Fire the motormouths, use chance to put across facts
Given how award-wapsi has stopped after the Bihar elections, finance minister Arun Jaitley’s point of ‘manufactured protest’ looks a lot more credible today. None of this is to say those returning their awards had a political agenda, but that political parties were interesting in fanning the flames, in encouraging award-winners to convey the impression of a rising level of intolerance under the Modi government. Not surprisingly, with the government on the backfoot
after the Bihar defeat and the internal dissent from veterans like LK Advani, the Opposition parties are now pressing for a debate in Parliament on what they call growing intolerance. Prime minister Modi would do well to accept the debate and the opportunity it provides—indeed, not agreeing to a debate, something the government has done in the past, will only convey the impression it is indeed intolerant.
There is no doubt several BJP ministers and MPs have vitiated the atmosphere with talk of how Muslims don’t really have to eat beef or of President Kalam being a nice man despite being a Muslim—the various type of beef bans in BJP states have only added to the fear psychosis—but there is enough official data to prove intolerance did not start with the BJP coming to power at the Centre last year. When the BJP came to power, there were several news reports insinuating churches were increasingly being vandalised since Hindutva elements had been given a free rein—there was, however, data that showed churches had been vandalised before in equally large numbers, and by petty thieves; sure enough, after some play in the media, the stories died a natural death.Similarly, the data shows large incidents of communal violence in 2012, 2013 and 2014 before the BJP had come to power; indeed, Uttar Pradesh where the beef-related lynching took place, has the highest number of people killed and injured in communal clashes.
The debate in Parliament will allow the government to put forward such incontrovertible evidence. However, there are important caveats. Just because intolerance has taken place in the past, never mind under which government, doesn’t give BJP leaders the licence to fan the flames. So, prime minister Modi will do well to remove from his Cabinet some of those who fanned the flames—nothing can send a more powerful signal of his commitment to secularism than this—and then engage in a sober debate in Parliament. If the prime minister chooses to brave out the storm, the chances of losing out productive sessions of Parliament are quite high.