Sunday 30 March 2014

This is 21st century, not 19th, Mr Rajnath Singh (Sunday Guardian)

BJP president Rajnath Singh with party MP Lalji Tandon at the party office in Lucknow on Wednesday. PTI
ince 2006, this columnist has been convinced that Narendra Damodardas Modi is on track to become the Prime Minister of India, and has refused to join the ostrich band of fellow secularists and liberals in their wishing away of the prospect. Making nonsense of their presumed commitment to free speech and to honest and independent inquiry, some have tagged such a forecast as evidence of a "communal" spirit, pointing as evidence several columns written for Organiser, a journal that has yet to hide its affinity with the RSS. Unfortunately for such critics, this columnist is equally a contributor to Radiance, the magazine of the Jamaat-i-Islami Hind, an organisation in which he has more than a few friends, and which he regards with respect, especially for its work in promoting education among women.
During the infrequent occasions that this columnist has met Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat has come across as a political administrator firmly set on bringing his state and perhaps the country to the 21st century. He has often expressed his commitment towards internet freedom, despite the fact that he has received a fair (or, depending on the way one looks at politics in India, unfair) volume of criticism, often in language that would shame a merchant mariner. He has accepted the importance of ensuring that the poor be given access to fluency in the English language, a benefit that has been denied to them since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors in preventing the spread of English education among the poor, Jyoti Basu and Lalu Yadav. Unlike many in his party, he has recognised the need to face external commercial competition rather than wall in what would subsequently be a shrinking market.
The question is: will Modi's acceptance of the 21st century rub off on his party colleagues, specifically on BJP president Rajnath Singh? We know the BJP chief's views on English. The language ought to be banned, no matter that such a step — in contrast to accelerating the spread of the world's link language in the internet age — would consign the whole of India to the level found in the poorest corners of Uttar Pradesh, his home state. Rajnath has been equally forthright in his opinion of homosexuality. While some of us (though not, unfortunately, the Supreme Court of India) believe that what takes place in the bedroom between consenting adults is their own business, the BJP president clearly looks forward to setting up a cadre of Moral Police on the lines of the Saudi muttawa, which would pry into homes and prise loose same-sex couples in parks before dragging them to jail. Indeed, the BJP's complicity in the raft of intrusive and undemocratic laws passed by the UPA is near 100%. Whatever the measure entrenching the state in a position of dominance over the ordinary citizen, the two Leaders of the Opposition (both colleagues of Rajnath Singh) have either stepped aside or joined in their passing. Which is why the prospect of an NDA government with them as the two Deputy Prime Ministers would create some unease among voters eager to shed the baggage of past errors and move forward to future triumphs.
Given that three of the four top leaders of the BJP are clearly functioning and thinking within the mind space of the 20th and even the 19th century, leaving only Narendra Modi as an outlier, the question comes as to whether he can convince his three senior colleagues to follow his lead, or whether he will be made to follow theirs, as seems to have happened in the case of selection of BJP candidates for the ensuing polls. Hopefully, Rajnath Singh will be eager to ensure that he does not repeat his earlier failures, as Chief Minister of UP watching his party plummet in the standing of the voters, and as BJP president (in his first avatar in the job) of seeing his party be denied of a hat-trick in 2004, losing to a Congress Party that the BJP had bested in 1998 and 1999. The BJP president needs to be a bit more contemporary in his thinking, else his views may rub off on subordinates. Witness the Karnataka BJP welcoming Pramod Muthalik into the party fold, a man who has the same views on almost all social issues as Mullah Omar. Rather than pandering to those eager to ensure that India remain poor and sluggish in growth, Rajnath Singh needs to work harder to convince voters, especially the young, that he has adapted to the 21st century and will not seek to ape the UPA in strengthening the grip of the 19th and the 20th on the people of a country that has been let down by its leaders for most of its life as a free nation.

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