Comment | Hindutva’s extremist Twitterati now target Modi for Muslim appeasement

The RSS and Mr. Modi have attempted occasional gestures of outreach to the Muslims, as the outfit moved from the fringes to the front-line.

May 09, 2020 07:44 pm | Updated May 10, 2020 02:01 am IST

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The disdain within its own ecosystem for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to reject sectarianism in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that the Hindutva project appears to have outgrown control by individuals or institutions within its fold.

Among the instant responses to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Ramzan Mubarak!” on April 24 evening on Twitter was from a handle he follows . “Modiji, we pay the taxes, donate to PM Cares (Fund), follow the lockdown rules, but your government pampers those who don’t follow rules, get treated at government expense, beat up doctors and then take compensation... How long will this continue?” the tweet read. In 30 minutes, the PM’s post was retweeted 5,000 times, and the critical response 1,000 times. The same trend has roughly continued for days — for every five retweets of Mr. Modi’s post, the rebuff got one, though the PM outranks the latter in following by 1:2,000. The PM’s message that outraged so many people had said: “I pray for everyone’s safety, well-being and prosperity. May this Holy Month bring with it abundance of kindness, harmony and compassion. May we achieve a decisive victory in the ongoing battle against COVID-19 and create a healthier planet.”

This was the second meltdown in the virtual Hindutva universe within a span of five days. On April 19, Mr. Modi met with similarly ferocious animus when he tried to soothe Arab nerves frayed by an anti-Muslim tirade by people of Indian origin in the UAE. “COVID-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking... We are in this together,” he tweeted . Could anyone have disagreed? Turns out, many did, and vigorously so. A feted icon of the Hindutva camp , who counts Mr. Modi among her almost half a million followers on Twitter, declared: “We are NOT in it together @narendramodi sir. We are NOT the ones spitting at cops, we are not the ones hiding foreign nationals in mosques. We are NOT the ones pelting stones at doctors. We are NOT the ones hiding travel history. THEY are. And THEY have a name.” Another Twitter user, celebrated and followed by the who’s who of the nationalist band, declared that those who continued to “chant Modi, Modi” after reading his tweet were worthy of a universally abusive epithet that literally refers to a woman’s genitals. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, who called for a non-discriminatory approach in combating the pandemic, also faced similar, though not as widespread, derision.

The worst abuse in the Hindutva masterclass is to call someone a Muslim appeaser and this is not the first time that Mr. Modi himself is being accused of being one. In 2007, BJP rebels in Gujarat — revolting Patels stirred by VHP leader Pravin Togadia and Gordhan Zadafia — called him “ Noor Mohammad Modi under the protection of Lal Mohammad Advani .”

The RSS and Mr. Modi have attempted occasional gestures of outreach to the Muslims, as the outfit moved from the fringes to the front-line. Former Sangh chief K. S. Sudarshan formed the Muslim Rashtriya Manch; and Mr. Modi’s makeover as a national leader started with his Sadbhavana congregations in Gujarat in 2011, in which he sought reconciliation with the Muslims. In 2018, Mr. Bhagwat delivered a three-part lecture and formally abandoned some particularly egregious anti-Muslim positions espoused by one of his predecessors, M. S. Golwalkar. “The day it is said that we don’t want Muslims, Hindutva will cease to exist,” the current RSS chief asserted.

One can take a cynical view of these episodes as flashes fabricated for distraction in moments of crisis or as tactical retreats to advance the core agenda. Given the wide chasm between the words and deeds of the Parivar, this scepticism is reasonable. This could also be a reflection of the conflicting views within the Parivar with regard to Muslims that remain unresolved, according to The RSS and the Making of The Deep Nation, a recent book by Dinesh Narayanan. What if Hindutva itself is opportunistic? The late Arun Jaitley once claimed so to an American diplomat according to diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks . “I am cold-blooded,” Golwalkar reportedly said about his feelings on cow protection, which he said was nothing more than a rallying cry.

What may not be reasonable, however, is any deterministic view that the Parivar is incapable of reform and would follow only a textually prescribed course. Parities, ideologies and even religious orthodoxies have changed over time — the Catholic Church and the Chinese Communist Party are two living examples. In any case, opportunistic or sincere, any reconciliatory move by the Parivar towards tolerance and pluralism is progress. Unfortunately for the country, every gesture of its moderation has been met with reaction from within the family, often forcing the protagonists back to their familiar strident corners or even obliteration as it happened with L.K. Advani. After the second consecutive Lok Sabha defeat in 2009, Mr. Advani quoted former RSS chief Deoras who had said that the Parivar must continuously adapt and warned against the interpretation of Hindutva as anti-Muslim; Jaitley said the result was a “triumph of the moderate.” Within five years, the party was harvesting a Hindu supremacist delirium.

The customary understanding of the Parivar as a centralised apparatus does not leave much room for examining these recurring fluctuations as outcome of pressure from below, and the possibility that the creators may be increasingly losing control over the narrative, to tactically deploy or defuse it. For instance, the Parivar’s considered public position had been in favour of women’s entry at the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala and it was first off the block to welcome the Supreme Court order on it in 2018. However, sensing the hostile public mood, it changed tack. Another instructive case is the Delhi riots in February. The riots rained on arguably the biggest show of Mr. Modi’s entire political career — the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump. Mr. Modi’s reputation of being an unforgiving taskmaster apart, nobody has paid for causing him such a loss of face — neither the relatively low ranking local BJP leader who was seen in videos instigating a crowd, nor the Delhi police that miserably failed in controlling the situation. A disciplinary enquiry publicly announced by the BJP against its Bhopal MP Pragya Thakur for inflammatory statements that were publicly disowned by the PM never happened. But if someone speaks in support of the rule of law from within the ranks, the social media hyenas howl them into silence. Former cricketer Gautam Gambhir, now a BJP MP from Delhi, sought action against people who allegedly forced a Muslim to chant ‘Jai Shriram’ last year in a Delhi suburb. He was trolled by the same man who trolled the PM, and even film star Anupam Kher asked the new MP to stay off the issue.

Ambitious leaders have now figured that making progressively incendiary statements is the assured ladder to new heights. Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and at least two BJP MLAs in Uttar Pradesh have made statements insulting sects or communities within days of Mr. Modi’s assertion that “we are in this together.” A strand within the anti-Modi digital mob is also rooting for U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as the real hope now that the incumbent is sounding unacceptably ‘secular’ for them.

The mob by definition does not follow the diktats of leaders. To be a leader of the mob, one is required to follow the mob. One who owns the mob becomes the leader — the man who instigated the mob in Delhi during Mr. Trump’s visit could well rise higher in the coming days. There are enough examples historically — including that of the Muslim League in British India, and the evolution of Pakistan — that religious mobilisation may begin as an opportunistic tool, but would not necessarily stay so for long. The mob, more often than not, has a mind of its own.

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