The government of India is currently celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Clearly, this is a project aimed at affirming the allegiance of the ruling dispensation to the father of the nation and what he stood for.
Yet, the Bhartiya Janata Party has an elected representative in the Lok Sabha who unabashedly lauds Gandhi’s assassin as a patriot, not just outside the house but now inside as well.
To recall, the person in question continues to be accused of terrorism in the Malegaon bomb blast case of 2008 under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Despite the collective outrage of the opposition, and indeed of patriotic Indians across the board who identify the struggle for independence from British rule with Gandhi’s leadership and Gandhian values, the BJP remains reluctant to take forthright action against Thakur.
It is remarkable that provenly patriotic political leaders in Kashmir have been put away, lest they may express views that embarrass the government, while a BJP member seems to remain at liberty, repeatedly, to hold Gandhi’s murderer up as a patriot. A fine gloss indeed on the current government’s take on freedom of speech, which clearly seems a right, however “fundamental,” to be granted selectively.
Is it not a travesty of grave proportions that a Farooq Abdullah or Omar Abdullah who have stood by the accession of the erstwhile state to India through thick and thin, and often at real and present physical danger to their lives, should come to be regarded as greater destabilisers of the realm than a Pragya Thakur who thinks nothing of eulogising the murderer of the father of the nation.
The fact of the matter is that, like Donald Trump in America, the right-wing in India has an appeasement compulsion. Just as Trump pays tactical obeisance to the framers of the US constitution and to its egalitarian values that forbid discrimination on the basis of race but then goes on to shore up his core conservative racist base with not-so-inaudible dog-whistles, Hindutva forces at home require lip-service to Gandhi while simultaneously also shoring up a not-so-silent regard for Gandhi’s murderer.
This ugly conundrum prevents the current rulers from demonstrably rejecting any of its clan who choose to make bold and overt their dislike of the Gandhian project of inter-communal harmony and inclusive nationhood. The only option it has is to protest insincerely against those averments and take token measures of disapproval.
Rightist media spokespersons can now be heard acknowledging with pride that Pragya Singh was given a ticket to enter parliament in order to give electoral legitimacy to someone who has been accused of being a terrorist agent of the Hindutva right-wing. Having won her seat by a whopping margin, both the nation at large and the law-enforcement agencies are meant to understand that no Hindu can ever be a terrorist. Such an accomplishment then encourages us to view Godse in a light different from the one in which he has been viewed so far. Praise for Godse as a patriot is thus a well-thought-out project to mainstream acts of heinous violence by Hindutva protagonists as acts committed on behalf of the authentic nation that the secularists refused to respect.
Any stringent action against her – like expulsion from the party – then entails the risk of contravening that desired reading of Hindutva violence – a thought anathema to the project of stereotyping only Muslims as perpetrators of terrorism.
In passing, the Hindutva project of mainstreaming Godse invites us to de-hyphenate the greatness of his “nationalist” (read anti-Muslim) thought from his unfortunate act of homicide. Curiously, this sort of tolerant courtesy is not to be extended to individuals on the Left or of other religions who might also genuinely think their thoughts for the nation to be for its greater glory and commit murder. In their case, the thought and the action are to be seen as intrinsically intertwined. Not so in the case of the “nationalist” Godse.
Although one consistent and successful ploy of the right-wing has been to label the Indian National Congress and broad sections of the progressive political formations in India as ‘Muslim-appeasers’, the fact is that the clout of the Hindutva forces lies in its appeasement of a sectarian Hindu vote bank that not only holds all Muslims responsible for Partition but refuses the claim of the millions who chose to stick to their Indianness, since their chief place of religious pilgrimage lies outside the boundaries of the country.
Regarding as they do India to be a Hindu nation, the Hindutva ideologues hold that a charge of appeasement of Hindus cannot hold water since they are the nation itself, whereas Muslims threaten that construction of nationhood and deserve to be subjugated as “alien” Muslim rulers allegedly subjugated “Hindu” India for centuries on end.
Pragya Singh is thus of fundamental symbolic value to the Hindutva right-wing, and proceeding against her with conviction – as allegiance to constitutional values may so dictate – would knock the ideological basis of its politics out of gear.
Likewise, allowing a Muslim leadership in Kashmir to voice their views and concerns, as the constitution grants them the right to do, would lead to the same consequence – namely, of weakening the base-level legitimacy of the Hindutva right-wing.
This selective mindset can be seen working every day in every sphere: only those who are outside the Hindutva camp are ever corrupt, never those inside. And if the corrupt make bold to join with the Hindutva camp, they instantly cease to be corrupt or liable to governmental action through agencies that now know how this paradigm is supposed to work.
Badri Raina has taught at Delhi University.