AMIT Shah is a new word in the Sangh parivar jargon. It means loyalty. Shah is, without any doubt, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Man Friday. But what differentiates him from others is the blind faith he has in his master, Modi. Amit Shah was given the task to polarise the biggest state of Uttar Pradesh. He won the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) 71 seats out of 80 in the Lok Sabha in the recent elections.
Modi has now put Shah at the head of the BJP to spread the same divisive ideas, the Hindutava, all over the country. One thing is clear from his appointment: resistance to extremists has worn out so much that even a fanatic Hindu like Shah can occupy the highest position in the Sangh parivar. He is openly trying to put RSS and Modi's government on the same page. For example, Kaptan Singh Solanki, appointed as governor of Haryana, is a hardcore RSS member. What it conveys is that the BJP is willing to be used as an instrument of RSS.
By stating that the Sangh would take part in politics Mohan Bhagwat, RSS chief, has only confirmed the perception that the parivar is dictated by RSS. This may be against the undertaking that RSS had given to Home Minister Sardar Patel that it would not participate in political activities. Then the Jan Sangh had to amend its constitution to re-enunciate that the organisation would remain “devoted purely to cultural work.” The appointment of Solanki also sends out the message that there is no difference between BJP and RSS, the liberals and the extremists. Both are two sides of the same coin.
Modi may not have taken any step to accelerate the pace of Hindutava. Yet his prime ministership has emboldened the RSS elements. So much so that one BJP member called Sania Mirza, India's pride in tennis, a Pakistani. It must be tough for the Muslims who have to prove their loyalty to India all the time. Her husband is no doubt a Pakistani. She was naturally hurt for being questioned on her nationality.
The Hindutava of sorts was seen in Haryana where a separate Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) will control by all the Gurudawaras in the state and their offerings. It is a serious matter which should have been pondered over seriously to find a formula to allay the fears of Sikhs in Punjab and Haryana. RSS considers the Sikhs as a part of the Hindu community. The Sikhs, on the other hand, are against the assumption. The violent reaction of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal showed that the Punjab Sikhs, a majority in the community, will not tolerate any division in what he describes as panth, the Sikh order.
Another unfortunate deduction is that the liberal elements in the BJP have dwindled in numbers. They find no option to the RSS leadership. Maybe, the distance between the BJP and RSS was never a reality. It was part of the RSS tactics to make a dent in the general perception that the Indian society prefers the liberal BJP to the obdurate RSS.
The perception about tolerance in the Hindu religion is largely true. Had this not been the case, the constitution would not have said in the preamble that India would be a secular republic. The proof is provided by elections where 80% of Hindus, who constitute an overwhelming majority, vote for a liberal India. Another indication is that even the liberal Muslim leaders don't get elected even when their community constitutes 15% to 16% of population in the country.
The ominous side is that the bigoted are adopting a still harder line and getting acceptance. Otherwise, Shah's elevation makes little sense. After the BJP victory at the Centre, he has been polarising the society and ensuring that the party does not snap its ties with RSS or the extremist Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.
The recent episode of forcible-feeding of a fasting Muslim by a Sena MP is in a bad taste. What is more surprising is the explanation offered by the MP concerned and others. Several Sena members failed to condemn the MP and instead said it was done only to let the authorities know that the food supplied at the Maharastra Sadan was awfully bad. Though the Sena MP had subsequently apologised, the party had no business to equate it with some Muslim men raping women during Ramzan. The Modi government has at last reacted with Home Minister Rajnath Singh regretting the incident and reiterating that the government was committed to safeguarding the religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution.
Despite this, Modi's overall say in favour of Hindutva cannot be denied. He is associated with the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002. He is also known for his strong anti-Pakistan and anti-Bangladesh stand, the two Muslims republics in India's neighbourhood. Amit Shah was part of Modi's ministry at Ahmedabad at that time.
Fortunately, Modi also realises that he should have good relations with both the nations. His invitation to the prime ministers of Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives to his oath-taking ceremony says so. For Modi to have good relations with India's neighbours would strengthen the idea of pluralism, something that has helped the country to sustain a liberal atmosphere in the subcontinent.
Both New Delhi and Dhaka are fighting against fundamentalism, represented by the Taliban. Islamabad uses them for fighting 'a battle of independence' in Kashmir. There is also a strong influential lobby within Pakistan in support of fundamentalism, which is spreading in the entire Muslim world.
I wish New Delhi could act against the Hindu Taliban which is emerging as a serious force. The liberal Muslims, whether living in Pakistan or Bangladesh, cannot afford to be complacent in their resolve to eliminate the Taliban, the fundamentalists who want Islam to abandon the efforts at reformation and go back to the type of Islam at the time of inception 1400 years ago. They too realise that it is not possible to do that. But then their approach is based on the strategy of elections which seem to return a candidate who supports pluralism. Rulers of Pakistan and Bangladesh seem to be realistic enough not to do anything which would scare away the non-Muslim electorate.
The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.