The heat has been building up in Karnataka which goes to the polls next week to elect a new state Assembly — and it has little to do with the rising summer temperatures in the state. The election campaign, never dull or serious, lurched into the now-familiar religion-based agenda when the Congress unveiled its manifesto. Referring to organisations such as the Bajrang Dal and Popular Front of India “which promote enmity or hatred among majority or minority communities” it promised to take action including banning them. The Congress, as always speaking in several tongues because it is steered by different leaders in the same state, appears to have put its foot all wrong — and put a religious faceoff on an agenda that should have ideally have been about core electoral issues including alleged rampant corruption in the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party government, inflation, unemployment and more.
In the process, it handed its arch rival BJP a potent election issue which aligns with its Hindutva ideology. Interpreting the manifesto promise as a grave affront to Lord Hanuman, also known as Bajrang Bali and in Karnataka as Anjaneya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself joined the battle stating that the Congress was “locking up” the monkey-faced god; the insinuation was that the Congress was anti-Hindu. How and why a proposed ban on an organisation is projected as an insult to the god is beyond sound rationale. That the BJP government in next-door Goa had once banned Ram Sene, without similar implications, holds no ground in a deeply polarised state where religious sentiments have been unabashedly fanned for political gains. Stung, staring at the few gains made in the election campaign last few weeks slipping away, Congress leaders prayed at Hanuman temples, promised to build or restore many such temples, and scampered around in damage control mode.
The dubious credit of bringing gods and goddesses into the election agenda, in large measure, goes to the BJP which has successfully projected all other political parties as somehow opposed to or hostile to Hindus, beginning with LK Advani’s oft-repeated words such as (Muslim) appeasement and pseudo-secularism in the 1990s. This is far from the truth, of course. However, this is not — and should not have been — a battle between political parties displaying or proving their Hindu credentials. There should be no need for such exhibitionism but, in the super-charged atmosphere of Modified India, even saying so sounds naïve. In a situation where the BJP sets the agenda, it is up to the Congress to be cautious and not walk into the trap as it has done in Karnataka. But the less said about the Congress party’s strategic strength, the better.
India’s Met Gala moment is business
The annual Met Gala, fashion world’s most dazzling and top-scale event, played out earlier this week. Indian media, both conventional and social, were awash with photographs of Indian and international celebrities dressed in cutting-edge fashion and walking the famed red carpet. The outfits they sported, true to Met Gala tradition, were exaggerated and extravagant, literally and figuratively hyperbolic. But then, the Met Gala is all that and more. What started off as an annual fund-raiser event in the mid-1940s for the Costume Institute, before it merged into the iconic Metropolitan Museum in New York, has transformed into a super A-lister event with more celebrities together than probably any other event in the world. The Indian presence is recent but not one to be missed with India’s celebrity head-turners walking down the red carpet. But what is in it for the country?
Behind the extravaganza and the over-the-top spectacle that the Met Gala is, it is the hallowed space that fashion designers and fashionistas aspire to be in. India has been known, among other things, for its textiles and artisan work; its claim to the sari remains unique. Though its share in the global textile trade and apparel is only about 5%, they represent a growing sector in which the world is interested. Textile exports in 2021-22 were $44 billion and are predicted to increase exponentially in the next few years. With a fashion museum like the one opened in Mumbai recently by the Ambanis, the aspiration is to take the best seat at the table of international high fashion. Fashion industry has become a part of India’s soft power — celebrities, wealthy industrialists, film stars are all in it for their shares. For the world, India is the next market to head to. At the end of the gala, it is business.