Two differences were immediately noticeable as Narendra Modi began his customary Independence Day speech. First, the bullet-proof glass which used to shield the speaker earlier was absent. Secondly, Modi spoke extempore, as is his wont.
Not surprisingly, the easy flow of words established a rapport with the audience, both at the ground and those watching on TV at home, unlike the time when his predecessor mumbled incoherently from a written text.
There were other differences as well. Modi ended the speech with the slogan, “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, then said, “Jai Hind”, as has been the practice all these years, and, finally, intoned “Vande”, leaving it to the spectators to complete the chant by saying “Mataram”.
There was a clear non-Congress tinge in the slogans, especially in “Vande Mataram”, which the Congress would have never uttered because it is anathema to the Muslims, who would not regard the country as a divinity.
But, these are superficial changes from the earlier routines. What was more important was the agenda which Modi specified. The first in the document was a call for a moratorium on communal and caste-based violence for 10 years. Although the question was raised in TV discussions about the duration of the freeze – why not a permanent ban, it was asked – the point was not the length of the prohibition but its possible impact. As Modi said, just wait and see what can happen if there is a cessation of communal animosity.
His emphasis obviously is on ensuring a tension-free atmosphere for the success of his primary objective of economic growth. To this end, he also proposed that India should become a manufacturing hub with investments from all over the world.
On both counts, however, he is likely to face considerable opposition. For a start, it is difficult to see how he will defuse communal tension when sections of the saffron brotherhood have become more active than before to foment it, evidently enthused by the BJP’s ascent to power,
As much is evident from the decision of some of the organizations affiliated to the RSS to oppose what they call “love jehad” or the wooing of Hindu girls by Muslim boys. To stop such inter-communal relations, the saffron outfits decided to use the festival of rakhi, or the custom of a sister tying a thread on a brother’s wrist, to exhort Hindu men to protect their sisters.
As the saffron-robed BJP M.P., Yogi Adityanath, told parliament during a debate on the recent communal riots in U.P., if the Hindus feel threatened, they will have to “fight back”. It doesn’t take much political perspicacity to understand that the Yogi intends to keep the communal embers smouldering to ensure that a gulf of suspicion and mistrust continues to separate the Hindus and Muslims.
To add fuel to this fire, the RSS chief said recently that all Indians are Hindus in a cultural sense irrespective of their religion. This point was made earlier, too, by a Christian MLA belonging to the BJP in Goa who said that he was a Hindu Christian.
Even if the rest of the country regard these observations as the outpouring of a loony fringe, their purpose is to ensure that the communal divide is never bridged. Given these conflict-prone tactics, for which the RSS-led Sangh parivar has long been known, Modi will obviously find it difficult to implement his ideal of communal harmony.
But, this is not the only issue on which he will face resistance from the Hindutva brigade. On the question of the proposed manufacturing sector, too, he will encounter opposition from the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the parivar’s trade union wing, and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the parivar’s farmers’ wing. While the BMS is against foreign investment and the changing of labour laws, the BKS will oppose any amendment of the land acquisition law to facilitate the setting up of factories.
Both these outfits are likely to be joined by the communists and the Congress to frustrate Modi’s plans. The only parties which may support him are the Biju Janata Dal of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, and the Nationalist Congress Party of the former Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar.
Notwithstanding their support, however, Modi will have to convince the BMS and the BKS about the rightness of his cause with its focus on development, or will have to ask the RSS to intervene.
But, the fact that the latter is not too happy with the prime minister can be gauged from the downplaying by the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, of Modi’s role in the election victory when he said a few days ago that it was the popular desire for change which was behind the BJP’s success and not the party or any individual who were there earlier, too.
However, it will be unrealistic to expect the RSS, or the BMS and the BKS, to push things to a breaking point. After all, they cannot be unaware that the BJP’s attainment of an unprecedented and unexpected majority in the Lok Sabha is solely due to Modi. And his rise is the result of the public expectation of an economic resurgence under him.
If he is prevented from moving ahead, the BJP’s electoral fortunes cannot but slide for the benefit of the Congress and other parties. It is a risk which the RSS and others cannot take. But, they will make life difficult for Modi when, ironically, the opposition parties are unable to do so.