Senior BJP leader and general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya recently attacked Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan over his views on religious intolerance in India. Vijayvargiya said Khan's "soul" is in Pakistan though he lives in India and also painted him as an "anti-nationalist". The BJP was quick to distance itself from the controversy with senior leader Prakash Javadekar saying that the party does not endorse Vijayvargiya's views. But even as Mr Vijayvargiya retracted his tweet, another influential BJP regional leader took up cudgels with the actor. Member of Parliament Yogi Adityanath said there was no difference between the actor and the founder of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group Hafiz Saeed, who India and the US accuse of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Again the BJP top brass were seen distancing themselves from the comment by Yogi Adityanath, yet shying away from taking stern action against the controversial leader.
"When party leaders like Yogi Adityanath play bad cop... Modi the good cop steps in to urge people to "fight poverty" instead..."
This is not an isolated phenomenon. In recent times this has become the BJP's template in the case of controversial issues -- where on one hand the BJP wants to pander to the communal sentiments and polarise votes for electoral benefits, on the other it also wants to be seen as secular and tolerant for the educated, middle class voter. Many are watching this drama unfold before their eyes but are yet to fully accept that the current regime is fostering a communal and intolerant atmosphere in this country, long known for its pluralistic traditions.
Consider the case of S N Channabasappa, a former president of the erstwhile Shivamogga City Municipal Council. On 3 November, during a protest organized by the local party unit against Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's reported comment on eating beef, Channabasappa threatened to behead him. The BJP Karnataka unit later distanced itself from these remarks too.
When Muhammad Akhlaq was lynched in Dadri by a murderous mob over a rumour of beef being stored in their household (never substantiated), Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar in an interview to The Indian Express said, "Muslims can live here, but in this country, they will have to stop eating beef." He's not the only BJP leader who made highly insensitive remarks about the killing of Akhlaq. While Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma called it an "accident", MLA Sangeet Som suggest that the police were framing innocent people and that a "befitting reply" would be given against those perpetrating the purported injustice.
Under the pressure of a collective uproar from its allies and the Opposition over such statements -- and nervous over reports that the party was losing the edge in Bihar -- the BJP was forced to enact a charade wherein BJP chief Amit Shah summoned Manohar Lal Khattar, Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan, MP Sakshi Maharaj and Sangeet Som to the party office and pulled them up for "making unnecessary inflammatory remarks". True to form, both Sakshi Maharaj and Sangeet Som immediately denied any reprimand and continued to go about spreading their brand of "beef politics".
It does not stop there. The strategy has a role for allies too. While the Shiv Sena and other fringe associations associated with the BJP or RSS go about hurling black ink on activists or vandalising buildings, the BJP plays good cop by condemning the acts, and yet does nothing against the perpetrators.
"This style of politics is not new to the BJP and has been employed successfully in the past, including during the Gujarat riots of 2002."
The reaction of the government (including Prime Minister Narendra Modi) to all these incidents has been one of calculated ambiguity. Modi, in particular, has tried to brand himself as a liberal, urbane and patrician politician who stands for development and against strident communalism. In short, he likes to play "good cop". Simultaneously, certain legislators of his party and organisations associated with the RSS (personified by Yogi Adityanath and his ilk) play bad cop by spewing vitriolic rhetoric against Pakistan and fanning communal passions through issues like beef, love jihad and ghar wapsi . One sells the dream of an economically resurgent India and the other panders to the xenophobic and communalistic sentiments of the majority community.
When party leaders like Yogi Adityanath play bad cop and make it to the news with their attacks on prominent personalities or issues, Modi the good cop steps in to urge people to "fight poverty" instead of fighting each other.
This style of politics is not new to the BJP and has been employed successfully in the past, including during the Gujarat riots of 2002. When thousands of Muslims were getting killed in Gujarat, all that Atal Bihari Vajpayee (good cop) had to say to Narendra Modi (bad cop) was to follow "Raj Dharma". Never mind that he could have exercised his own "Raj Dharma" and dismissed the state government. This strategy, of course, yielded handsome dividends for the BJP in Gujarat but left behind a deeply divided Gujarati community in its wake with settlements being branded with nicknames such as "Chota Pakistan".
In conclusion, I would like to say that we, the citizens of India, live in interesting times where we are witness to a fight for the very Idea of India. Here no one is on the fence, everyone has an opinion, just like me, and everyone is part of this struggle to shape-reshape the Idea of India. On the one hand we are witnessing the good cop-bad cop routine by BJP leaders, while on the other we are seeing an unprecedented form of protest politics by writers and other intellectuals for a pluralistic and tolerant India. India through the centuries has always grappled with dichotomies, fought and overcome divisive/communal politics and as a consequence emerged stronger as a society. I hope that this time too the people will see through the charade of the "good cop" Modi and the "bad cop" Yogi Adityanath and retain the essence of a plural India. If we don't then India will no longer be a beacon for humanism across the world as it is today.
Also on HuffPost: