For a political party that is smart about its outreach and the art of keeping different constituencies happy, the BJP has managed, in recent times, to antagonise different sections. First, the government angered the farmers. Then came the Dalits. After that, millions of parents were furious because their children had to repeat an exam for no fault of their own. The small businessmen, already frustrated by demonetisation, got hit by GST (goods and services tax). As for the Muslims—they have been humiliated and almost bludgeoned into silence, and warned in many different ways that they count for nothing, neither as citizens nor as ‘vote banks.’
Still, in their wisdom, the BJP’s and the Sangh Parivar’s grandees may have thought all this wouldn’t make a difference; they had enough core supporters to win elections—the hardcore Hindutva types and the floating voter who had turned away from the Congress. If, for some reason, the party did not get the magic numbers, it would just sew up an arrangement by any means possible. Forming the government was all that mattered–governance was quite another thing.
But now, after the horrific rape of an eight-year-old in Jammu, allegedly by Hindutva elements (some in uniform!) and worse, the manner in which the aftermath has unfolded, anger has spread all over the country. Politics is not the issue here—this is about basic decency and values. Any normal person would be disgusted by this crime. It is shocking enough that an innocent child was brutalised and then killed, but the subsequent show of support for the accused, the statements denying or justifying the crime and the complete silence of the influential members of the party – the prime minister downwards – reveals deep-rooted cynicism. When someone from the BJP has spoken, it is only to indulge in crass whataboutery or to weave some bizarre fantasy about the foreign hand.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the BJP’s attitude is linked to the girl’s religion. There are those who, in their naivete, have claimed that while sections of the Sangh Parivar may be communal minded, the leadership, especially those in the government, are not. This should once and for all eliminate any such notion.
More frighteningly, it now appears that this heinous act was a particularly ugly form of social engineering – the conspirators wanted to drive away the nomadic Bakherwal Muslim community from a village in Jammu. The chargesheet is a horrific, mind-numbing document that no one with any heart can read without being sickened. Every parent would have gone to sleep thinking of their own child and wondering about her safety. India is anguished and hurting.
Politicians usually have an instrumentalist view of events, the BJP more so than most. It must have made some warped calculations of why coming out too strongly on this issue or reigning in those members of the party who were quick to make outrageous comments on the crime would be tactically a poor move. There may even be sections within the party who may have pointed out that condemning the rape would upset the Hindus of Jammu and elsewhere; why risk that and lose their vote?
The garrulous prime minister, who tweets incessantly, was at it on Thursday, tweeting birthday greetings to the Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and posting animation videos of himself doing Bhadrasana. The killing of a vulnerable eight-year-old girl did not strike him as comment worthy. (On Friday evening he said, “Our daughters will get justice.”)
His colleagues followed his lead and stayed mum, including Sushma Swaraj, who is always ready to help people get duplicate passports. The doughty Smriti Irani, ran away from the media. No doubt they stuck to the party line, but to the general public, it showed extreme callousness.
Is silence a political strategy that the BJP’s brain trust has worked out or are the top bosses just frozen into inaction as bad news comes from all over the place? In Karnataka, the party is floundering and its Delhi leaders – prone to gaffes galore – have had to deal with angry members in public. Dalit MPs are raising their voices. Allegations of financial malfeasance are being made against ministers. Scamsters take public money and run away abroad right under the noses of the authorities. And who would have thought even two years ago that Modi would face a black flag protest in Tamil Nadu? Not too long ago, a myth was created– of a strong, decisive leader who would transform the nation; the nation has been transformed—hate, bigotry and violence are commonplace with the implicit support and encouragement of the state.
Chances are that the party has no clue how to show empathy for the common citizen. It thinks in terms of voters and followers (blind followers, i.e. bhakts), not as humans with problems that need addressing. The idea of reaching out to the distressed – whether the tribal woman who walked 180 kilometres to reach Mumbai in scorching heat to ask for what is her right, or the Muslim family whose breadwinner was lynched on the suspicion of keeping beef in the fridge – simply doesn’t strike any of these crafty thinkers. Their minds are constantly working out either caste configurations in states or how to find the Rahul Gandhi angle in every issue. The high and mighty are on the way to one investor summit or the other seeking out photo-ops. The idea that someone could rush to the afflicted and comfort them – with an assurance of justice or even a hug – never strikes them.
But that too has its limitations. The Bakherwal tribe may not amount to much by way of a vote bank – and who needs Muslim votes anyway – but the rape and murder of a little girl has touched the hearts of Indians across class, community and religion. Not just the tweets and the marches, though they too count for a lot—this could be a trigger point that could make even those who talk about there not being any alternative to start looking elsewhere. If nothing else, the BJP should consider showing some humanity for political reasons. At this moment, simple morality and humanness could be the quality that people are looking for. Without them, all the smart, backroom strategies to win elections will amount to nothing.