They were the darlings of the country when they won medals at the Olympics. The Indian ruling establishment tweeted, posed for photo-ops, and basked in the glory of their victory. Now, all the top Indian wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik, have been protesting at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar for over a fortnight. They have alleged that the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, has sexually harassed seven female wrestlers for more than a decade. The Union government, though, has not uttered a word. No one from the ruling party has met or spoken to the players.
Miles away, Manipur has been up in flames for a week over communal tension, and yet, the Union cabinet has not met once to review the situation or appealed for peace. There was no effort from the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Manipur to broker peace or assuage the concerns of the communities at loggerheads.
The prime minister, Narendra Modi, and the Union home minister, Amit Shah, had more pressing engagements in Karnataka, where assembly polls took place on Wednesday. In his electioneering, the prime minister had much to say — he counted how many times Congress leaders had abused him; why people need to vote in the name of Bajrang Bali; how the Congress is anti-national and intent on dividing the nation. In between, he also completed the 100th episode of his Mann Ki Baat.
Suddenly, the BJP and sangh parivar ecosystem is also upbeat about a film called The Kerala Story — from Modi himself and the Union minister for women and child development, Smriti Irani, to the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, the entire ruling regime has found a voice and the time to watch a film which has been described by most critics as propaganda that aims to divide society and vilify a community. From one election to another, the juggernaut moves on, riding a new wave of propaganda. The BJP script is now a boring repetition.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi both loves to talk and does not like to talk. If it’s a monologue, he shines. If he must answer uncomfortable questions, he falls eerily silent. That is why he has held no open press conference in nine years. He attacks those who question his silence on key issues, his policies and his programmes as being “habitually negative” in spite of the country’s great strides under him.
Between all this — his big talk and his long silences — there’s a systemic problem of the sangh parivar ecosystem that he epitomises. They don’t like and won’t engage in a two-way dialogue.
Remember the strike by students at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune in 2015? No one held parleys with them. That and many other protests went the same way. There was no effort from the Centre to hold a dialogue with aggrieved protestors. At no point in time did the prime minister intervene when farmers were up in arms against the three farm laws for over 12 months in Delhi. His ministers did when things came to such a pass that the BJP stared at oblivion in the looming Punjab elections. The demonetisation, too, was a one-way traffic.
Within the BJP or with the Opposition, the room for meaningful conversation or consultation on issues with far-reaching consequences, including the Covid-19 pandemic, has shrunk. The consultations are usually between those who are part of the choir.
That’s pretty much true of all sangh parivar processes: a chosen few, meet behind closed doors, take decisions, and issue a diktat that the faithful swayamsevaks must obey. This one-way communication in the sangh ecosystem blanks out public reason.