The roles, it would seem, were pre-arranged. Narendra Modi was to take the low road, which task he has accomplished with aplomb. If he had his way, the train at Godhra would burn for ever. But the low road was considered not enough; somebody had to take the high road as well. The prime minister, with his reputation of being a natureís gentleman, was the inevitable choice for the assignment. He has, on his own admission, campaigned in Gujarat, as Narendra Modiís advocate, endorsing everything the Modi regime has achieved in Gujarat, including the, call it holocaust, call it pogrom, call it genocide, that ravaged the state in the first half of the calendar year. The prime minister was evidently required to display the other, supposedly nobler, face of the party he represents. He accordingly talked of fellow-feeling and tolerance, of how all religions are equal, sarva dharma sadbhaava. Without question he was mighty pleased that he could dare to use the occasion of a toughly contested election to express such spiritually uplifting thoughts.
One should not rush to summary judgment though. The standard shibboleth of the importance of communal harmony apart, the prime minister let drop of another thought which has frightening implications. He wanted the Bharatiya Janata Party to return to power in Gujarat because he himself leads a BJP-led administration at the Centre; ďcoordinationĒ between the Union and state governments improves vastly if the political colour of the governments at the Centre as well as in the states is the same.
This prime ministerial doctrine cuts across the very basics of the Indian Constitution. India, the very first article of the Constitution says, is a Union of states. This union could not obviously come into existence if there were no state entities in the first place. Since India is again, as per the Constitution, a democratic republic, the people inhabiting the different parts of the country have the right to exercise their preference about who should rule them in their respective states. Democracy warrants plurality of views and choices. Going by his words, the prime minister does not regard the phenomenon of such a multiplicity at all desirable for the nation; he would dearly love to have his party rule in all the states; that will, in his view, make life and living happy and beautiful for each and everyone.
The prime minister, a practising poet, displays a sure touch in the use of language. Perhaps with deliberate intent, he leaves in the air some casual suggestions which could, it is hoped, solidify into firm concepts in the minds of men. Should the prime minister be allowed to get away with the stratagem' In case the prime ministerís desire is not the desire of the people at large and they vote, as they have been wont to do, for different political parties in different states and differently from how they have voted for the Lok Sabha, would it be suggested that such waywardness is detrimental to the interests of the country' Does it also mean that were regimes to come up in the states with political complexions different from his own, he would deny these state administrations cooperation and refuse them resources that are deservedly theirs'
Conceivably the prime minister would argue the other way round: it is the absence of cooperation on the part of state regimes holding other political views who are reluctant to cooperate and coordinate with the Union government, thereby creating problems. This will however be mere quibbling. At the core of the prime ministerís proposal is the assumption that multi-party federal type of democracy is an evil in the Indian context and the nation will do better if it opts for a unitary arrangement; the idea of India being a Union of states should hence better be forgotten once and for all.
Given the intolerance defining the current national climate, the dividing line between desirable and obligatory canons is prone to disappear all of a sudden. There are, besides, a number of auxiliary and ancillary issues. The Indian Constitution sets out certain fundamental rights for all citizens, such as freedom of speech and expression, the right to assembly peaceably and without arms and to form associations and unions, freedom to practise any profession or carry on any occupation, trade or business, and so on. Of course, a saving clause is embedded in the Constitution, permitting the authorities to enact legislation imposing reasonable restrictions on the exercise of these rights in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, and maintenance of public order.
Were the prime minister to have his way, what would happen to this whole package of fundamental rights' In an environment dominated by frenzy, the existence of the right to freedom of speech and to form political associations or parties holding views contrary to those of the government presided over by the prime minister could easily be adjudged as clashing with the security of the state and affecting adversely the integrity of the country. Does it not then follow that the prime ministerial doctrine is really an invocation of a one-party state'
In that event, the prime ministerís clinically starched wish for a sarva dharma sambhavana is also bound to turn out to be a vacuous proposition. The syllogism could well run as follows: yes, all religions are equal, but for the sake of greater coordination and understanding amongst the people, it is devoutly to be wished that the dharma propounded by the leading political party at the Centre should be recognized as the leading national religion whose edicts must be followed without demur by adherents of other religions. The meaning of meaning is what matters.
Trust Narendra Modi and his acolytes to derive the appropriate lesson from the prime ministerís central message; irrespective of which other denomination a person might belong to, he or she has to accept the primacy of Hindutva if he or she wants to live in peace in this country.
Indira Gandhi in her rampaging days had been accustomed to pontificate in such authoritarian lingo; she wanted blind obedience not only from her colleagues in the Union cabinet, but also from all state governments and their chief ministers. She set herself furiously at work to realize her objective by removing unreliable chief ministers at short notice or without notice. Even the slightest hesitation on their part to carry out her orders would invite dismissal under the pretext of Article 356 of the Constitution.
Even so, Indira Gandhiís marauding behaviour was substantively different from the demeanour currently being exhibited by the BJP. She had no ideology; she only had her personal ego. Occasionally, for the sake of convenience, she would utter one or two mumbo-jumbos with an ideological veneer. But she was not serious, and very few took her seriously on that count.
The BJP and its prime minister are an altogether different kettle of fish. The BJP and its cohorts do not just love to flaunt their authoritarianism, they are soaked in the grim and dark philosophy that provides inspiration to rampant religious fundamentalism and will go to any length to establish its hegemony. For all one can surmise, the mild manners of the prime minister are just a veil; fascist fundamentalism a la Vishwa Hindu Parishad is lurking behind the veil. However hard the prime minister may try, once the mellifluous flow of his words comes to a surcease, it is the image of the threatening trishul that will linger.