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BRP Bhaskar: Modi in tactical mode
December 01, 2015
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Parliament, which could not transact much business at its sessions earlier this year due to the acute hostility between the government and the opposition, began its winter session last week with both sides coming together to hail the Constitution and pay homage to its chief architect, BR Ambedkar.

The occasion was a two-in-one celebration: the 66th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution, and the 125th birth anniversary of Dr Ambedkar, who rose from the ranks of the so-called untouchables to be revered by the nation as the Father of the Constitution.

The debate revealed that the Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the National Democratic Alliance government, is trapped in the inherent contradiction between the core constitutional values, which it is sworn to uphold as the ruling party, and the Hindu Rashtra (nation) concept of its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

In an attempt to dispel doubts about his party’s commitment to the constitutional ideals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that the nation would only be run according to the Constitution. India was a diverse nation, and the sanctity of the Constitution which bound together all the citizens had to be maintained, he said.

He alluded to the bitter controversies in which the ruling front and the opposition parties are involved and made a pointed reference to the way the great leaders of an earlier era had worked together to frame the Constitution.

Waving an olive branch to the opposition, which has stalled his reform programmes in Parliament, Modi offered to address its concerns. “The government is ready to debate all issues,” he said.

Modi made no reference to the bitter national debate on the issue of growing intolerance, which assumed ugly proportions when Hindutva hordes began hounding celebrated film star Amir Khan who had spoken of the growing sense of fear, insecurity and despondency in the country and disclosed that his wife, film-maker Kiran Rao, a Hindu, had wondered whether the family should think of re-locating elsewhere.

He said they should focus on how the Constitution could help the Dalits, the marginalised and the poor. This appeared to be an image makeover attempt, prompted by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s refrain that he was anti-Dalit and anti-poor.

Modi, who habitually adopts a highly partisan tone, tried to sound statesmanlike, but there was no condemnation of the scattered acts of violence by Hindutva elements across the country and the public statements by governors, central and state ministers and MPs which run counter to the ideals of the Constitution.

Two quick steps that followed conveyed the impression that the government may be willing to turn a new leaf. One was the decision to accept the opposition demand for a debate in Parliament on the issue of growing intolerance. The other was Modi’s invitation to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for talks to sort out the differences on the Goods and Services Tax Bill, a reform measure which the opposition has held up in the upper house of Parliament in which the NDA is in a minority.

However, it soon became evident that Modi’s new stance is tactical and does not signify any change in the government’s basic approach.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who spoke immediately after him, reiterated the BJP’s traditional positions on several issues.

He said secularism was a much misused word and claimed its misuse was creating problems in ensuring social harmony. Secularism should mean not neutrality towards religions but neutrality towards sects, he added.

This was a throwback to the position articulated by the RSS all along, which equates Hinduism with India and treats other faiths as sects.

Both Modi and Rajnath Singh, in their speeches, recalled that Ambedkar, who, as a Dalit, had suffered much humiliation in his lifetime had harboured no grudge against the country. They both conveniently ignored the fact that shortly before his death he had left the caste-ridden Hindu fold and embraced Buddhism.

The BJP’s new-found love for Ambedkar is suspect. Ambedkar’s legacy was almost forgotten by all but the Dalits, who look upon him as their liberator, until the VP Singh government (1989-1990), organised nationwide celebrations to mark his birth centenary and bestowed on him the nation’s highest honour, Bharat Ratna, posthumously. A few years later, Arun Shourie, who was a minister in the first BJP-led government, wrote a whole book to denigrate him.

In the book, titled “Worshipping False God: Ambedkar and the Facts that have been Erased”, Shourie portrayed him as a self-centred, unpatriotic, power-hungry, anti-national and a stooge of the British. He even sought to belittle Ambedkar’s contribution as the chairman of the committee that drafted the Constitution.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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