Political reaction

Whipping up a frenzy

Print edition : October 28, 2016

Hoardings like this with belligerent slogans have appeared in different places across Western Uttar Pradesh. Photo: By special arrangement

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal after ABVP workers threw ink on him in Bikaner on October 4 for seeking exposure of evidence to curb Pakistan's propaganda. Photo: PTI

At Borivli, Mumbai, on October 5, BJP workers protesting against Maharashtra Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam's remark seeking proof of the "surgical strikes". Photo: Vijay Bate

The Hindutva brigade has taken it on itself to play political games with the “surgical strikes” across the LoC.

IT is classic Sangh Parivar doublespeak once again in the case of political manoeuvres on the “surgical military strikes” on terror camps across the Line of Control (LoC) and in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Ministers’ press briefings and informal interactions, qualified by phrases such as “off the record” and “speaking on condition of anonymity”, assert that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly cautioned his Cabinet and party colleagues to observe “restraint” and “avoid flamboyance or chest-thumping” in their references to the military strikes. The argument, as leaked out by these sources, was that while the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government has suitably avenged the Uri terrorist attack which killed 19 Indian jawans and that too in quick time, flamboyance and chest-thumping would vitiate the atmosphere at the social and political level. Once again, the effort was to project a statesmanlike image for the Prime Minister. But, on the ground, the name of the game for all Sangh Parivar outfits, from the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to the Bajrang Dal to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is outright flamboyance and chest-thumping.

The Shiv Sena, the Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva associate, has joined this drive. The propaganda is not just in your face but also slanted and targeted in such a manner that the condemnation of Pakistan and its promotion of terrorism has acquired a communal character with distinctive anti-Muslim overtones. This loud propaganda has been unleashed over different platforms, including street-side posters and banners, social media forums such as WhatsApp, and through messages in local radio stations. While it is a phenomenon witnessed across most of India, the campaign in States such as Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Goa, which will have Assembly elections at various junctures starting early next year, is more pronounced.

The posters, banners and hoardings that came up across Uttar Pradesh on October 5, the day the Prime Minister reportedly advised his Ministers to show restraint, speak volumes about the doublespeak. At Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh, where communal tension is yet to subside after the riots of August 2013 and related violence in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the posters, banners and hoardings put up by Sangh Parivar outfits read as follows: “We will kill you and kill you for sure but with our gun, our bullet, at our time of convenience, but at your place.” They carry a large photograph of Modi and smaller pictures of BJP national president Amit Shah, Union Minister and Member of Parliament from the region Sanjeev Baliyan, State BJP president Keshav Maurya and the BJP’s Muzaffarnagar MLA Kapil Agarwal.

Local BJP activists, who have put up the propaganda material, make no secret of the not-so-hidden message contained in the slogan for the minority community of the area. “Of course, it is a warning for the ‘traitors’ here too, that we would reach their homes as we have done systematically over the past three years,” said a Muzaffarnagar-based Bajrang Dal activist. Similar banners and hoardings have come up in other parts of Uttar Pradesh too, including the State capital, Lucknow, and Varanasi—the Prime Minister’s Lok Sabha constituency.

The slogans acquire different tones and hues in different regions. There are local variations aimed at targeting the political and social adversaries of the Sangh Parivar and the BJP in each area. However, there is also a common thread of Hindutva that runs through the campaign in all places. This is achieved, primarily, thorough the depiction of Prime Minister Modi, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Home Minister Rajnath Singh in a large number of the propaganda material. In most of these banners, posters and hoardings, Modi is depicted as Rama, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as Ravana and either Parrikar or Rajnath Singh as Lakshmana. Reports from Punjab, Goa and Gujarat are that in most of the propaganda material here, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal is portrayed as Indrajith, Ravana’s son. Some places in Uttar Pradesh, too, reportedly have this depiction.

Hindutva overtones

Evidently, there is a pointer in all these to the overall tactics that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are planning to adopt in the forthcoming elections. First, notwithstanding intermittent claims to the contrary by various sections of the Union government, including Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, the “surgical strikes” are bound to be the most important or at least one of the prominent campaign issues of the BJP. Second, as in the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, this too will have a mixture of an aggressive Hindutva theme combined with a general theme that can be paraded at a different, sober level.

The Hindutva orientation has already been thrust upon the campaign through the depictions of Modi as Rama. This would be pursued with various other means and nuances. The general theme would revolve around the projection of Modi as the resolute political leader who will act and move decisively in the interests of the country. The latter projection was about Modi’s so-called development model in 2014. Of course, the euphoria across the country following the announcement of the “surgical strikes” by the Army top brass has added strength to this campaign.

But this by itself was not enough for the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. To give it a larger dimension, the Modi government, the party and the larger Sangh Parivar also needed to portray opposition parties as well as minority communities as less than patriotic.

It is this strategy that has come into play in upturning a perfectly legitimate request made by Kejriwal to the Prime Minister seeking sufficient exposure of evidence to curb Pakistan’s propaganda denying the “surgical strikes”. While making this request through a video, Kejriwal repeatedly lauded the Prime Minister and the armed forces for the “surgical strikes”, even asserting that his political differences with Modi would not stand in the way of praising him for correct actions taken on issues of national security. But, as is its wont, the propaganda machinery of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, ably aided and assisted by a few sensationalist television stations, converted the Kejriwal poser into an act of sedition, branding it as questioning and insulting the armed forces as also helping Pakistan in its propaganda drive.

A similar tactic was employed against the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), though some Congress leaders, especially Mumbai-based leader Sanjay Nirupam, seemed to have gone overboard while demanding proof of the “surgical strikes”. Nirupam went to the extent of terming the claims on the “surgical strikes” as fake, adding that though he wanted real strikes, the BJP and its Union government were portraying false strikes as real ones. However, Nirupam also deserved some credit for first highlighting the BJP’s political game plan using the “surgical strikes”. He categorically stated that the saffron party and its associates were converting the strikes into a huge propaganda theme.

The attack on CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury was mainly through social media. He was targeted for stating that while the strong retaliation to the Uri terrorist attack was satisfactory, an ultimate solution to the problems between India and Pakistan could only be achieved through dialogue. The hard-core Sangh Parivar voices in social media attacked this, saying that Yechury was belittling the value of the “surgical strikes”.

While the constituents of the Sangh Parivar are going all out at the moment with this type of patriotism-oriented propaganda aimed at bolstering the strongman image of Modi and the efficiency of his government, there is a small section of the RSS that is apparently advising caution to Sangh Parivar apparatchiks and activists. They point out that General Raheel Sharif, the current chief of the Pakistan Army, has only two months to retire and he would, under normal circumstances, not like to leave office with the sense of demoralisation that the Indian propaganda on the “surgical strikes” must have generated amid Pakistan’s soldiers. “In this context, there is every possibility that the general will take such measures as to redeem this sense of demoralisation. This could take the form of some major yet surreptitious attack on one or some of our defence installations. Such a strike would result, in the current chest-thumping climate, in calls from large sections of the Indian population for more decisive strikes against Pakistan. This may be difficult to manage given the balance of power at the level of the military and also at the level of international backing,” said a senior RSS activist based in Lucknow.

There is an argument that Modi’s advice to his Cabinet colleagues on flamboyance and chest-thumping is also driven by this line of thinking. But, as in the case of scores of instances in the past two and a half years, ranging from violence to murder on emotive Hindutva issues such as love jehad, ghar wapsi and beef consumption, the Hindutva brigade has taken over in the aftermath of the “surgical strikes” too. And as has been proven over and over again since May 2014, when Modi ascended to power, there seems to be no way of containing or turning it back.

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