In the latter part of 2014, four members of Parliament made
provocative statements. Yogi Adityanath, the MP from Gorakhpur, claimed
that young Muslim men had launched a "love jihad" to entrap
Hindu women, by marrying and converting them to Islam. Sakshi Maharaj,
the MP from Unnao, said that the murderer of Mahatma Gandhi, Nathuram
Godse, was a true patriot. Sadhvi Jyoti Niranjana, MP from Fatehpur (and
who had been recently inducted into the council of ministers), said
that all those who did not worship Lord Rama or vote for her party were "
haramzadon" (a term that we can politely translate as
'rascals', although the original Hindustani admits of more pejorative
connotations). Satish Gautam, the MP from Aligarh, proclaimed his
support to a programme of converting Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. The four MPs all belonged to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the party
that is running the Union government. As a result, the Opposition asked
the prime minister, as head of government, to clarify his stand on the
MPs' remarks. The Rajya Sabha was stalled for days on end, with the
prime minister first declining to appear and then making a statement,
which, in the Opposition's view, was not sufficiently condemnatory of
his errant MPs.
In the vast press coverage on these controversies, one salient fact
seems to have been obscured. This is that the four fire-raising MPs of
the BJP had all been elected from the state of Uttar Pradesh. They had
all been chosen to contest for Parliament by the then general secretary
of the BJP, Amit Shah, who had been given sole charge of the campaign in
India's largest state. Remarkably, neither the press nor the Opposition
had noticed the connection.
While the prime minister was repeatedly
asked to state his stand, no one - whether inside Parliament or outside
it - directed their criticisms to the man principally responsible for
having made MPs out of bigots.
The mainstreaming of Amit Shah is one of the more worrying aspects of
public discourse in India. This is a man who was the first serving home
minister of any state to be arrested; the man who was sent away from
his own state for two years by the Supreme Court for fear he would
tamper with the evidence in important criminal cases; the man who many
say so completely politicized his state's police force that those who
did not toe his line were punished.
The controversial background of Amit Shah was forgotten when his
party won the Lok Sabha election, their victory owed in good part to
their near-clean sweep in Uttar Pradesh, where they won 71 out of 80
seats. The BJP's spectacular showing in India's largest state, and the
majority gained overall, prompted the party to elevate Amit Shah to the
post of president. Meanwhile, his role in fashioning a BJP victory led
to a flurry of appreciative pieces on Amit Shah in the press.
with a distinctly dodgy past was now celebrated as a political genius,
as the modern Chanakya, and more.
The pundits in the press particularly praised Amit Shah for his
"candidate selection". The candidates he selected included Yogi
Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Jyoti Niranjana and Satish Gautam.
And yet no one has called the BJP president to account for the
statements of his MPs from Uttar Pradesh. Meanwhile, other members of
the extended sangh parivar have made their intentions very clear. The head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has declared that India is a Hindu rashtra,
and that everyone who is a citizen of this country must acknowledge
that he is of "Hindu" origin. In keeping with this ambition, the Vishwa
Hindu Parishad has launched a series of conversion programmes. Its
president, Pravin Togadia, has said that their ultimate goal is to make
every Indian a Hindu by faith.
Narendra Modi was, for many years, a fervent believer in a Hindu rashtra
himself. In his first years as chief minister, he made disparaging
remarks about Muslims and Christians. However, from about 2008 or so he
began to fashion a more moderate image. He was now a vikash purush,
a man of development, who wished to take all of Gujarat along on the
road to prosperity. Once he launched his prime ministerial campaign, he
further sought to present himself as a politician of the future, rather
than of the past. Although his penchant for polemic remained, the barbs
were now directed at individual politicians opposed to him, rather than
at communities per se.
Narendra Modi's adroit re-branding, along with his brilliant oratory,
played a major role in the success of his party in the Lok Sabha
elections. Although such things are impossible to quantify, it does seem
that a large number of those who voted for the BJP do not subscribe to
the view that India is or must be a Hindu rashtra. They cast
their votes as they did because (a) they were (rightly) disgusted by the
corruption and dynastic culture of the ruling Congress, and (b) they
saw in the energetic, charismatic, self-made Narendra Modi a viable
alternative, who could meet their aspirations for a safer, more
prosperous, and less corrupt India.
The presentation of Modi as a modernizing, go-getting,
growth-and-good-governance-generating reformer was widely shared by the
electorate. It may indeed be that Modi has undergone a genuine
ideological transformation. Is that also true of his second-in-command?
Here the scepticism must run deeper. During the election campaign, Amit
Shah was reprimanded by the Election Commission for remarks he made
urging Hindus to take 'revenge' through the ballot box. The statements
made by his chosen MPs from UP show that they take no part in the
professed agenda of the government, but subscribe still to the
reactionary, polarizing view of India that it was thought (or claimed)
that the prime minister had himself left behind. Shah's own failure to
publicly reprimand Yogi Adityanath and Sadhvi Jyoti Niranjana suggests
that he is not entirely averse to their worldview. When asked by
reporters to comment, he has offered anodyne remarks such as "our party
stands for social harmony".
The signs are ominous - more so because in the communalizing of UP,
Shah and his party have a willing ally in Mulayam Singh Yadav and his
party. Both sides have a vested interest in further polarization. As the
next assembly elections in UP come closer, the worry is that the likes
of Mulayam and Azam Khan will stoke fear among insecure Muslims, and
that the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Sadhvi Jyoti Niranjana will stoke
fear among insecure Hindus. Further stoking the sectarian pot will be
Asaduddin Owaisi and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. The BJP
under Shah's leadership might then play a double game - getting the
prime minister to give stirring speeches promising jobs to all young men
and 24x7 power to all rural homes, while on the ground the cadres work
at consolidating "Hindu pride".
Shah's defenders have made much of the "clean chit" recently given
him by the CBI. The discourse on clean chits (given in this case by an
agency notorious for bowing to the wind) obscures a fundamental
question, namely, whether association with, or endorsement of,
statements and actions so manifestly at variance with our Constitution
are at all compatible with the presidentship of India's most important
Shah's career as home minister in Gujarat, his management of the
campaign in UP during the general elections, and his conduct as party
president all suggest that for him ends are far more important than the
means. That is why we must be troubled by the mixture of deference and
adulation by which he is currently treated by large sections of the