22 March 2009

A familiar stench

Varun Gandhi’s bigotry against Muslims is hardwired into the DNA of the BJP and Sangh Parivar. That is why he is still his party’s candidate for the elections...

24 March 2009
The Hindu

A stench that is all too familiar

Siddharth Varadarajan

I cannot decide what is more offensive about the recent statements made by the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate for Pilibhit, Varun Gandhi — the original sin of inciting religious hatred against Muslims or the cowardly dissembling when confronted with irrefutable evidence of his incendiary oratory. In the old days before television news and the internet, politicians could always deny the veracity of the printed word by claiming they had been misquoted or that their words had been taken out of context. The hapless hack might well have a recording of the offensive words but in the absence of any way to disseminate that evidence, the politician would invariably get away. Not anymore. Varun has regularly been spewing communal hate in his stump speeches. And not one but several video and audio recordings exist to prove this.

What the whole of India saw and heard in the flailing of his arms, the hysterical movement of his lips and his coarse, insistent promise to cut and kill Muslims was reality TV stripped of the comforting gauze of distance. “This is not the ‘hand’ [of the Congress], this is the hand of the lotus. It will cut the throats of Muslims after the elections,” he said, using a pejorative that plays on the fact that Muslims are circumcised. We all saw it, heard it and recognised it. That is why the Election Commission rejected Varun Gandhi’s unproven claim that the clips were somehow “doctored” and found him guilty of violating the code of electoral conduct.

That he would do everything possible to prevent himself from being debarred or even imprisoned is understandable. In Pilibhit, the Hindutva hero bravely promised to cut the throats of Muslims if elected. Back in Delhi, he whimpers that he threatened violence not on Muslims but on “vote katuas,” or spoilers, an explanation which is nonsensical because that phrase is used only to describe a minor third party which enters an election and cuts into the votes of a bigger rival.

The k-word Varun deployed is the Indian equivalent of the n-word racists in the U.S. use for African-Americans and belongs in the gutter rather than in an election speech. He also demonised Muslim names and said Hindus ought to fear encountering Muslims at night. In any democracy worth the name, a politician would be arrested and prosecuted for making such a speech. In a country where such speeches have been used to incite actual violence against Muslims, he would immediately be barred from standing for election. And even if he were able to take refuge under the labyrinthine legal process to postpone the inevitable for several months and years, his party certainly has a moral and political obligation to stop him contesting under its symbol.

In America, racism in politics has sometimes been used at the subliminal level. The Republicans used the case of a Black felon to attack Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election. But were a mainstream candidate to break the taboo against using racist language, let alone threaten violence, his party would expel him before the day were out. But this is India, and the party concerned is the BJP. How can it act against Varun when all he did was to echo the anti-Muslim message that its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has been giving since its inception?

As Jyotirmaya Sharma convincingly demonstrates in Terrifying Vision: M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS and India, Muslims have always been seen by the sangh parivar as alien, violent and threatening — “incomplete, uncultured and demonic” in the words of its most important sarsanghchalak. Muslims (and Christians) were scary like rakshasas and had no loyalty to India because they did not accept their kula dharma, or ancestral duty, towards Hinduism. They were "ghar ke baaharwaley" — those who are not part of our home — and had to agree to be assimilated to the point where they no longer called themselves Ali, Hassan, John or Thomas. And if they refused, how should Hindus deal with the desecration of their motherland? “Parashuram avenged his father’s humiliation by offering him libations of blood of those who had insulted him,” Professor Sharma explains. “Likewise, the only way to worship the motherland after she had been defiled,” warns ‘Guru’ Golwalkar, “would be to wash it with the blood of those who dared commit such an act.”

The anti-Muslim construct and the threat of violence is a congenital part of the RSS’ philosophical DNA, a genetic flaw so potent that it contaminates anyone who comes into contact with it. Muslims are the enemy around which the edifice of the BJP’s wider politics is built, even if the requirements of legality mean the party has to be guarded in the manner in which it expresses itself. Sometimes, of course, the mask slips, either by carelessness or design. Varun Gandhi is a novice but even a consummate politician like Atal Bihari Vajpayee could occasionally trip up. In a venomous speech at a BJP meeting in Goa in April 2002, shortly after the anti-Muslim violence which shook Gujarat that year started, Mr. Vajpayee, who was Prime Minister at the time, declared: “Wherever Muslims live, they don’t like to live in co-existence with others, they don’t like to mingle with others; and instead of propagating their ideas in a peaceful manner, they want to spread their faith by resorting to terror and threats.”

Mr. Vajpayee later claimed he was speaking about “followers of militant Islam” and not Muslims in general. Subsequently, the PMO put out a doctored version of the speech in which the phrase “wherever Muslims live” was changed to “wherever such Muslims live.” There the matter would have ended, except that Mr. Vajpayee made the mistake of telling Parliament the doctored transcript was the actual speech delivered by him in Goa. Priyaranjan Das Munshi produced a recording and moved a privilege motion claiming the House had been deliberately misled. Manohar Joshi, who was Speaker at the time, exonerated Mr. Vajpayee. But in his ruling, he noted that the BJP leader had admitted the recording of his speech did not contain the word “such.”

Despite emendations and clarifications, however, the party’s DNA keeps asserting itself. On the eve of the 2007 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP officially produced and distributed a VCD, 'Bharat ki Pukar', in which a number of actors play out scenes of Muslim villainy to underline the sangh’s message that Hindus are under siege. The VCD’s hero was a school teacher (masterji) who goes around telling Hindus to act before it is too late. “If you don’t vote the BJP, you will regret it. This country will be enslaved by the Muslims and these tikas on your forehead will have to go and in their place you will have to grow beards.” His commitment to the cause eventually causes him to have a stroke and die. At his funeral, one of the mourners sounds a dire warning. “That day is not far away when we will be afraid to even call ourselves Hindu, and you will never be able to find a Sohanlal, Mohanlal, Atmaram or Radhekrishan anywhere. Wherever we look, we will only see Abbas, Naqvi, Rizvi, and Maulvi.”

From Guruji to Atalji, Masterji to Varun, the words may vary but the notion that Muslims are outsiders and enemies, that they are “scary,” have peculiar names and are plotting to turn the country into Pakistan is constant. So Varun Gandhi could warn his voters, “go to your villages and give the call that all Hindus must unite to save this area from becoming Pakistan.” His words, in their totality and in their relationship to the sangh parivar’s message, make clear what he was talking about. Regrettably, the Election Commission never took the BJP’s 2007 campaign VCD seriously. This time, however, it has not made the same mistake and has said Varun should not stand.

The BJP is upset about due process. It has also complained about double standards, since the Congress is again fielding Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, despite their more than questionable role in the November 1984 massacre of Sikhs. That the Congress should do so is shocking and condemnable but two wrongs don’t make a right. The law may allow Varun Gandhi to claim he is innocent until proven guilty but the imperatives of political judgment are different. By failing to condemn his hate speech and disregarding the Election Commission’s request that his candidature be withdrawn, the BJP and its leadership have made clear that they concur with, and are complicit in, the incitement of religious hatred as a means of winning elections.


Anonymous said...

Hardwired DNA indeed.. the great grandson of Nehru.

I see Jagdish Tytler is the Congress candidate for North East Delhi.

I wonder what the families of his Sikh victims think about this?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Varun Gandhi does not deserve to be a candidate or even a participant of any democratic process, his rhetoric of chauvinistic speeches will sure to provoke hatred and violence particularly in communally sensitive areas of U.P and Bihar, and needless to say , it will supplement more attacks , as such speeches will prove to be a breather for terrorists organizations with an assertion that a particular community in India are unsafe in this country !

Ravi Kiran said...

Varun will not get to contest that seat . BJP is definately pro-hindu but not a party that intends to enslave or chastise the muslims . Their demand for a temple in the most sacred place of their religion is very much justified . It is a religious requirement of the hindus , Ayodhya is the most sacred place for hindus and it's an insult to hindus if some body does not allow them to construct a temple there . The fight for the temple should be peaceful and essentially political in nature .

kuldeep singh chauhan said...

afterall he's following in the footsteps of his father....

Srinivasan Ramani said...


Excellent article. I just finished reading Jyotirmaya Sharma's book...Great context.

The impunity with which the BJP is taking off its "liberal facade clothes" is sure to cost it further more damage in terms of allies. Even if the allies are opportunists, none of them would want to die an instant death with such association.

I also want to highlight a quip that a friend made on Varun Gandhi:

"Considering that two of his grandparents are Sikh and one a Parsi .. his "pride" in his Hindu identity is clearly just a function of his main opponents being a Sikh (from the Congress) and a Muslim (from the SP).. Clearly a low-life specimen that our parliament can do without."

The EC agrees... and it is no surprise that the BJP doesn't.

Anonymous said...

While BJP gains from anti-Muslim sentiments, other parties gain from anti-Hindu, anti-American and anti-XYZ sentiments.

Congress ally DMK thrives on anti-Brahmin sentiments -- Brahmin bigotry is in their DNA

CPM thrives on anti-American and anti-Hindu sentiments. CPM's favorite ally now is Madani (Maudani). CPM has even started talking about martyrdom of Saddam Hussein! According to someone who wrote in a Malayalam newspaper "Mathrubhumi" today, a CPM candidate in Kerala, TK Hamsa reportedly announced: "my candidature is jihad against those who ruin islam"

Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen -- the heroes of Taslima attack -- was an ally of the ruling congress party in Andhra. Bigotry is in their DNA too.

Anti-democratic behavior is a part of congress DNA. The latest example is the appointment of an unfit Chawla.

Who is better ? Let the people decide!

Anonymous said...

He may very well have actually said what is being attributed to him, and if so, that is reprehensible in the extreme. For this, disbarment may be justified. But let us not completely discount the extent to which perception of reality can be affected by technology available today. Even minor editing of video can alter perceptions drastically; for example, just by changing the order of scenes. But today's technology, with digital editing, can alter both visible action and audible sound. You can appear to be doing and saying something completely different from what you actually did. Showing that this actually took place can be very difficult, unless you also have the original.

Also, I don't think he deserves any grief for claiming to be Hindu, merely because his parents or grandparents may have been Sikh or Parsi. That is simply a sociological fact about how one becomes Hindu: for the most part, simply by accepting the identity, not by undergoing any kind of conversion or formal ceremony or having a certain ancestry. Notice that Priyanka Gandhi, also of similarly mixed ancestry, advised him to read the Gita 'properly' today. He may very well be claiming to be Hindu just in line with BJP ideology: but he has every right to claim to be Hindu irrespective of his ancestry. I see no contradiction there.

Anonymous said...

Until people of India realise that politics and religion are different politicians will continue to exploit us.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sid,

While holding no candle for Varun Gandhi or his speeches (highly condemnable and yes, he should not be the candidate), would it not be better if we ban speeches which mobilise votes based on caste, class and religion.

If so, would love to know how you view the CPM's tie ups with Muslim fundamentalists, or the caste based parties in both sides of the divide in Tamil Nadu (DMK / ADMK)? And what about Congress alies such as the IUML. Would vote mobilization based on caste or minority vote banks be acceptable? Are we not brushing aside reprehensible and equally unacceptable practices followed by all political parties including the leftists by adding a few lines about Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler in this article.

You will find me a big supporter as long as you campaign against all kinds of mobilization and not selectively rant against the BJP (like seen during your write-up on Advani winning the Lifetime award from a TV channel which noone bothers about)!

As before - Balance is the missing element!


Anonymous said...

Identity politics and incendiary speeches, unfortunately, are too common in Indian politics. Clearly, Varun Gandhi has crossed the line and he doesn't deserve candidature in upcoming elections.

To be fair, I'd like Mr.Vardarajan to also write on the CPM cohorts, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen who are famous for their anti-kafir code of ideals and the Congress leaders who have taken similar hard-line view against the Sikhs.

Mr. Vardarajan, in your profession, is it blasphemous to write against the CPM and the Congress? Or, is BJP your favorite whipping boy?

Aman Wanchoo said...

Hey Mr Anonymous (yes, you who posted at 11:46 pm)

I did a word search on Congress and Sikh riots. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of articles on this blog which are on, or make highly critical reference to the 1984 riots and the complicit of the Congress/Indian state. Interstingly, in all of them Sid seems to take the view that what Congress did is same as BJP!:

Punish the Guilty of 1984

Method behind Centre's laxity?


Carnage in Gujarat: Telling Silence, Mr Vajpayee

I salute you Geetaben, from the bottom of my heart

Beyond the Ballot: The issue in Gujarat is Justice

Modi, the U.S., and visa power


Moral indifference as the form of modern evil

Anonymous said...

Aman Wanchoo,

I appreciate your effort to list the old posts on the blog. I remember reading few of them if not all the posts. In response, I'm taking the liberty of digressing from the core topic of discussion.

Sid's writings, in my view, often paint a picture that the BJP/RSS are the provokers while the Congress, the CPM and their allies are guilty of inaction. Consequently, the latter are perceived to be the lesser of two evils. In my view, the reality is grayer where the Congress, the BJP and the CPM are equally guilty of being in bed with the fundamentalists and playing to the gallery of their vote banks.

However, Mr.Vardarajan's writings either ignore or water down the wrong doings of the left and those of the Congress; if you closely look at their regional allies and what they are saying before the election you'll find the culpability of the Congress/CPM is no less than that of the BJP.

My views may not resonate well on this blog. I also don’t want to shoot down the messenger because I find Mr. Varadarajan's writings unbalanced. Although I may not always agree, however, I respect Mr. Vardarajan's views expressed in the newspapers and blogs.


Fazil Jamal said...

Sir, you bring a rare brilliance to news analysis...

The idea of India needs to be defended, particularly when the 'stench' becomes all too familiar.

New Delhi.

sdsd1943 said...

Dear Sid,

As long as block vote politics of any kind (identities based on caste, language or religion for instance)continue, inciting a section of voters will prove irresistible for any politician. Without ever trying to justify what specific comments were made or meter gauging the hate content of the individual speeches you mentioned, it is perhaps safe to point out the issue goes deeper than at a level you have chosen to deal with. It has also clearly proven difficult to resolve, being around since the time of Tilak and Savarkar or even before that. This failure, I fear is the most dangerous threat to India. It involves a clearer understanding of the definition of 'Indian-ness'. In a vast and diverse country like ours, I wonder, whether we would ever be able to resolve the inherent contradictions. As a youngster I was once certain the answer lay in education, overall prosperity and improved political consciousness. I am less certain now.

I hope one day this identity politics will have become irrelevant and given way to logical and dispassionate performance politics.

Neeraj said...

Varun Gandhi is scary...the soft cultured tones and the name Gandhi are the only indicators of his education and lineage. Otherwise his actions are similar to any lumpen element looking for a place in politics. I have participated in student politics in eastern UP in my Universtiy days and Varun Gandhi's tactics of spreading hatred towards the muslim community goes far beyond the tactics used by fledgling 'University netas'. This is the scary part..privelged aspiring politicians mouthing hatred without realising the horror that can be unleashed upon the common and largely poorer sections of a community.

Anonymous said...

Fine.. but let's dwell in to the issues that varun was pointing to.. that hindus were completely marginalised and sidelined in his constituency..

While you can throw allegations against him, you have to explain the circumstances in which he uttered that speech..

Bigotry is too powerful a word to use for varun, when it is more applicable to the media ..

Anonymous said...

I liked Sanjay Gandhis views on muslims.