The role of politicians such as K. Lakshman, the Bharatiya Janata Party member of the legislative assembly from Telangana, is intriguing. Either he put his foot in his mouth when he called Sania Mirza Pakistan’s daughter-in-law, or he volunteered to be the tip of the BJP’s ideological tentacle, exploring the width and depth of India’s secular values. Given the BJP’s officially expressed embarrassment at his remark, it may be polite to go with the foot-in-mouth theory. Of course, Mr Lakshman produced a number of reasons for his objection to Ms Mirza being chosen as brand ambassador for Telangana — all equally puzzling since Amitabh Bachchan is the brand ambassador for Gujarat and Shah Rukh Khan for Bengal — but it is the Pakistan reference that reverberates on many levels. For one, Ms Mirza’s identity is being merged with her marital status, as though to erase her achievement as an international sports star. With this attitude towards women voiced by dominant segments — politicians and elected representatives — it is no wonder that India is among the lowest in rank regarding gender equality in the latest human development report. But as important in the present context is the reference to Pakistan. The BJP has, more than once, shown itself uncomfortable with Ms Mirza, poking its nose into her lifestyle and chiming in with orthodox criticism from her own community about her dress. Perhaps it is the combination of her gender and her community that makes her success difficult to digest. That she has married a sportsman from Pakistan seems to have convinced Mr Lakshman at least of her possible ‘non-Indianness’, which he could not have managed to hint at otherwise. It is to this unspoken barb that Ms Mirza has responded firmly, insisting on her own ‘Indianness’.
There is a certain responsibility associated with governance, particu larly the governance of a varied and sensitive country. Mr Lakshman’s remark is one manifestation of an attitude being articulated quite frequently ever since the BJP came to power in Delhi. A BJP member of parliament in the Lok Sabha shouted in defence of his Shiv Sena colleagues’ misbehaviour in Maharashtra Sadan that this was Hindustan, not Pakistan. In the same week, a BJP minister in Goa said happily that India would become a Hindu rashtra under Narendra Modi. Are these slips, or explorations?
Whatever they are, they should stop. Not only should the BJP high command — including, obviously, the once eloquent prime minister — condemn such comments, but it should also treat them as punishable, as inciting hatred perhaps, or causing discord. That hope seems far-fetched still. The bullying Shiv Sena MPs have not been taken to task yet. Comments are probably less important.