#RightSideUp: 'Fancy Dress Secularism', Why No Criticism of PM Modi 'Has Stuck'

A weekly round-up of voices from the right.

New Delhi: Even as a large group of veterans wrote to the president to ask him to put an end to parties politicising the armed forces, the Election Commission slapped several leaders with a poll campaign ban of a varying number of hours. The leaders include Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, BSP supremo Mayawati, SP’s Azam Khan and BJP’s Maneka Gandhi.

Yet the repeated invocations of hate from the upper echelons of the BJP, such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Wardha speech where he said the Congress should be taught a lesson for popularising the term “Hindu terror”, and BJP president Amit Shah talking about Bangladeshi immigrants as “termites” and pushing out an NRC across India – the EC has yet to make a move.

The first phase of the polls were also marred with reports of malfunctioning EVMs and of the indelible ink washing away.

Here’s a peek into how the right perceived the week.

The politicisation of institutes

For R. Jagannathan, the editorial director of Swarajya, it is an absolute impossibility for any individual or institution to be “hermetically sealed” from politics.

In an opinion piece written in reaction to the 150 veterans writing to the president, Jagannathan points out the irony of the situation, explaining why the accusers in cases where people have decried the politicisation of various institutes themselves stand accused.

Even though some of the signatories to the petition later claimed that they were not party to the petition, the reality of the protest cannot be denied. The irony, however, needs pointing out. Did the army veterans themselves not politicise the forces by signing a politically-loaded petition on the eve of elections? Did some opposition politicians not make crass remarks on the armed forces or doubt the veracity of the surgical strikes?

On the allegation that the EC is allegedly favouring the BJP, he says:

The politicisation of the Election Commission is as old as the hills, and there is little doubt that past election commissioners had the blessings of the Congress, and the current ones are those the BJP is comfortable with.

Those attacking the EC, and saying “that some offices should not be politicised are doing precisely that with the Election Commission”, he opines.

On the “saintly need to keep religion out of politics”, he reminds his readers that:

In India, religion is often politics by another name.

Does it matter whether politicians use religion for winning votes or someone else does the same on their behalf? As for caste, are appeals to caste allegiance not visible in demands for reservations and other forms of political largesse?

Underlining how it is futile to expect politicians to “not seek votes in the name of religion, caste, class or some other issue”, Jagannathan’s parting message is along the lines of an old trope oft heard during the first few years of schooling:

For every finger that accuses someone or some institution of politicisation, three other fingers point in the direction of the accuser.

Also read: #RightSideUp: 2019, A ‘New Kurukshetra’; ‘Hypocrisy of the Indian Elite’

‘A fancy dress competition called secularism’

After a hiatus of a few weeks, Chitra Subramaniam’s latest column for Republic has tough words for India’s “fancy dress secularists”.

Subramaniam kicks off the column by reminiscing about how “fancy dress competitions were a high point in our lives as children” and how the “hit parade was brides and grooms of India”.

Using this context, she moves on to describe how politicians are “chasing wardrobes and wigs for votes”.

She takes the example of BJP’s Hema Malini and Urmila Matondkar, who recently joined the Congress. Malini, she admits, is “politically vacuous” and her “breathless photo-ops in Bollywood finery in Indian villages bear her nonsense out”. Matondkar, on the other hand, she says is a “Congress quick fix” who “heaped controversy on herself by calling Hinduism the world’s most violent religion in her dash to win”.

And here’s the lie. Secularism is not a fancy dress competition no more than it is an accent or food. When stalwarts of the Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) Chandrababu Naidu and Lalu Prasad Yadav wear a skull cap and a keffiyeh and when Mamata Banerjee bans certain rights of passage for Hindu festivals raising her hand in obeisance to Allah win votes they are not being secular – they are insulting Islam. When Mayawati who wants to be Prime Minister asks Muslims to vote for her, it is fanning fear dressed up as secularism.

She picks on Rahul Gandhi for choosing when to be secular and when to be a “janeo dhari Hindu”.

She gives more examples of “cut and paste secularism” from Priyanka Gandhi, to M.K. Stalin and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

A true person of faith does not need to put on an act for the cameras during an election. If you believe, you are. Period. Those who say there’s growing religious intolerance in India ignore that every ticket to contest a political office in India has been given based on a religious calculation.

How can three people sitting in gated communities in posh Delhi dictate what secularism and tolerance mean? How can quick-change artists that our politicians are tell us what we should think, do and aspire to?

Writing that she has been around long enough to know how violent Indian elections in the past have been, she says the 2019 election is passing without a violence – “a slap for people who say with remarkable stupidity that India is somehow newly and freshly violent from 2014”.

India is asking questions as it must and it will vote for answers. I am a patriot and I have faith in my country and my country including fancy dress secularists. The biggest danger to Indian democracy is not Narendra Modi. The biggest danger is the absence of a strong opposition that was never allowed to grow and prosper. Indians know why. I keep the faith.

Also read: #RightSideUp: ‘The Confidence, Courage and Conviction of Narendra Modi’

Why no criticism of PM Modi ‘has stuck’

In a rather elementary article for trying to break down why no criticism directed at the prime minister every sticks, S. Sudhir Kumar from the get go says that he will not tackle allegations of “intolerance, fascism, emergency and hatred because they’ve all been beaten to death.

Kumar breaks it down point-wise. On the allegation that “Modi is always in campaign mode”, he says:

More than the opposition, the English media has excessively focused on this allegation. So much that even speeches in Lok Sabha were termed as “campaign” speeches. The opposition and the media have never cared to tell us what they meant by “campaign mode”.

If by “campaign mode”, they mean that the Prime Minister of India is traveling across the country, is addressing meetings attended by citizens, is communicating with them on the various schemes his government has introduced, is exposing the flaws in opposition arguments and seeking feedback from the people – then I would rather he is in campaign mode than sitting in Delhi and sipping chai!

On the fact that the prime minister does not talk to the press, he says the critics who made the allegation probably then “don’t consider The Tribune, PTI, Network 18, Indian Express, India Today, Zee News, Times Now, CNN, Hindustan Times, Dainik Jagran, Nai Duniya, Hindusthan Samachar, UNI, ANI, ABP News, Republic, YourStory and Time magazine as media”.

This fixation of certain sections that only a press conference indicates interaction with the press is really amusing beyond a point. The Prime Minister has answered every single question put to him (some uncomfortable too). Guess how doesn’t face any tough question? Rahul Gandhi! And yet his coterie has the gumption to tell us that Modi doesn’t talk to the press!

On the accusation that Modi “is a one-man show”, he says:

If, as this particular criticism claims, Modi was really a one-man show, why would he let so many ministers and leaders flourish under him? Why is it that almost every minister gets unequivocal praise from all quarters?

On petrol and diesel prices, he says there’s no reason to complain, “barring a steep increase for a few days”. Not bothering to go into the economics of fuel prices, he says:

No media talks about how we pay similar amount as 2014 – the bottom line being that for a vast majority of the past 5 years, we paid either lesser or on par with the 2014 rates.

He moves on to criticism regarding GDP, which he said caused the English media to have a “huge meltdown”.

Today, we are the 6th largest economy (up from 10th) in the world; we are the fastest growing economy in the world; we have a decreasing rate of inflation and an increasing rate of GDP growth; we have added more than 3 crore new taxpayers and most importantly crores of people have been employed. If all this is indicative of a failing economy, then perhaps we must redefine the parameters of success!

The only criticism the write finds meaningful has come from “unexpected quarters”.

The supporters of Modi and the BJP have also been their most vocal critics on many matters, ranging from the budget to railways to media to politics. Their concerns were heard, and course corrections implemented. It is this kind of robust mechanism that needs to be encouraged. Not an echo chamber where pliant members fight with each other to be more loyal than the king (in this case, the Prince!).