers walking home after the lockdown was announced without sufficient preparation? Many died on the way. Surely, someone was responsible for the miscalculated decision? But saying 'sorry' was scrupulously avoided.
Recall also the year-long agitation against three farm laws introduced without discussion in September 2020? A large number of farmers died during the peaceful protest. The word 'sorry' was once again stuck in the throats of those who should have expressed regrets. Mob-lynching, allegedly, was by fringe elements. False encounters - or staged killings of suspected criminals - were, allegedly, by patriots fighting foreign infiltrators. Imprisoning intellectuals was, ostensibly, to crack alleged conspiracies of disruption of law and order. However, anti-conversion laws in many BJP-ruled states were not passed by any fringe elements or non-state actors. Yet, for the atmosphere of fear and intimidation that was created no one wanted to say 'sorry'.
No one has said 'sorry' for messing up with the Covid-19 death figures. No one at all has said 'sorry' for the motivated use of stage agencies CBI, NCB, ED and police. No one ever said that they did not intend to scare and intimidate, no one said 'sorry, that was not intended'. When trolls roam unchecked on the nation’s digital highways, when vigilante mobs roam the physical highways and openly assault any difference of food or dress, they have never been told, sorry guys, “it's too late in the day to use coercion to sort out differences; we live in a civilised nation". When a 'neta' (political leader) makes an open appeal to shoot protesters, when a 'dharm-sansad' (Hindu religious gathering) gives a call for communal purging, when a Lok Sabha member describes violence using the ' karma' theory, the word 'sorry' is expunged from the public discourse.
Why change now?
Why is it then that the RSS and the BJP have all of a sudden found the word still exists in the dictionary? Mark the chronology, to use an often-heard phrase. First, the RSS supremo explains to his organization that India has a Constitution, that it requires treatment of all citizens on an equal footing, and that all citizens have the right to practice religions of their choice. Following this explanation, the government of India assures many Asian countries that India will not tolerate hatred towards any religion. Then the Karnataka Chief Minister assures the people of Karnataka that the misrepresentation of Basava and Ambedkar will be rectified and the school textbooks will be modified.
Recall also the chronology of the foreign affairs minister retorting to his American counterpart when the latter mentioned the increasing communal divide in India. Media devoted to the current dispensation has spent many hours of TV time explaining how today's India is a more confident nation.
Not more than a month ago, when Muslim vendors were being driven away from Hindu temple premises in Karnataka, the Chief Minister had justified the action by citing an obscure law. Just a couple of weeks ago, lists of mosques to be brought under the Hindutva scanner were in wide circulation in Uttar Pradesh. The word 'sorry' was in an acute short supply in those instances.
Janus and Ravana
In ancient Roman myth and religion, Janus is the god of beginnings, transitions and endings. He is depicted with two faces, one looking to the future and one to the past. Thus, the month of January, which looks at both the year gone by as well as the new year, is named after Janus. But why has the BJP decided to behave like Janus in the month of June? Is it the stern warning from the oil-producing countries to the government to prevent BJP leaders and politicians from using the language of hate? Or is it the clear signs of fatigue that Hindu voters have developed towards constant minority-baiting? Or is it the government's assessment of the Chinese threat, making a Quad alliance take precedence over the idea of Hindu 'rashtra'? Or, is it the fear that anarchic mobs let loose may bring India closer to a Sri Lanka-like situation? Or all of these together?
The punishment dealt to two of the BJP's leaders in Delhi, Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal, is a big surprise. It is confusing to the RSS and BJP's ranks. Yet, recall how Prime Minister Narendra Modi had done a 'pranam' to the Parliament House, and in the years of his tenure brought down the centrality of the parliament as a house for dialogue.
Many decades ago, I was watching a folk performance of the epic Ramayana. The actor who played Ravana had been done up with ten heads. The performance went on late into the night. There were many recesses. In one of the recesses, the actor playing Ravana took a break to eat. And as he did so, amused children discovered his real head! Ravana has ten faces, the Roman god Janus has two.
Like Janus, the RSS and the BJP have two faces, one face has marks of the actions of the past on it. Some of these marks are too clear and deeply etched to allow a makeover.
(The author is a literary critic and a cultural activist who is Chairman of the People's Linguistic Survey and leads the Dakshinayan movement of writers. Views are personal. By special arrangement with The Billion Press)