Shooting their mouths off
The Union government faced its first real crisis since it took office six months back over an abusive remark by one of its ministers, Sadhvi Niranjan Joyti. Exhorting people to choose between a government of Ramzaade and haramzaade (“followers of Rama and of bastards\") at a Delhi rally, she handed an issue on a platter to the opposition parties.
The Union government faced its first real crisis since it took office six months back over an abusive remark by one of its ministers, Sadhvi Niranjan Joyti. Exhorting people to choose between a government of Ramzaade and haramzaade (“followers of Rama and of bastards") at a Delhi rally, she handed an issue on a platter to the opposition parties.
Betraying an utter lack of sensitivity, she defended it initially and regretted later after an uproar. A katha vachak (a racounteur of tales from mythology), Niranjan Jyoti is notorious for making provocative remarks targeting the minorities. That was how she won her assembly election in 2012 and her first Lok Sabha election from Uttar Pradesh this May.
The usually assertive Prime Minister was on the defensive. He distanced himself from the Minister, saying there was a lesson for everyone on what should be said in public. He urged seniors in Parliament to forgive the remark by a debutante. Call it opportunism, which the present ruling alliance also did for the last ten years, and so have others who seize such an opportunity. The issue raged for five days, disrupting Parliament’s proceedings and debate/passage of key legislations.
The matter has been resolved with a consensus statement in the Rajya Sabha, urging all to “maintain civility at all costs in public discourse.” The warning signals are clear for all, but the Bharatiya Janata Party continues to field Jyoti to address – something rare for a Union Minister – “nukkad meetings” in Delhi. Hopefully, she will have been cautioned not to court another controversy and cause a new problem for the government.
One notes that the government enjoys a high measure of goodwill, but seems bent on using it to conduct a strident and divisive political campaign, from the national level to the ‘nukkad.’ Frequent recourse to toxic language used during Lok Sabha election campaign continues with many in the ruling alliance engaging in triumphalism, targeting the minorities. That trend continues. Some have been habitual offenders. The sadhvi’s strongest defender was another minister, Giriraj Singh, who had launched a tirade against Muslims in Bihar even before being sworn as a lawmaker.
The bid by some BJP lawmakers and yet another minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, ironically, once a socialist follower of Ram Manohar Lohia, that Sadhvi, a Dalit woman was being targeted is at the best an exercise in counter-opportunism. Modi could have been cautious about inducting such persons in the government, whom he must now defend. There are offenders in other parties as well. If the BJP has Giriraj Singh and Sadhvi Jyoti, the Samajwadi Party has Azam Khan. Trinamool Congress also has members erring on this score.
The episode underscores much else that is happening in the last six months. It is all very well to promote a party and/or an alliance. But to use provocative language is bound to cause reaction from other communities. Take Kolkata rally addressed by BJP chief Amit Shah. It was dramatically preceded by one organized by Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind, a body of Muslim clergy. The Kolkata police had reportedly denied the Jamaat permission to hold the rally at the Brigade Parade Ground. Unfazed, the Jamaat gathered its volunteers and the city was choked with over 2,00,000 people, taking the police by surprise.
Modi has himself been accused of failing to control the 2002 sectarian violence in Gujarat under his watch. Lack of evidence of his role and involvement, the clean chit given by an Ahmedabad court, his switch-over to the development plank in the state and the electoral triumph at the national level have weakened, but not totally obliterated, the case against him that is not totally closed as yet. Since he is the country’s Prime Minister, perceptions about him do matter, at home and abroad.
He needs to rein in his flock. He has rightly asked his lawmakers, sarcastically, not to “address the nation.” But then, top leadership of BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), while not using foul language, has provoked the minorities by insisting that every Indian is a ‘Hindu.’
Definitions and connotations may vary, and so do historical, sociological and other aspects. Introducing contention on sensitive issues does not do well to, not just to a political party, alliance or a government, but to the people as a whole. We are a diverse and complex society; trying to impose uniformity and conformity is not good. Undoubtedly, Modi has insisted that his government will protect the religious minorities. He needs to send a strong message down the party and parliamentary line.
This is easier said than done. Many among our elected representatives and those in public life are not media-savvy and shoot their mouths off in public. The television, especially, is a sensitive medium that can damage the image and reputation of a person or organisation. Many play to the gallery. They are not used to talking before the camera, but love to do it all the same. We now have the social media. It is essential that those in public life take careful note. A little video clip can be damaging and create perceptions, right or wrong, that are difficult to erase.
Bihar Chief Minister Jitanram Majhi keeps making controversial remarks on women, on caste issues and much else. He has also projected himself as a future Prime Minister. He is an embarrassment to the Janata Dal (United). Repeated disclaimers by JD (U) chief Sharad Yadav and Majhi’s predecessor Nitish Kumar have only made Majhi more defiant — enough to make JD(U) leadership regret his being made the Chief Minister.
Apparently, Majhi is playing the Dalit card. His supporters warn that if he is removed, the party, now getting into alliance with Laloo Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and becoming part of the Janata Parivar re-union, could lose the Dalit vote in the Assembly polls due next year.
The case about saying things before the public and the media cannot be completed without dwelling on the role of the Owaisi brothers, Asaduddin and Akbaruddin, who lead the Majlis-Ittehad-ul-Muslimin (MIM) and have become known for their provocative speeches.
In the current mood of majority-minority spat, their observations could influence the country’s Muslim voter who has of late shown preference for individuals and parties irrespective of faith. Rather than dream up strategies for the future, they could acquiesce in politics of the ghetto.