In The Line Of Fire: Bihar To London, Where have The Acche Din' Gone?
NEW DELHI: Bihar has meshed into London, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi under fire from both ends. Protests against his visit have taken over the headlines in London, while the dissidents led by the old guard blaming him and BJP president Amit Shah directly for the defeat, have occupied the media spotlights at home.
The Bihar defeat has impacted on the UK visit with the British media joining the world in highlighting this, and recalling the Hindutva generated violence, and PM Modi’s own Gujarat record. At home too the UK visit has moved from the high to the low end of the official Indian scale with visible worry about the protests that seem to be gathering momentum in London, even more so after the Bihar results came in.
While the official itinerary,including lunch with the Queen, is all on course there is some worry in official circles about the Wembley stadium event because of the infighting in the BJP here. The old guard including seniors like LK Advani. Yashwant Sinha and Murli Manohar Joshi have fired a direct salvo at both PM Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, refusing to fall in line with the party parliamentary board that claimed ‘collective responsibility.’ Ideologues Arun Shourie and Govindacharya are both on board, making this a formidable force for the moment at least. Both know the BJP and the RSS inside out, they are the two ‘intelligent’ faces of the organisations, and have established a reputation over the years of being good political strategists preferring always to function as the ‘backroom boys’ that gives them the space and flexibility they both work best with.
The hasty effort by Shah, PM Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to close the doors before these split wide open seems to have failed. The veterans in a statement said, "The results of Bihar election show that no lesson has been learnt from fiasco in Delhi, And again challenged the effort by PM Modi and Shah to put a cover on the Bihar debacle with, "To say everyone is responsible for defeat in Bihar is to ensure no one is held responsible. It shows those who would have appropriated credit are bent on shrugging off responsibility for the disastrous showing in Bihar.” At least seven MPs from Bihar have supported the statement.
There are many in the government’s Council of Ministers---foremost being Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj---who are waiting in the wings, very unhappy with PM Modi’s functioning. Ministers have been gagged in government as is well known, have limited jurisdiction over their own Ministries with every important decision being referred back to the Prime Ministers office. Foreign travel has been restricted as has been domestic ‘events’ such as inaugurations that most politicians in power revel in, with no one allowed to speak to the media directly.
Shah’s ‘strategy’ that lies in marginalising the old guard and the BJP organisation in the states and replacing this with his own hand-picked men and RSS cadres has created deep resentment in the BJP. The same was true of his approach in Bihar where many in the party were completely ignored, and even humiliated. This has been brought out openly by actor Shatrughan Sinha and quietly by leaders like Yashwant Sinha who had been warning of defeat for a while now. In fact after the polling began Sinha told the Citizen that the approach had been faulty, and the violence outside was having an adverse impact on the state. He pointed to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s popularity maintaining that this factor had clearly not been taken into cognisance by Shah and the others in charge of the campaign.
The BJP has retaliated with a counter statement issued by Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and Venkaiah Naidu. The fight for the party is clearly on and while the mandate rests with PM Modi, the growing criticism in India and abroad is lending more strength to the dissidents elbow. As Arun Shourie, who has turned from a vocal supporter to a devastating critic said, the Prime Minister seems to have lost the plot and has gone back on all that he had promised to do. Instead of development, Shourie said, he has allowed the agenda of intolerance and violence to take over.. He pointed to the growing disaffection in the country, even amongst the corporates who were the first to come out in support of PM Modi. However, Shourie is not looking to replace PM Modi but to change him through a course correction.
In London the media has been writing of the Bihar defeat, and of the growing resistance by the writers, scientists, artists and others. The US based Wall Street Journal also joined in with, “Mr. Modi’s arrival in the U.K., follows a large-scale defeat for his Bharatiya Janata Party in pivotal state elections in Bihar, the results of which were announced Sunday. That defeat hit Indian stocks as traders feared he would find it more difficult to push long-awaited economic reforms as a result.”
The protests being planned in London against the visit grabbed world headlines with a light display “Modi Not Welcome” projected on to the British Parliament with the Tory government making light of it. As one of the organisers said, the only explaining they had to do after the dramatic display of lights that lasted a “few hours” was to the local police by making it clear that the swastika image that was part of the graphics was not a Nazi symbol and they were not a Nazi group. The light projection was highly successful and while led by Awaaz-UK involved a large number of groups including the South Asia Solidarity Group, Sikh Federation UK, Southall Black Sisters, Dalit Solidarity Network UK, Indian Muslim Federation, Indian Workers Association, Muslim Parliament, and Voice of Dalit International.
The mobilisation by PM Modi’s supporters for the Wembley stadium event is matched by the protesters who are planning a series of events to equal his itinerary. However, the media coverage so far is giving nightmares to the Ministry of External Affairs here as it has been critical and no-holds-barred. The Guardian, in particular, has been carrying opinion pieces that are hard hitting and extremely critical of the Prime Minister. One of these articles that went viral on the social media, written by Indian author Pankaj Mishra begins: “In 2005, when Narendra Modi was the chief minister of the wealthy Indian state of Gujarat, local police murdered a criminal called Sheikh Sohrabuddin in cold blood. At an election rally in 2007 for the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP, Modi assured his citizens that Sohrabuddin “got what he deserved”. What should be done, he asked, to a man found possessing illegal arms? The pumped-up crowd shouted back: “Mari nakho-mari nakho!” (Kill him, kill him!)
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The lynch mob’s cry was repeated in a village near Delhi last month as zealotsbeat to death a Muslim farmer they suspected – wrongly – of keeping beef in his house. While Modi makes a triumphant visit to the UK after more than a year as India’s prime minister, the Hindu supremacists are, as the novelist Mukul Kesavan wrote last month, in “full hunting mode, head up and howling”. In recent weeks, activists and scholars have been shot dead amid a nationwide campaign against “Hindu-baiters” that targets secular intellectuals and “westernised” women as well as public figures with Muslim and Christian names, and western NGOs such as Greenpeace. The assassinations follow months of violence and intimidating rhetoric by Hindu supremacists. A range of public figures, from Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood’s biggest star, to India’s respected central banker, Raghuram Rajan, have spoken out against the rising tide of sectarian hatred….”
Battlelines are being drawn, and more firmly and clearly than before. In India where protests are gathering momentum on a daily basis, abroad with foreign governments like UK and Prime Minister David Cameron now under pressure to take up the rights issue with PM Modi, and now also from within the BJP and the RSS.