Dissent is all very well, said a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader the other day, but tone is all-important. If one can understand that correctly, then it is okay to criticise the current dispensation and the Prime Minister, but you must do it in a respectful manner. To use Venkaiah Naidu’s own language, is it fair to assume that it’s polite to call someone a “maha-paapi” or a big sinner, as he has done with the Congress? Or can one emulate other members of the BJP and its supporters who called the former Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh “Maunmohan Singh” when he was in office, with reference to the fact that he did not talk much and come up with similar sobriquets for the current incumbent?
CM Devendra Fadnavis inspects damaged sugarcane crop at Malikpeth in Mohol Taluka of Solapur. The fact that the people of India are themselves suffering because of this imperfect monsoon season appears to be incidental. The government is suffering. That ought to be enough reason for the faithful to be upset. File pic for representation
One side of this story is that it is the BJP which is keeping the Congress party, with its miserable little hoard of 44 Lok Sabha seats, in the news and in contention. Whatever the people of India think of Rahul Gandhi (err, seemingly not much), he certainly seems to terrify the BJP (282 seats in the Lok Sabha), which responds magnificently to every taunt made by the great-grandson of the malevolent Jawaharlal Nehru who ruled as India’s Prime Minister for 90,000 years. Oh, I’m so sorry if I’ve upset you, but as the overly polite supporters of the overly polite BJP, with its fine appreciation of dissent with tone, keep telling me on social media, I am an evil “presstitute”, “fiberal”, “Marxist”, “Macaulay-educated”, paid Congi agent. They say it so lovingly too. With just the right tone. But as we all know, I am not the Prime Minister of India and nor will I ever be...
The other side of this story is that you have to keep shifting the goalposts and finding someone else to blame when things are not going quite your way. So if the monsoon has failed — as it has across some parts of India — then the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is reported as saying that the rain gods have not been as kind to this government, as it had been to the previous ones. Certainly, the mind boggles on this comment because we have also been told, very proudly, that the gods themselves had blessed this government and its victory.
Now, the implication seems to be that the rain gods are showing both dissent and disrespect to the Prime Minister and his council, not to mention the entire government. I am unsure if this is acceptable behaviour for a rain god or any god, to be so selective in showing kindness. The fact that the people of India are themselves suffering because of this imperfect monsoon season appears to be incidental. The government is suffering. That ought to be enough reason for the faithful to be upset.
That gods can be fickle is well known in mythology and literature and please gods save us from that Hindutva organisation which has threatened to pull out the tongues of anyone who insults “Hindu gods”. But the goalposts do not have to shift as far as divinity. As usual, you can return to two stalwarts. Whatever Jawaharlal Nehru’s great great-grandfather was up to — something against India, definitely — and the greatness of India’s ancient past (before the advent of the Nehru family). Thus, the Union Environment Minister tells the nation that he’s going to tell the rest of the planet that an “Indian lifestyle” is going to solve all of Earth’s climate change problems. This is going to be a terrible lesson for all the BJP’s ardent followers who live in foreign lands where “Indian lifestyle” means regular wiggling to Bollywood music. I am just going to assume, for the purpose of no dissent and no disrespect, that all of us who stay in India live absolutely perfect Indian lifestyles.
And then we have the Union Culture Minister, who is so happy that despite being a Muslim the late President of India APJ Abdul Kalam was a strong nationalist. Mahesh Sharma, for that is his most wonderful name, is however unsure about the role of women in Indian culture. Should they stay out at night or should they stay in? Either way, it is immensely disrespectful to assume that women themselves have any say in the matter.
Meanwhile, the beloved Prime Minister of India regularly talks to us on the radio and visits foreign countries. I say this without any tone at all. The tone in your head when you read it, however, is your own problem.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona