The recent use of the religious slogan, “Jai Bajrang Bali” (Victory to Bajrang Bali), by Prime Minister Modi raises questions of vote-bank politics, is contrary to the law, and offends the secular visions of M.K. Gandhi and Dr B.R. Ambedkar.
DURING the last decade, religious slogans have been raised with frightening regularity in India. It is done in a calculated manner, to mobilise people for political and electoral purposes, often leading to intimidation of and violence against people from minority communities.
Several leaders engage in these activities. Most Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and those from Hindutva organisations, engage in such activities disproportionately. These constitute an assault on secularism and the secular values sustaining the State structure of India, civil society and body polity.
Recently, citizens of Indiawatched the Prime Minister raise religious slogans praising Bajrang Bali, while he was campaigning for the Karnataka Assembly elections for his party. Moreover, he asked voters to vote for BJP by reciting religious slogans.
Equating Hanuman with Bajrang Dal
He did so after theCongress party, in itsmanifesto, equated Bajrang Dal, an outfit founded in the early 1980s and affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the larger Sangh Parivar, with the banned Popular Front of India, and pledged to ban the Dal.
The Bajrang Dal, although bearing Hanuman’s name, regularly tramples upon restraint and discipline and has a proven record of targeting minorities. For instance, on Valentine’s Day, many women representing diverse faiths become the victims of its violent methods merely for exercising their choice to love someone.
In a bid to give a spin to the pledge, Modi asserted that the intent of the Congress party was to lock up Bajrang Bali, who represents the deity Hanuman, and in whose name the Bajrang Dal has ostensibly been founded.
He made a false claim that earlier the Congress party locked up Ram and now it had vowed to lock up Bajrang Bali.
In reply, the Congressasserted that in equating Bajrang Dal with Lord Hanuman, Modi had insulted Hanuman and countless devotees of the Indian God.
Being one of the foremost devotees of Lord Ram, Hanuman is revered as an exalted divine being. In the epic Ramayana, he is depicted as an energetic and mighty figure with abounding virtues of restraint and discipline.
On the other hand, the Bajrang Dal, although bearing Hanuman’s name, regularly tramples upon restraint and discipline and has a provenrecord oftargeting minorities. For instance, onValentine’s Day, many women representing diverse faiths become the victims of its violent methods merely for exercising their choice to love someone.
Separating State from religion
It has been documented by the Supreme Court in its judgment in the 1994 case ofS.R. Bommai versus Union of India that the Bajrang Dal, along with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, were banned by the government of India after the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
In those times, the banned organisations were very active in the BJP-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.
The Prime Minister forms an integral part of the definition of the State for the purpose of governance and exercise of the executive powers vested in his office. Therefore, he is duty-bound to adhere to the Supreme Court’s articulation that in State matters, religion has no place.
The states had come under President’s rule as perArticle 356 of the Constitution, following a breakdown of Constitutional order owing to several factors, one of which was the unruly activities of the banned organisations that contributed to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
In the judgement, the Supreme Court reiterated thatsecularism was part of the basic structure of the Constitution and stated that, “To the State, all are equal and are entitled to be treated equally. In matters of State, religion has no place.” Further, the judiciary observed, “No political party can simultaneously be a religious party. Politics and religion cannot be mixed.”
Significantly, it then stated, “Any State government which pursues unsecular policies or an unsecular course of action acts contrary to the constitutional mandate and renders itself amenable to action under Article 356.”
The observation of the court that religion has no place in state matters needs deeper reflection in the context of the Prime Minister raising the religious slogan of “Bajrang Bali” and asking voters to do so while exercising their voting rights in Karnataka. His statement violated the Election Commission of India (ECI)’sModel Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties and Candidates (model code) which clearly states: “There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes”.
Theinaction of the ECI on complaints against the Prime Minister for reciting the slogan and infringing the model code is inexplicable. Modi’s statement also violated several provisions of theRepresentation of People Act,1950, includingSection 123(3A) which prohibits political parties and their leaders from promoting enmity for votes in the name of religion and caste.
The Prime Minister forms an integral part of the definition of the State for the purpose of governance and exercise of the executive powers vested in his office. Therefore, he is duty-bound to adhere to the Supreme Court’s articulation that in State matters, religion has no place. His deliberate utterance of the religious slogan invoking Bajrang Bali goes against the very essence of that articulation.
It is evident that other members of the BJP use similar religious devices for votes. Earlier, in 2019, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, whilecampaigning for elections, used a provocative binary that if Congress has Ali then BJP has Bajrang Bali.
The discernibly polarising narrative was aimed at inciting religious sentiments and putting one community against another for electoral consolidation based on religion. On another occasion, he referred to Lord Hanuman as a Dalit. Such narratives depict narrowness of vision.
Shyama Prasad Mukherjee on the British mixing religion with politics
The founder of Jan Sangh,Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, while participating in the discussion on the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly on December 17, 1946stated that, not Indians but the British, during their rule over India, introduced religion into politics to divide people and consolidate their power. He refuted the charge of Lord Simon that the assembly consisted of members who were only caste Hindus, and further urged the assembly to dismiss the false campaign.
Mukherjee, who was part of the Hindu Maha Sabha, had founded Jan Sangh, which preceded the formation of BJP. Prime Minister Modi, along with the top leaders of BJP, ofteninvoke Mukherjee’s name and his legacy for the cause of Hindutva and electoral politics. While doing so they stridently introduce religion to politics, the same logic, according to Mukherjee, used by the British to divide people.
The logic applied by Mukherjee against the British is fully applicable to BJP, its leadership and Prime Minister Modi. Prior to the Bajrang Bal episode during election campaigning in Karnataka, on many occasions he hasappealed to religious binaries in order to seek votes for his party. Does the Prime Minister’s utterance of the religious slogan invoking Bajrang Bali, and his exhortation to people to recite it while voting for his party, not constitute an attempt to mix religion with politics and divide people on the basis of religion?
Rajagopalachari’s depiction of Hanuman to save suffering women
During the Indian freedom struggle,C. Rajagopalchari, the first Indian-born governor-general of British India and the last governor-general of India, authored his famous bookRamayana. In it he described Hanuman as the one who brought the message of hope, love and the assurance of relief to Sita after tracing her in Lanka following her abduction by Ravana.
Underlining the social significance of the imagination of Hanuman, Rajagopalchari thoughtfully wrote, “All the women in our land who suffer sorrow in any way are so many replicas of Sita” and fervently affirmed, “May all the men be like Hanuman, pure and heroic helpers of such suffering women!”
It is evident that other members of the BJP use similar religious devices for votes. Earlier, in 2019, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, while campaigning for elections, used a provocative binary that if Congress has Ali then BJP has Bajrang Bali.
If the Prime Minister paid heed to Rajagopalachari’s narrative of Hanuman, he would reach out to the award-winning women wrestlers who are currentlyagitating against the president of the Wrestling Federation of India, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, against whomfirst information reports have been filed on the directions of the Supreme Court for allegedly sexually harassing many women wrestlers. If he does so, it may be better than raising the slogan of Bajrang Bali for winning votes in Karnataka.
Gandhi’s Inclusive Slogans
In 1920, during the Khilafat agitation, the recitation of “Vande Mataram” by Hindus was met with “Allah-o-Akbar” by Muslims. To resolve the issue, Mahatma Gandhi wrote anarticle called Three National Cries in Young India on September 8, 1920. It urged people, irrespective of faith, to recite three slogans— “Allah-o-Akbar“, “Vande Mataram” or “Bharat Mata ki jai” (Victory to India) and “Hindu Musalman ki jai” (Victory to Hindu–Muslim).
Appropriately, he stated that without “Hindu Musalman ki jai“, “Bharat Mata ki Jai” would not be complete. It is a proven fact that Gandhiji stressed the plurality of slogans in spite of his exceptional fondness for “Vande Mataram“.
That Gandhi was against compelling others to recite slogans is evident from his own words.
In the early 1940s, Gandhi authored a text titledConstructive Programme which contained 18 points to achieve independence for India. In the point concerning students, he categorically wrote that “they may not impose Vande Mataram or the national flag on others“.
In the late 1940s, when getting to know that some people faced coercive action at the hands of the general public for not reciting Jai Hind, Gandhiwrote that if “a single person is compelled to shout ‘Jai Hind‘ or any popular slogan, a nail is driven into the coffin of swaraj.”
Ambedkar against slogans and words causing fear
Dr B.R. Ambedkar, while participating in the discussion on the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly on December 17, 1946said, “Let us leave aside slogans, let us leave aside words which frighten people”. He added, “Let us even make a concession to the prejudices of our opponents, bring them in, so that they may willingly join with us on marching upon that road, which as I said, if we walk long enough, must necessarily lead us to unity.”
His appeal to shun slogans and words that frighten people to achieve unity is of immense relevance even now for confronting majoritarianism and the attendant religious slogans that threaten people.
The founder of Jan Sangh, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, while participating in the discussion on the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly on December 17, 1946 stated that, not Indians but the British, during their rule over India, introduced religion into politics to divide people and consolidate their power.
Slogans like “Bajrang Bali ki Jai“,“Jai Shri Ram“ (Victory to respected Ram) and many others have been raised in a manner that strikes fear and insecurity in the hearts of people, particularlyminority communities, several of whom have lost their lives due toviolence accompanying such slogans.
The constructive approach advocated by Rajagopalachari to locate Hanuman in the context of addressing the sufferings and sorrows of women victims, and Gandhi and Ambedkar’s inclusive approach constitute the finest examples from our history that uphold the idea of India. Prime Minister Modi must eschew majoritarianism by following these examples.