October 06, 2015

India: Vajpayee, Modi and a shared DNA | Jawed Naqvi

Published in Dawn, October 6th , 2015

Vajpayee, Modi and a shared DNA
Jawed Naqvi

IT is, of course, a fallacy that there is a hierarchy of agreeable and less agreeable Hindutva ideologues. As such, it could be a Brahminical myth that Modi of a lower caste is by some yardstick worse than Vajpayee in his communalism. Modi is coarse. Vajpayee was urbane. Little else sets them apart. While Mohammed Akhlaq’s recent lynching by a mob of cow worshippers has set off finger-pointing at Modi, and rightly so, it was during Vajpayee’s rule that Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two small sons were roasted alive in their jeep by a Hindutva mob in Orissa.

Instinctively, within weeks, Vajpayee was headed for Lahore for a globally applauded meeting with Nawaz Sharif, quite aware that the sudden rush of diplomatic finesse was needed to repair his tarnished image abroad. He was already in the doghouse over the nuclear tests.

As for Dara Singh, the mob leader of Orissa in January 1999, he was only following the lead he got from his hero of the Nellie massacre of September 1983. The killing of children and women in Assam that year was the outcome of a ‘rivers of blood’ speech Vajpayee gave against Muslim residents, including those who had migrated illegally. The gruesome pictures from Assam had greatly embarrassed Indira Gandhi in front of Ziaul Haq for whom she had only contempt but who was in Delhi for a non-aligned summit.

In May 1996, though hopelessly short of majority, he announced a pan-India ban on cow slaughter as his key policy objective. How was that different from other Hindutva ideologues, including Modi? Vajpa­yee subsequently headed two terms as prime minister of a coalition government when his mission to save the Indian cow became inexpedient to pursue.
Neither grudging peace with a neighbour nor a state of perpetual confrontation can alter the Hindutva DNA Modi shares with Vajpayee.

It was during Vajpayee’s tenure that Modi felt encouraged to abuse an entire community, mocking them as children of “Mian Musharraf” while spreading canards about how they bred like rabbits. Modi stands accused by Ehsan Jaafri’s widow of playing a hand in the 2002 Gujarat pogroms. He was prompted by Vajpayee to observe the raj dharma but that was that. Within days Vajpayee was lecturing Muslims to behave themselves. The boot was on the other foot, and has since remained there.

If Modi has outdone Vajpayee in the practice of communal politics it is because he won the brute majority to pursue his agenda, thrice in Gujarat as chief minister and now as prime minister. On both occasions, Modi proved that communal carnage assured more votes than beating cross-border war drums. The high-yield Gujarat pogroms and Muzaffa­r­n­­agar infernos proved the point. Vajpayee never had Modi’s luck to secure a brute majority, and, despite the Kargil war with the televised body bags it produced, he barely scraped through in the polls for a last term.

Economists and assorted intellectuals supporting Modi’s dizzy rise as India’s hope for glory were jolted by the insane brutality of the lynch mob that bludgeoned Akhlaq to death on the outskirts of Delhi and dispatched his son to the ICU. It could derail the growth agenda, averred an acolyte from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh stable. It is likely that Modi too will do something dramatic √† la Vajpayee and make the Dadri incident recede from collective memories.

For starters, Nawaz Sharif is still around as he was (albeit briefly) in 1999. He has again said he is hopeful of a breakthrough in the resumption of dialogue with India despite the bad press he received for his UN speech. Who knows how Modi will respond. But that could be one way to go.

However, neither grudging peace with a neighbour nor a state of perpetual confrontation can alter the Hindutva DNA Modi shares with Vajpayee or with his more ingenious mentor Advani. The parochial hatreds they spawned have a history though its original purpose has changed. Yet, above all, the ideologues are only conduits and not the alchemists of the Hindutva poison. Hindutva has its origins in the failure of a major anti-colonial enterprise that rose and collapsed like soufflé over a century ago.

Cow and pig fat in English cartridges given to Indian soldiers, or mere rumour of it, had contributed to the 1857 Hindu-Muslim bonding that came close to overthrowing British rule in India. However, barely 25 years after the uprising was brutally put down the tables were turned. Cows and pigs were adapted to the new chessboard. Instead of Indians fighting colonialism, the new adversaries were Hindus fighting Muslims and vice versa.

Churchill summed up the state of play subsequently, not without a hint of glee: “Not for a hundred years have the relations between Hindus and Moslems been so poisoned as they have been since England was deemed to be losing its grip and was believed to be ready to quit if told to go.”

The earliest recorded riots pitting Hindus and Muslims against each other over cow protection occurred in Punjab in 1883. This was followed by large-scale violence from 1888 to 1893 in the United Provinces, Bihar, Bengal. Far away Rangoon was brought in the vortex. The role of pigs in communalism as a British-inspired strategy came later.

Hitched to the cow-protection campaign was the move to replace Urdu with Hindi. Shuddhi, or ghar wapasi in today’s lingo, was part of the separatist package assembled by Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayanand Saraswati in 1881. The Congress was born in 1885 and imbibed many of the core characteristics of Hindutva. The DNA is thus widely spread. It is not going to be shooed away by contrite editorials or any appeal to an individual’s good sense. To think of a badly needed bonding like 1857, on the other hand, would seem far-fetched.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.