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will saffron warriors trip up modi?


amulya ganguli

it is perhaps in the natural order of things that when a party vanquishes its opponents, its nemesis emerges from within its own ranks. this is what appears to be happening in the bharatiya janata party (bjp).

if it thought that the party's majority in the lok sabha will enable prime minister narendra modi implement his development agenda without any let or hindrance, then it must have realized by now that the road ahead will be a lot more bumpy than it expected.

what is more, the hurdles are being put up not by an opposition which is in disarray, but by the words and deeds of what can be called the loony fringe of the saffron brigade.

the most appalling of their despicable antics has been the abuses hurled by bjp mp niranjan jyoti, who is purportedly a sadhvi or a hindu nun, at rival politicians. this new saffron warrior is evidently carrying on the vituperative traditions of other sadhvis like rithambara and uma bharati.

while rithambara once called for an apocalyptic communal outbreak - "khoon kharabaa" - to settle scores with the muslims, uma bharati had joyously urged the babri masjid demolishers to given one last big push to topple the ancient mosque - "ek dhakka aur doh".

now, their worthy descendant, niranjan jyoti, has confirmed that the saffron sadhvis are not known so much for their serene spirituality as for their provocative rants.

however, her appeal to the delhi voters in anticipation of an early election to distinguish between the ramzadas or the children of ram, and "haramzadas" or the children of illicit unions, has exposed - yet again - the bjp's ugly, and what some may say its real, face.

true, the party extracted an apology from her, but it will be mistaken if it believes that the apparently forced contrition will draw a curtain over this offensive episode, which persuaded the prime minister to condemn it in parliament - something which he didn't do in the cases of other provocative incidents such as yogi adityanath's campaign against the so-called "love jehada carried by muslims youths to entice and convert hindu girls, or sakshi maharaj's claim that madrasas are training centres of terrrorists. both the purported yogi (savant) and maharaj (king of kings) are honourable mps.

despite modi's appeal for calm, what the latest incidents has confirmed is that the party comprises elements whose conduct hardly meets the norms of polite society. what is worrisome is not only their medieval mindset, as is evident from the extolling of astrology at the expense of science by an mp, ramesh pokhriyal, "all streams of science are short in stature when compared with the science of astrology", but that the soothing words which a few in the top rungs speak about harmonious communal relations seem to have no effect on large sections in the party.

it is not just the rank and file alone who remain steeped in the anti-minority prejudices and antediluvian worldview of the standard hindutva formulations, but also union ministers, who include someone like giriraj singh, whose claim to infamy was his stirring call to critics of modi to go to pakistan.

as if the vulgarities of the sadhvi were not enough, the arson attack on a church in delhi fuelled speculation about the bjp playing the communal card in the run-up to the delhi polls. such fears were expressed during the communal riots in the trilokpuri area and again when tension flared on the eve of the muharram processions in bawana.

but the desecration of the church at a time when the earlier incidents were still fresh in the public mind is bound to cause misgivings about how peaceful the elections are going to be, especially because the belief that the aam admi party (aap) will be a damp squib has been belied. if anything, the communal incidents are likely to lead to the minorities, both muslims and christians, supporting the aap.

it isn't only the saffron fundamentalists who have been taking some of the sheen of modi's victory, the right-wing economic fundamentalists, who believe in autarky like the socialists, have let it be known that they are against the reforms, including foreign investment, which constitute the cornerstone of modi's agenda.

the swadeshi jagran manch (sjm) has always been an advocate of self-sufficiency and frowned on western influence. but now, with the avowedly pro-market and pro-american modi in power, it has to be seen whether they are able to throw a spanner in the works.

will the rashtriya swayamsevak sangh (rss), the sangh parivar's mentor, ask them to back off or will modi simply ignore them? considering that murmurs can be heard that the prime minister is not moving fast enough on the road to economic advancement - no "big ticket" reforms, no de-nationalization of the coal sector, no sale of air india, no unequivocal approval of genetically modified crops - modi cannot but come down heavily on the regressive elements in the party and the parivar.

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