Thursday, August 03, 2017

Why Beef Politics Is Far More Dangerous Than The Historic Wrongs Of Ayodhya?

A court recently framed criminal conspiracy charges against BJP leaders L K Advani, M M Joshi, Uma Bharti and nine others in the 1992 Babri masjid demolition case. It's been fifteen years and the CBI has blown hot and cold on the case over the years. 

What a difference a decade or two makes. Once these leaders were described as hardliners and firebrands. Now in the age of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, they have been turned by Modi-Shah skeptics into the conscience of the party.
They are the party elders who can speak truth to power. They are the the Bhishmas of the party suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at the hands of the younger Turks. The ironclad monopoly over power enjoyed by Modi has made many almost nostalgic for the old days when Atal Behari Vajpayee's yin balanced Advani's yang or vice versa.

Though Advani is often considered Modi's mentor, the one who supposedly helped save his job in 2002 when Vajpayee had apparently said "Modi has to go," now his blogs and loaded statements rankle Modi on occasion. But he can inflict little damage. The criminal conspiracy charges, so many years after 2002, are against toothless tigers. Narendra Modi has not reacted to the charges and he does not need to. The grumpy old men of the BJP are of little use to him. He can pay lip service to them but he does not need their approval.

The new generation has taken over. The India where Advani was regarded as too hardline to be PM has shifted. Now a Yogi Adityanath is the CM in Uttar Pradesh. And as if to assert that change, Adityanath promptly went and offered prayers at the makeshift Ram temple in Ayodhya the day after the conspiracy charges were framed. Adityanath also attended the birthday celebrations of Nritya Gopal Das, the chairman of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, who is one of the 12 against whom the conspiracy charges were filed. As CM, Adityanath feels no need to stay away from being at least publicly visible with someone being probed in a criminal conspiracy.

It sends a powerful signal that courts can do whatever they want to do as they plough through the backlog of cases languishing in the judicial system but the ground has shifted. The court is dealing with past. Adityanath is reshaping the future.

In a column about Modi's India, Swapan Dasgupta writes that a senior BJP leader had told him that Modi had not come to manage India, he had come to change it. Some who backed him thought that the transformation would be economic. He would make the trains run on time, empower efficient bureaucrats and administer a dose of tough love to a fractious democracy and also show the door to a smug entitled liberal elite. But it did not quite work according to that blueprint. With the GDP down and Gau Desh Prem index up, we are truly in a Modi-fied India.

The Ayodhya temple feels less important now in some ways because the horizon has expanded. What is one temple in one hot and dusty town when a government can do something far more ambitious? For example, it can, in the name of animal cruelty, make cattle slaughter so onerous that it becomes too difficult and indeed too dangerous. From the kar sevaks we have moved to gau sevaks. While the kar sevaks made Ayodhya their karma bhoomi, the gau sevaks have no such geographical restriction. And now a Rajasthan High Court judge, not any attention-hungry firebrand from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, suggests the cow be made a national animal and cow slaughter be punished by a life sentence.

If we had grown up being taught that our diversity was our strength and that there was unity in diversity now we are being taught that the diversity is the reason India is not a superpower. The new India project, perhaps the transformation that the senior BJP leader was talking about, sees strength in majoritarian homogeneity. Minorities exist in that homogeneous India but they are served notice that they are under scrutiny for "anti-national" tendencies. And that does not need them to raise secession slogans. Anti-nationalism can be served up on a plate these days.

As Mamata Banerjee colourfully says "What I eat and what I wear is my personal choice. But I have no authority to stick a Lucoplaster on the mouths of others." But that authority is being wrested by vigilantes of all kinds armed with weapons far more lethal than "lucoplaster".

This is now a country where fake rumours circulate on Whatsapp and keep communal tensions bubbling, where incendiary stories with photoshopped pictures carry more weight than the newspaper front page. "I cannot, from my lifetime, recall a period when Muslims were suspected en masse of being unpatriotic and required to explain themselves. The sins of the few have been visited on us all," writes Naseeruddin Shan. He says while once Hindus and Muslims in states like Bengal, Maharashtra and Kerala were often "indistinguishable" from each other, now there is a visible increase in both saffron scarves and tilaks and hijabs and topis.

Rules like the new ones about animal slaughter will feed right into that communal divide even if that was not the intent. That's why on one side we have vigilantes raiding trucks, hotel kitchens and ransacking someone else's refrigerator. On the other side we have beef festivals and public killing of animals. This was not always the case. Vimal Sumbly remembers how little beef was consumed in Kashmir. Sumbly writes that "not many Kashmiri Muslims eat beef and not many Kashmiri Hindus eat pork, as it was never a part of their culture."

That culture is being deliberately changed.

One can only say cry my beloved country.

Or these days one might say, cry, my beloved peacock instead.

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