There is an old African adage: “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” Although not an enemy by far, the saffron brigade of the BJP has constantly been denting the development oriented image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has brought much embarrassment to the party in the recent past.
Right from the Ramzadon and Haramzadon comment by Union Minister ‘Sadhvi’ Niranjan Jyoti to MP Sakshi Maharaj asking Hindu women to produce more babies, the tirade of loose comments by self-appointed Hindutva spokespersons, seems endless. Then there is the Dharam Jagran Manch, an off-shoot of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS ), which has been aggressively implementing its agenda of Ghar Wapsi while the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has already declared India to be a Hindu state. There has been no respite for Modi as far as dealing with these Hindutva enthusiasts within the party is concerned.
During the run up to the 2014 General Election, the BJP had sought to drastically change its long held hardline Hindutva position by building up on the ‘development’ agenda. The strategy was a great success and an unprecedented majority brought them to power. However, the impression that the development agenda would clamp down hardliners within the party, appears to be misplaced.
Modi’s Independence Day speech last year attempted to include the secular line. It read,“For one reason or the other, we have had communal tensions for ages. How long will these evils continue ? Whom does it benefit? We have had enough of fights, many have been killed. Let us resolve this for once in our hearts; let us put a moratorium on all such activities for ten years, we shall march ahead to a society which will be free from all such tensions.”
However, such attempts at an image makeover have been thwarted by several instances of outrageous assertions. The first one to hit the headline was the RSS full-timer, former chief minister and the present home minister of Madhya Pradesh, Babu Lal Gaur. In June 2014 Gaur gave a highly irresponsible comment on rape by saying that “Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong”. The party immediately went into damage control by saying that it disagrees with Gaur’s view.
Then came a statement from the RSS chief himself; Mohan Bhagwat stirred another controversy by saying that “If inhabitants of England are English, Germany are Germans and USA are Americans then why all inhabitants of Hindustan are not known as Hindus. Hindustan is a Hindu nation. Hindutva is the identity of our nation and it (Hinduism) can incorporate others in itself”. Opposition parties were quick to slam Bhagwat and Digvijaya Singh, senior Congress leader, even said that Bhagwat was a Hitler in the making. “I thought we had one Hitler in the making but it seems that now we have two! God save India,” Singh tweeted on Bhagwat’s remark. Soon to follow on Bhagwat’s line was another flag bearer of the Hindutva brigade; the BJP MP Yogi Adityanath. In an outrageous comment, he said: “For every Hindu girl married to a Muslim, convert 100 Muslims to Hinduism.” The party again stood shamefaced and tried its best to steer clear of Yogi’s statement.
But it was MP Niranjan Jyoti’s comments during an election rally last year that received the strongest reactions from the opposition and the Modi government itself. On 1 December 2014, she made quite a spectacle of the party when she said, “Aapko tay karna hai ki Dilli mein sarkar Ramzadon ki banegi ya haraamzadon ki. Yeh aapka faisla hai (you have to decide whether Delhi will get a government of those born of Ram or of those born illegitimately).” The statement became such an issue that it stalled the proceedings of both Houses of the Parliament during the winter session. It was for the first time that all of the opposition was seen united against the BJP, so much so that Modi had to issue a diktat to party leaders to restrain from giving vitriolic speeches.
While the party was still convalescing after the controversy, another bigger controversy was in making. On one hand where the BJP was busy appropriating Mahatma Gandhi as its own by launching the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”, Sakshi Maharaj, BJP MP from Unnao and self-styled godman hailed the assassin of Gandhi, Nathuram Godse, as a patriot. The remark was another blow to the party. The proceedings of the winter session of the Parliament were stalled again. After being rebuked by party members, Maharaj apologised for his comments, but he could not lie low for long and within a month, came back with another shocking statement about how the ‘ever-rising’ Muslim population in the country should be countered by Hindu women by producing at least four or more babies. Needless to say, the statement proved to be disastrous and took the BJP many a step backward from their targeted ‘progressive’ stance. The Hindutva rhetoric by the BJP’s saffron brigade and the party’s own ideological allies had put the party in such a tight corner that Modi had to caution his MP’s to practice restrain in the party’s parliamentary meet held on 16 December. According to a senior BJP leader who had attended the meeting, Modi warned his MP’s not to cross the Laxman rekha.