Saffrons and utility of Nitish Kumar

Amulya Ganguli

Union minister Muktar Abbas Naqvi’s remark that not singing Vande Mataram is not an anti-national act seemingly marks a new and somewhat unexpected phase in saffron politics. This is the same Naqvi who advised those who want to eat beef to go to Pakistan and who denied in parliament that the lynching of Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan took place.
Given such predictable instincts of a devoted camp-follower, it is not easy to understand what has suddenly made him sound so reasonable? To compound the mystery of the dawning of sense in a section of the Sangh parivar, Chandan Mitra, a former BJP M.P., has said that the kanwariyas, the devotees of Lord Shiva, should not disturb peace as they make their generally boisterous journeys through public places.
A day before Naqvi made his observation, the BJP MLAs in Maharashtra wanted the state government to make the singing of the National Song mandatory in educational institutions in line with the Madras high court’s recent judgment.
The Union minister’s statement suggests, however, that a rethinking of sorts is on in the corridors of power about the BJP’s present aggressive stand on the issue of nationalism. If a change is indeed in the offing, it is a major one considering that it used to be routinely said by the party’s luminaries like Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis that those who do not say Bharat Mata ki Jai should be thrown out of the country.
More recently, two Union ministers were present at a function in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) where a proposal was mooted for the installation of a tank in the campus – probably a first in world history – for inducing a sense of patriotism among the students and perhaps some of the teachers as well.
There is a patent objective behind such statements, which is to portray those currently in power as true nationalists while the loyalties of the rest are suspect. This was the outlook which guided the government and the police through the period of student agitations in the JNU and Hyderabad central university, when several student union leaders were arrested on the charges of sedition, reminiscent of the colonial era.
Not surprisingly, a speaker at the JNU function said that while this particular university has been “captured”, the ones in Hyderabad and Jadavpur were yet to be brought to heel. Evidently, for the Hindutva aficionados, it is a war out there.
It is this atmosphere of jingoism, which is seen in some television news channels as well, which has persuaded groups of retired bureaucrats and army veterans to voice their concern about the categorization of the people into nationalists and traitors.
Naqvi’s remark, however, is not in sync with this line of thinking. It is not impossible that the change is a result not so much of an internal debate in the saffron brotherhood about how far the government can go in inculcating patriotism as of the compulsions posed by the BJP opening its doors to prominent outsiders. It is no secret that such entries dilute an organization’s ideological fervour.
It is obvious, however, that the BJP’s earlier acquisition of the Congress’s S.M. Krishna in Karnataka and Rita Bahuguna-Joshi in U.P., and a few MLAs in Gujarat and elsewhere, wouldn’t have induced any major change in its outlook and policies. Nitish Kumar, however, is different. He is a big catch for the BJP not only because his journey from the “secular” to the “communal” camp has thrown a spanner in the opposition’s works, but also because he is far more of an asset than, say, Ramvilas Paswan or Chandrababu Naidu.
The reason is his relatively clean image and administrative abilities. But what is more important for the BJP is that his presence as an ally will enable the party to reach out to the backward castes far more effectively than its own OBC leaders can do.
This ability is of great value at a time when the BJP is trying to widen its social base from the non-Yadavs, who the party wooed with considerable success in U.P., to Yadavs as well. However, to what extent the Yadavs will respond to any overtures that Nitish Kumar may make is open to question considering that he has just ditched their foremost leader in Bihar. But, for the BJP, it is worth a try.
Nitish Kumar is also an asset to the saffron lobby because his voice will carry weight, perhaps next only to the prime minister’s. By the same token, his criticism of the BJP, however muted, will be grist to the opposition’s mills.
The BJP will be careful, therefore, to ensure that the antics of the Hindutva fringe do not upset the delicately-balanced apple cart of the BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance, especially when a section of the Janata Dal (United), led by senior leader Sharad Yadav is unhappy with the party’s tie-up with the BJP. Naqvi’s remarks have to be seen in this context of the BJP’s latest manoeuvres. (IPA)

Wednesday, 9 August, 2017