By Arati Nair:
Ever since the Narendra Modi-led NDA government assumed power at the helm, loose cannons of the right wing political affiliation have been working overtime to further their sectarian agenda. That, they are relentlessly pursuing non-issues to achieve the same has been evident from the start. Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Yogi Adityanath and others of their ilk deem it their obligation to paint every governmental decision in hues of saffron.
The upcoming ‘International Yoga Day’ found itself in the midst of a storm, when several sections of the Muslim community in India voiced their opposition to the government’s allegedly dubious resolve to promote yoga, even among minorities. Notorious for his misogynistic and callous statements in the past, Sakshi Maharaj was quick to capitulate on the opportunity and claim that ‘he was a true Muslim and Prophet Mohammed was the biggest practitioner of yoga.’ He went on to add — “In Islam, the biggest name is that of Mohammed and I think Mohammed saab is a great yogi. I think that a Muslim is one with ‘iman’, thus a Mussalman. I am a true Muslim.”
In a broader sense, such statements, besides trivializing the concerns of some sections of the populace, also undermine the sanctity of the BJP’s election tagline, ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. In this particular instance, a delegation of the Muslim community expressed solidarity with the government’s programme for Yoga Day, after the contentious Surya Namaskar was scrapped from the list of asanas to be performed on June 21. Earlier, some Muslim groups had opposed it on grounds of Islam not allowing its followers to bow before anyone, except ‘Allah’. The matter should have ended there.
Unfortunately, certain fringe elements of the BJP could not let sleeping dogs lie. When Sakshi Maharaj says that he thinks Mohammad ‘saab’ was a great yogi, he questions the validity of concerns raised by the Muslim community. His condescending reference to the Prophet as the biggest practitioner of yoga is yet another failed tactic to justify the unilateral decision of the centre in this regard. Going one step ahead, he flagrantly declares himself a ‘true’ Muslim, failing to comprehend the complexities of theological thought accorded to different faiths. Along similar lines, last year Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti sought to inflame communal tensions by tagging non-Hindus ‘haramzaade’.
The government has tried time and again to distance itself from such controversial persons with little success, as they are more than mere proponents of religion – they are parliamentarians, capable of influencing policy decisions. In their hands the state machinery could become a tool to proliferate the ideology of ‘Hindutva’, which seeks to establish the hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life in a culturally diverse nation. This spells disaster for a macrocosm like India.
These individuals are playing to a select vote-bank gallery. Several pockets of our country are rife with communal tension- a boiling cauldron that only needs be tipped to let loose violence against its own people. The annals of India’s history are bloody with incidents of communal discord and rioting, instigated by hate speech and partisan beliefs. Sections 153(A) and 295(A) of the IPC have achieved little in de-fanging these venom-spewing entities. The 1984 Anti-Sikh riots, demolition of Babri Masjid, the Godhra pogrom, the Muzaffarnagar riots are all past wounds that haven’t healed still. To avoid a repetition, the government must rein in these controversial MPs who cannot exercise restraint or sensitivity.
For a party that boasts of the merits of a ’56-inch chest’ and a thumping mandate, this should not be a difficult task. Setting an example by warning, if not expelling, these zealots would restore the faith of minorities in this government. A democracy gains credence when its chosen representatives lend an ear to the murmurs of protest, amidst the general cacophony of acquiescence.