Friday, January 4, 2013

Shocking when RSS chief denigrates women and the BJP defends him….

It’s becoming a flood now. One politician after another, irrespective of which party he/she represents, keeps issuing regressive statements about women. It was Abhijit Mukherjee of the Congress a few days back. Then there was a BJP MLA in Rajasthan who said girls in schools shouldn’t wear skirts. Then Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar of the TMC on the Park Street rape. Yesterday, yet another BJP politician, a Madhya Pradesh minister, said women shouldn’t cross their “maryada” or they would have to face “Ravana”. But these are all small fries on the national political scene. It becomes really bad when senior leaders – like Mohan Bhagwat, Chief of the RSS, make such irresponsible statements. There is a big difference when senior leaders speak in this way.

The differences are many in fact. The most important is that while junior members are known asses and can be condoned for making such puerile statements, the same cannot true for party leaders. It’s one thing for Abhijit Mukherjee to utter stupidities; it would be a totally different ball game if Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh made such statements. The party president’s every statement is like an instruction to party members. As far as I know, Sonia Gandhi has always made progressive statements. In this specific case, she has condemned attacks on women, and has demanded that the laws be made stricter. Likewise, its impossible to fault the PM. But it’s a totally different story with the BJP’s ideologues. As the chief of the RSS – the BJP’s boss – Mohan Bhagwat should have known better than to try and create a difference between Bharat (bharatiya sanskriti) and India (westernized). Now every BJP and RSS member is dutybound not only to defend him, but also follow up on the direction provided by him. But then what do you expect from a party that is so proud of our “Bharatiya sanskriti”?

There is a big difference between the BJP and the other parties in what happens after the statement is made. Typically, the Congress and other parties immediately distance themselves from the comment, calling it a personal view. Party spokespeople refuse to defend the moron. Usually the party also forces the person to issue an apology. We saw that in the case of Abhijit Mukherjee when he repeatedly, and almost comically, parroted the line that he had no doubt been ordered to say by the Congress high command “I apologize (or apolozize as he kept saying!) and withdraw my statement”. He looked really silly that night on TV, but today in a relative context, he looks like a half-decent contrite man! But in the case of the BJP, not only has the party not distanced itself from Mohan Bhagwat’s statement (how can it?!), it has in fact come out in full force to defend him. Apparently, we are supposed to appreciate the “context” of Mr. Bhagwat’s comment. And of course the standard “bharatiya sanskriti” argument was presented all over again. Worse, on TV, the likes of Subramaniam Swamy (a BJP stooge….and yes, he defends BJP when he is not filing junk cases against the UPA), Rahul Narvekar (the only one who can show Arnab Goswami his place!) and Shaina NC (the generally progressive person) were all strongly defending the indefensible Mohan Bhagwat. I truly sympathize with them. They had a tough job to do. Why don’t they just quit a party whose chief has such regressive beliefs?

To be fair to the BJP, the party’s leaders (as distinct from RSS leaders) themselves (Swaraj, Jaitley, Advani) are quite sensitive about such matters. Party leaders quickly distanced themselves from the utterly ridiculous statement made by Madhya Pradesh minister, Kailash Vijayvargiya, suggesting that women must know their “maryada”. The buffoon had no shame in invoking Sita to suggest that there were several Ravanas waiting for women who refuse to toe the “Laxman Rekha”. But when it comes to disowning the RSS chief, how can they?

The last difference of course in the “context” itself. Why does the BJP always go back to bharatiya sanskriti? I mean….we do know that the party is a party that caters exclusively to chaste Hindus….but surely it can present a more modern face of Hinduism? On a subject on which it wants to mark its difference with the Congress, surely it would be smart if could display a certain progressiveness? It has nothing to show in terms of inclusiveness when it comes to religion. It has no Christian or Muslim (save a few “mukhotas”) leaders. Or on caste. For it doesn’t even have lower-caste Hindus in positions of strength in its party hierarchy. At least when it comes to burning social issues, can the party show a certain modernity? Stop talking about what is essentially a very discriminatory Indian culture? For all its failings, the Congress under Sonia Gandhi is secular, giving representation to all religions and castes (just see how heterogeneous its leadership is), and taking a generally progressive line on social issues.

One last point. There is a reason why the BJP is not able to capitalize on the dropping popularity of the Congress. It’s a party that has nothing different to offer. It’s an expert at criticizing the Congress (having been in the opposition for so long), but it has no ideas of its own. It opposes the Congress’s economic reforms, but it doesn’t offer any formula of its own. It talks about social modernity when a Congressman makes an idiotic statement, but fails to apologize or rebuke erring members when its own partymen are involved. To most lay people, the BJP comes out as just another “party without a difference”. Imagine this – even regional parties (BSP, AIADMK) are announcing progressive pro-women steps. But the BJP, on prime time TV, is defending the most regressive announcemnts of Mohan Bhagwat. Shame. Shame.

The real truth is that the BJP shows its highly regressive face every now and then. Its views on bharatiya sanskrity are all too well known. Its ally is the chauvinistic Shiv Sena. Its cadres are made up from organizations with extreme Hindu chauvinism, Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It’s refused to apologize for the babri demolition and the Godhra massacre, refusing to make up with the Muslim community. This kind of appeal works only with the Hindu bigot, but doesn’t cut ice with people with a progressive mindset….

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