It is easy to imagine how the BJP would have reacted if a confrontation between students from the mainland and the locals in Srinagars National Institute of Technology (NIT) had taken place when the Congress and the National Conference were in power in the state.
Hordes of saffron sympathizers would have descended on Srinagar to express their solidarity with the nationalist students, supporting their demand for raising the tricolor in the campus in keeping with Smriti Iranis prescription for keeping the national flag flying all the time in the universities to instill patriotism and permanently deploying the CRPF in the NIT.
The resultant tension in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country would have been grist to the saffron mill, strengthening in the BJPs opinion the partys hold on the Hindu voters in Jammu and in most of the other states, especially in northern and western India.
In reality, however, the partys reaction this month was the exact opposite. It detained the self-appointed stormy petrel of the saffron cause, Anupam Kher, when he arrived at Srinagar airport in order to stand by the nationalist students in their confrontation with the supposedly less than patriotic locals, and put him on the next flight back to Mumbai. The same treatment probably awaits the lawyer who beat up Kanhaiya Kumar at the Patiala House Court if he tries to emulate the Bollywood activist by trying to visit the NIT.
Such has been the fallout of the unavoidable responsibilities of power. Being in office and swearing an oath to treat as equals all citizens nationalists and those unwilling to wear their loyalty on their sleeves rule out partiality. In the process of bowing to the imperatives of a secular state which eschews theocracy, the BJP has had to curb its natural instinct to flaunt its nationalist creed which, in actual terms, reflects a pro-Hindu bias.
The party is aware that such dilution of its patriotic credentials can upset its core constituency of communal-minded Hindus and make them believe that the BJP is imitating the so-called minority appeasement tactics (LK Advanis contribution to the saffron lexicon) of the much-maligned Congress. But there is no alternative but to be moderate, for sobriety and restraint are the hallmarks of democratic functioning. If the BJP wants to remain in the portals of power at the centre and in the states, it has to dispense with the aggressive pro-Hindu agenda which it followed when in the opposition.
As is known, there are still many in the party and in the other affiliates of the Sangh parivar who are unable to come to terms with the realities of being in office. Hence, their diktats against eating beef or allowing the non-Hindus to have more than two children lest the rise in their numbers put the Hindu daughters at risk. Moreover, to put the seal on the BJPs nationalism, the hardliners also want everyone to chant, Bharat Mata ki Jai, with the threat of dire consequences if they demur.
Kashmir, however, has turned such ideas on their head. If the BJP has no option but to acquiesce in the temerity of the local students to cheer Indias defeat in a cricket match, the reason is the realization that the children (recalling Smriti Iranis description of Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide in Hyderabad central university, as a child) have to be handled with patience and understanding. Treating them as potential insurgents who have to be immediately curbed will turn them into genuine rebels.
It is a lesson of which Union home minister Rajnath Singh was oblivious when the crisis erupted in New Delhis Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) with the children there shouting anti-national slogans. So the minister directed his pet police officer, B.S. Bassi, to book them under the colonial-era sedition law.
The BJP has now understood that such heavy-handed action can be counter-productive. It has proved to be so even in the JNU with the student leaders of the university acquiring country-wide fame with their eloquence. If at least some of the BJP leaders had an academic background which made them aware of the non-conformism which prevails in the campuses on personal choices in dress, food and political ideas, they would have proceeded with caution in the JNU and the Hyderabad central university and not treat them as dens of extremism.
The NIT has been an eye-opener for the BJP. Even Subramanian Swamy has refrained from calling for its closure and fumigation as he did with regard to the JNU. If sense can dawn even on mavericks, it is easy to understand how sobering a stint in power can be.
This is not the first time that the BJP has tried to be moderate. When Atal Behari Vajpayee found in 1996 that none of the secular parties was willing to support his government of 13 days, he announced that the BJP was putting in cold storage its plans for temple construction, scrapping Article 370 and introducing a uniform civil code. That exercise in bowing to pluralism is continuing in Srinagar.
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