I’m still writing this column from Mumbai, India, and not Pakistan. I have to make this clear because Giriraj Singh, a Bharatiya Janata Party Lok Sabha candidate from Bihar, has said that all those who oppose Narendra Modi will be sent to Pakistan when he is crowned King Emperor of India. Singh further clarified his position by saying that Pakistan had started anti-Modi movement in India.
Politics of religion: A tape of Pravin Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad allegedly shows him explaining to people in Bhavnagar in Gujarat how to get a Muslim family out of a ‘Hindu’ area. File pic
The subtext eludes no one. Singh follows the long-lasting Sangh Parivar line that Muslims can never be patriotic Indians and all Indians who do not support Muslim-bashing cannot be patriotic Indians either. Therefore, they must be relocated to Pakistan, which is not just an Islamic nation but one ripped from India under bloody circumstances.
And there’s Pravin Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. There is a tape circulating of him explaining to people in Bhavnagar in Gujarat how to get a Muslim family out of a ‘Hindu’ area. He recommends two ways. The first is to get the controversial ‘Disturbed Areas Act’ applied to the area. The other is to stick a Bajrang Dal board on the house and then start harassment from there — throwing tomatoes, tyres and so on. No one will hang you for this, he assures his applauding listeners.
Now it is well known that Togadia and Modi were once fast friends who have now fallen out. But the reason that they have fallen out is not because they no longer believe in the same Sangh Parivar ideology, but far more commonplace — territory and power. Togadia stopped being useful after the 2002 riots were over. And Modi likes to be in charge.
Modi has released a tweet — this is the new way of making a public statement apparently — saying that ‘petty statements’ by BJP leaders are detracting from the real issues and another tweet appealing to them to ‘kindly refrain’ from making such ‘irresponsible statements’. Sushil Modi, the BJP main man in Bihar had also disapproved of Singh’s statements. Singh himself is defiant and Togadia has taken recourse to the old ‘misquoted’ and new ‘morphed’ defence.
However, what does this mean for the Indian who does not want to live in Pakistan and throw tomatoes at religious minorities? Certainly, such a person exists. This person need not necessarily be a Congress supporter. There are enough political parties in India who also do not want to send critics of Modi to Pakistan.
And how seriously does one take the defence that Modi and the BJP do not approve of such remarks but Singh will not be punished and Togadia will be defended by the RSS? If indeed Modi stands only for development and the great glory of India, then take a stand. Get rid of the RSS hold on the BJP, dissociate from the VHP and Bajrang Dal and assure his critics that they don’t have to leave the country.
There is an argument being made that India is a large and diverse country and bigotry can only go so far. Perhaps that is true. But when bigotry gets official sanction, you see the violence of 1984, of 1992 and 1992 and yes, of 2002, to name just a few. These thousands who died had nothing to do with the actual triggers of the violence. They just paid the price for common religion or ethnicity — which is the story of all riots — mob vengeance at any cost. We all know that we have done as little as possible to give them justice if only because we do not want to confront the issue involved — state or society sanctioned hatred.
So for those of you who sleep well every night, perhaps the Singhs and Togadias are just little niggling disturbances, remnants of the past, the flotsam and jetsam of political life. It is an easy way out, as you look ahead to a glorious future where every road surface is smooth and every person has a job. Because that is what we have been promised, isn’t it, if we ignore these minor inconveniences?
Some of us though will not sleep easy. And no, we’re not going to Pakistan. The legacy of India with all its faults belongs to us as much as it belongs to you.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona