Beneath the veneer, partisan parlance

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to >comment on the lynching of a Muslim in Dadri while speaking at an election rally in Bihar more than a week after the crime, he must have been hoping to take advantage of both the time-lapse and the distance. Evidently, he felt no compulsion to dwell on the horrific nature of the murder, its immediate circumstances and context, and the motives of the perpetrators. Instead, he couched the references to the lynching in generalities and homilies, talking of the need for Hindus and Muslims to work together to fight poverty, and of the importance of communal harmony for the nation’s progress. While appealing to the people to ignore “controversial” statements by politicians, he did not refer to the involvement of persons affiliated to his own party in the lynching. Torn out of its context, the violent act was almost reduced to an abstraction, just another instance of the supposedly long-standing communal conflict between Hindus and Muslims. By blaming all Hindus and all Muslims, Mr. Modi in effect blamed none. By refusing to name the politicians who made inflammatory speeches and asking the people to ignore them, he made it appear that this was a general malaise with no cure. That many of his party men were among those who made incendiary speeches on this issue does not appear to have struck Mr. Modi at all. The same day he spoke in Bihar, BJP legislators >beat up independent MLA Engineer Rashid in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly for organising a ‘beef party’. What was jarring when Mr. Modi broke his silence on the lynching was that his words seemed part of some evasive action, and not meant to tackle a serious problem head-on.

But, although he spoke at an election rally, Mr. Modi seemed intent on appearing as being above the political fray. By invoking the speech of President Pranab Mukherjee, who warned the nation against wasting the core values of Indian civilisation, Mr. Modi did sound like the Prime Minister and not as the BJP’s principal campaigner. However, at other rallies in Bihar he did not shy away from using the controversy over beef and cattle slaughter to attack his political rival Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal for his comment that some Hindus do eat beef. Clearly, Mr. Modi is refusing to make the connection between the Hindutva campaign against cattle slaughter and the Dadri murder. In equating Hindu communalism with Muslim communalism, he appeared oblivious to the dangers of majoritarianism. All communalism is undesirable and reactionary, but the communalism of a majority group holds greater dangers for a democratic polity. As a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson puts it, there is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 8:51:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/beneath-the-veneer-partisan-parlance/article7743760.ece

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