For Whom The Bells Troll
New Delhi July 10 BJP leader Ram Madhav (‘Trust your leader’, IE, July 6) asks his “social media activist” friends not to waste their time on Union Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj since she is one of their own. He also appeals to them not to let go the “regressive Muslim cleric”, who performed nikah between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man and “forced” the former to change her name. It is not difficult to see that Ram Madhav’s concern is not the threat of violence; he only seems to want the target to be Muslims. He warns his co-travellers not to get distracted by a humanistic digression by Swaraj.
Note that the online hate mongers are addressed as social media activists. This nationalism thrives on manufacturing antagonistic and incompatible Others, and then stoking hatred and violence against them.
Before the present prime minister started addressing Sonia Gandhi with her Italian surname, it was Sushma Swaraj who tried to tarnish Sonia Gandhi for her foreign origins. Remember her threat to tonsure her head, wear white clothes, sleep on the hard floor, in short live like a widow, if Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress in 2004, became the prime minister of India? What catastrophe would have visited India if an Indian citizen of Italian origin was chosen by her party to lead its government? An Indian origin person can become the prime minister of Ireland, ministers in Canada and other countries, hold crucial political and governmental posts in the UK, Australia, the US, but a person of foreign origin is not to be trusted with high office in India.
One also needs to understand the mind which abhors Sushma Swaraj being called “Begum Sushma”. In India and elsewhere, begum is an honorific. Those who don’t want “nationalist” women to be addressed as begum are the ones who use such terms to abuse people they want to portray as the enemies of Hindus. It’s the same with “maulana”. Who abused Mulayam Singh or Lalu Prasad by calling them “maulana”? And who keeps mocking Rahul Gandhi by calling him “shehzada”?
It is this hatred of the Other, stoked by the likes of Sushma Swaraj, which is now threatening to devour them. Her husband was asked to beat her up. He pleaded that since she was a faithful wife and a dutiful daughter-in-law, she should be spared this treatment. Does that imply that such violence could, however, be meted to “deviant” women?
The meekness of the latecomer defenders of Sushma Swaraj before an abusive and blood-thirsty mob is notable. The home minister finds it merely wrong. He didn’t say that it was criminal to do what was being done to Sushma Swaraj by their own people.
What is the substantive crime which has now been entirely forgotten? It is the crime of the official at the Lucknow passport office who harassed Tanvi Seth and her Muslim husband, Anas Siddiqui. He asked him to convert to Hinduism, castigated Tanvi for marrying him and changing her name in her nikahnama.
The transfer of the official after Seth’s complaint is a light punishment since a government official is expected to work as per the letter and spirit of the Constitution. The Indian Constitution allows an Indian citizen to change her religion as well as marry outside her religion. It is nobody’s business to question them on that count or deny them their rights.
However, the transfer got the trolls to unleash their anger on Sushma Swaraj. Ram Madhav justifies it implicitly when he says, “Whether external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was responsible for the transfer of a junior-level officer in the passport office at Lucknow, whether she did so out of a sense of pseudo-secular enthusiasm or whether the officer in question had become a victim of a secular clique — these are important questions…”
Sushma Swaraj wants difference of opinion to be expressed with civility. But hatred for Muslims, Christians and outsiders, in short, Others, is not just another opinion which can be aired while maintaining civil pretensions. Her kind of nationalist politics needs it, for this hatred for the manufactured Other is its lifeblood.