In 2014, then BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi created a flutter in the public discourse by refusing to wear a skull cap. His opponents termed it as a reflection of his Islamophobia (thus appealing to his core Hindutva supporters). His propaganda machinery wanted us to believe that future prime minister of the country doesn’t indulge in minority appeasement. Many of us, who were fence sitters in 2014, actually bought this rhetoric. The focus was on development and tackling corruption, not symbolic gestures appealing to religious minorities.
Modi had even famously said neither did Gandhi nor Patel or even Nehru ever wore a religious cap. Modi was right. Except with a small difference. Gandhi, Patel and Nehru didn’t indulge in minority appeasement of any religious community. Nehru is said to have been a true secular, not the pseudo types who took over Congress later. He never visited any religious place.
Bluntly speaking Modi is no Nehru or Gandhi or Patel. Of course he makes a public display of all of his temple visits. But what is disturbing is his double speak on minority appeasement. For quite some time now, he has been consistently trying to appease the Sikh community.
If he had not tom-tom-ed about his zero appeasement principles before and after General election, I would have still understood. But the prime minister of the country, who refuses to wear a Muslim headgear, has no problem putting on a Sikh turban. The leader of the nation, who never organised a single Iftar party in three years, is seen in photo-op distributing food at a langar in Amritsar’s Golden Temple.
With Punjab elections around the corner, is Narendra Modi compromising on his principles? The answer is yes. The SAD-BJP combine is facing strong anti-incumbency. Prime Minister is only expected to increase the number of such symbolism in the coming days ahead of Punjab polls.
But there is another way of looking at Modi’s freewheeling appeasement of the Sikh community beyond the elections.
In off the record conversations, RSS and BJP supporters would always tell you to make a difference between Indian origin religions and Semitic religions (primarily Islam and Christianity). Appeasement of non-Hindu, Indian religious like Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism isn’t minority appeasement. “They are our own people,” they would say. But those who practice Islam or Christianity are seen as the other.
Many Hindutva leaders have time and again pushed the non-Indian religious community to accept that ‘Indian-ness’. Needless to say, this has always been a controversial topic. Uniform civil code is an extension of the same thought process. Meanwhile when it comes to hard politics, just remember there is always the ‘Us versus the Other’ for any right wing politics to survive, even though it might be disguised under the garb of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas.
So you can continue to expect Prime Minister Modi and others in the BJP to indulge in many religiously symbolic gestures that involve Sikh, Buddhist and Jain communities. But you want him to wear a skull cap or attend a Christmas mass, you are crossing the line of minority appeasement.