It seems the BJP is its own worst enemy. Or the top leadership is unable and/or unwilling to tame the loose cannons which feel emboldened by the party’s ascent to power at the Centre. Whichever way one looks at it, some of the statements by BJP functionaries are wholly unacceptable. Causing gratuitous offence to a large section of the people seems to have become second nature to these frogs-in-the- well leaders. The latest to join the ranks is Manohar Lal Khattar. The Haryana Chief Minister in an interview to a contemporary was quoted as holding a threat to Muslims, saying they can live in this country provided they gave up eating beef. This showed where Khattar was coming from. This was not the language of a democrat and certainly not of a liberal constitutionalist. Nor of someone who was remotely familiar with the founding tenets of the Republic. This was sheer prejudice and malice on full display against the largest minority community in the country.
Now, there is a lot that can be said against Indian Muslims as a community, their Mullah-Masjid-centric leadership, their insistence to live in the past, their refusal to assimilate fully with the majority, their suppression of women et al. But to suggest that they live here on his or his party’s sufferance was wrong and baseless. Regardless of the history behind their presence in such a large proportion in the population, they are now bona fide citizens and deserve to be treated as such. Yes, there are often valid questions about their attitudes but these ought to be seen in the historical context, in the emotional partition-linked catastrophes, the on-going fundamentalist surge in the Islamic world, etc. Yet, the right thing for the BJP and other nationalistic forces would be to reach out to them in a spirit of accommodation, to enlist the community’s willing cooperation and participation in the wider national project and, last but not least, to allay their genuine doubts and fears.
Khattar had another reason why he should have spoken with becoming forethought and restraint. As chief minister of Haryana he was duty-bound to uphold the Constitution. Yes, beef was banned by the previous Congress administrations not only in Haryana but in a large number of states under the aegis of Prime Minister J. L. Nehru. So, nobody can consume beef in Haryana without violating the law. In any case, it is surprising that Khattar and a few other BJP leaders have begun to obsess about cow protection and beef when in all fairness they owe their mandate to development. Unless the party think-tank believes that kicking up fuss on beef can net them some additional votes in Bihar we cannot fathom any other political objective the party expects to achieve with such diversionary tactics. Frankly, the large number of people who voted for the BJP in the parliamentary and Assembly elections are beginning to feel let down by the self-goals the party has scored in recent weeks. The Dadri killing of a Muslim on suspicion that he was eating beef was most dreadful and no right thinking person can justify it. But what the party leadership fails to realise is that the horrid incidents like the Dadri lynching undermine the credibility of their governments and thus makes delivery of good governance that much more difficult. Why take the eye off the main promise of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’, and, instead, indulge in pure diversionary business.
Given that Muslims are here with us and will remain here, come what may, a clever leadership will try and break the barriers of suspicion and distrust and enlist their support in the wider task of nation-building. By trying to ostracise them, nothing can be achieved. It is true that the so-called secular parties which ruled the country for long years have failed to improve their socio-economic lot, but at least they assured them security in return of votes. The BJP can turn a new leaf by exposing these opportunists by behaving like genuine well-wishers of the community. It should extend the hand of friendship and cooperation and there is every chance the sensible elements among Muslims will reciprocate the gesture. After all, by keeping about sixteen percent of the population poor and uneducated, the country cannot attain durable peace and prosperity. Meanwhile, following criticism, Khattar seems to have realised his mistake but the damage was done. It is for the central leadership of the party to impose a total ban on loose talk by its loose cannons. This cannot, and should not, go on any longer.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)