Smart politicians look at life from the prism of political expediency. For instance, if it is politically expedient to strike a reasonable and tolerant tone, a smart politician would do so unhesitatingly. In clearly distancing himself from the lunatic fringes of the extended Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) family, Narendra Modi is practicing what is politic. Once you get past the inherent cynicism of practicing what is politic, you recognize that in realpolitik expediency is a much greater moderating force than any personal convictions. As long as what is politic is also what is right for the larger good, we are all in a happy place. When that ceases to be the case, we are potentially screwed.
It is in this context that I once again mention, like I did yesterday, the power of the profound complexities of governing India to keep extreme political ideologies and their practitioners in check. Those complexities have generally ensured that politicians by and large practice what is politic and, in this case, being reasonable and tolerant is being politic. It has long been my case that the critical mass of the Indian populace will generally remain centrist moderates with tolerance and acceptance of all as their defining feature. I hope I am not being too optimistic.
In a span of a few days, two men, both representing extreme views within the BJP’s extended Hindu nationalist family expressed views which are clearly damaging to Modi. Giriraj Singh, a BJP colleague who is contesting the parliamentary election from Bihar, was quoted as saying that those who oppose Modi should be banished to Pakistan. Dr. Pravin Togadia, who is a cancer specialist by profession but president of the extremely rightwing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the World Hindu Council, was alleged to have suggested during a speech in Gujarat that Muslims should be prevented from buying properties in Hindu neighborhoods. These positions are both seriously damaging to Modi’s prospects, especially among those Indian voters who might be willing to consider his candidacy on the basis of his much touted pro-economic development agenda. That is a sizable number and Modi is in a phase of his political evolution where he cannot afford to disregard any potential voter.
Modi, who is generally not known to stand in the way of such extreme assertions by his party’s lunatic fringes, felt compelled to say this: "Petty statements by those claiming to be (the) BJP’s well wishers are deviating the campaign from the issues of development and good governance.” That was in reference to Dr. Togadia’s alleged comments. Without naming anyone, Modi said, "I disapprove any such irresponsible statement and appeal to those making them to kindly refrain from doing so."
In an interview to the ABP news channel, Modi said in reference to Giriraj Singh’s statement: "Nobody can support Giriraj Singh’s statement.I had said in Maninagar (a suburb of Ahmedabad city) in 2002 that my government will be of the people – for those who voted for me, for those who did not vote for me and even for those who did not vote at all," he said. "Abhayam, abhayam, abhayam (Absence of fear). There, I have said it three times. There is no need to be scared," he said.
Modi understands that while it may be marginally advantageous to campaign from extreme positions to keep the base of his party happy, in the long-run and even as an enduring political strategy he must campaign from the center. That is what I mean by expedient reasonableness or tolerance. That is practicing what is politic. As long as India’s natural moderation remains the bedrock of its polity, it will also remain politic for politicians such as Modi and anyone else to remain committed to it.
In this broad context, I reproduce below a handwritten reply that the BJP stalwart Lal Krishna Advani gave me in 1992. I had to send a written question after over an hour-long interview with him about various issues. I could not raise this specific question because we had run out of time. Twenty two years hence what was politic then remains politic now.
BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani’s handwritten reply in 1992
For your benefit, he said,
“The Indian Constitution guarantees equality and justice to all citizens, irrespective of their faith.
The BJP holds that this commitment of our constitution makers is a commitment of the nation. Anything else would be contrary to our history, tradition and culture.
The BJP rejects theocracy. In India we can never have Class I citizens and Class II citizens as you have in Pakistan and several Islamic countries.”
My question to him was: “ Dear Mr. Advani, Since you seem pressed for time I would not persist with raising the remaining questions but I would appreciate if you could answer just one question.
Q: In the event of the BJP coming to power, what will be the status of the 200 million odd non-Hindus?”
My handwritten question