Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s advice to party leaders that they should embark on a sneh yatra of sadbhavna (goodwill) and samanvay (harmony) is more than welcome in the context of the toxic narrative of many in the BJP and its fringe elements. One only wishes the Prime Minister’s compass had come sooner. Hate mongering has been rampant for some time, causing polarization. The light treatment of former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma is strange and stands in stark contrast to the immediate arrest of Alt News co-founder Muhammad Zubair based on a complaint over a 2018 tweet that contained a screenshot from a movie. Even the Supreme Court wondered why Sharma, who was responsible for the tense atmosphere across the country, was treated so leniently by the police. Trying to avoid responsibility by calling your own spokesperson a “fringe element” may be cynical politics, but it reveals the insincerity of the party. It is Modi’s voice that counts in the ruling dispensation, and his stoic silence for so long in the face of the storm that engulfed India following Sharma’s despicable comments adds to this insincerity of purpose.
For example, Modi remained silent even when the so-called dharam sansads were advocating nothing less than mass murder, and men in saffron were claiming to be redeeming Hinduism and spreading hatred and misogyny. The party leadership remained silent during the lynchings, riots, bulldozing of homes and hate speech, encouraging sycophants like Sharma, who turned hatred against the minority community into mainstream entertainment. There are many examples of this indulgence. For example, when Bangalore South MP Tejaswi Surya called on Hindus to convert Muslims and Christians, no action was taken. In 2020, when he endorsed a disgusting comment about Arab women on Twitter, the party remained silent. Sakshi Maharaj, a serial offender of anti-Muslim hate speech, has repeatedly been given a BJP ticket. If remedial measures were taken, leaders like Sharma would get the message.
The Prime Minister’s sage advice to his party should be coupled with not just mending bridges, but building new connections between communities. The BJP needs to move away from its cleverly veiled anti-minority approach, whether it is banning religious headscarves in the name of college uniforms or demolishing protestors’ homes citing construction violations. Dialogue, not demonization and destruction, should be the guiding mantra. All measures to combat communalism must be proactive; The BJP should not just wait for outrage from other nations or perceived electoral gains to build reconciliation and rapprochement. The electorate is ripe for communalism to assert itself so unflinchingly. A 2021 Pew survey found that Indians of various communities contradicted their claims of tolerance in responses to more nuanced questions about attitudes to religious diversity. To this end, political parties and community leaders must promote tolerance. For this reason, convergence and inclusion cannot simply be an afterthought. The political leadership must speak out and act decisively against any manifestation of communal violence without pandering to any community. The fringe groups of the BJP cannot be allowed to remain true to their touchstone of hatred and bigotry. Riding the Hindutva tiger may bring short-term electoral rewards, but tigers have been known to devour those who try to ride them.