Varun Gandhi has chosen the shortcut to fame. Until yesterday he was an ordinary member of Bharatiya Janata Party. Today he is a nationally important leader in this party and in the same league as L K Advani and Narendra Modi for subscribing to virulent communal views.
For a leader of BJP to have said the kind of things that Varun Gandhi said was not very surprising. The BJP's USP is its anti-Muslim or anti-minority ideology. Remove the anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan or anti-minority plank and BJP or the larger Sangh Parivar will face an identity crisis.
In this sense the Hindutva organisations are basically reactionary. They have always used vitriolic language to attract attention and used violence to make their presence felt. Starting with Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, the Babri Masjid demolition, the nuclear test, the Gujarat massacre to the Orissa and Karnataka anti-Christian violence there are plenty of examples. They don't have a constructive or positive agenda. They tried to project an 'India Shining' slogan of their achievements in the last general elections which backfired.
What was surprising was that these communal statements came from Varun Gandhi. Born to a Sikh mother and having a Parsi grandfather one would not expect Varun to be a hardcore Hindutva activist. Why did he say the things that he said? Did he say them himself or was he coached? Was it a case of a new convert trying to prove more faithful? Or, the BJP is using new fodder in the old cannon? The BJP, which was feeling rudderless before the general elections with infighting and uninspiring leadership, suddenly has got a shot in the arm. The party has been electrified.
Suddenly it is back to its basic anti-Muslim agenda after trying very hard to project itself as a genuine progressive alternative to the Congress party. Narendra Modi tries very hard to sell the image of Gujarat as a model of modern development and doesn't like the 2002 genocide of the Muslims to be remembered.
In the last assembly elections the BJP chief ministers preferred to talk about their development achievement rather than focus on Congress' failure to handle the Mumbai terrorist attack. But it finds that like a drug addict the only thing that inspires its cadres is the anti-Muslim venom.
The RSS must realise that the communal card cannot be played over and again. Human being by nature is a pacifist and likes to live in harmony with other human beings around him. He may get carried away once or twice by communal frenzy but sooner or later he realises that it ultimately harms him. It was easy to gather people once to demolish Babri Masjid. It is difficult to bring them again to Ayodhya for the construction of the temple. Most of the sadhus and mahants in Ayodhya are now opposed to the Ram Mandir construction campaign as this movement has destroyed their peace and income.
Modi cannot afford to repeat the 2002 massacre. The hate speeches of Sadhvi Rithambara or Uma Bharti don't move people any more. Hence the BJP was looking for a new leader who could spew fire. But it must realise that Varun Gandhi cannot sustain in politics if he keeps repeating what he said in Pilibhit. People will stop going to his meetings after a while.
The reaction to Varun Gandhi's communal statements in Pilibhit was that was shock from within and without his party. Even though some leaders of BJP, who now want to capitalise on his statements, have started supporting him. His cousins Rahul and Priyanka also expressed dismay. But then the Congress party has used the communal card whenever it suits them.
The only difference between the BJP and the Congress is that the former is ideologically communal and the later is opportunistically communal. Rahul Gandhi who would now like to be seen as a more moderate and liberal member of the Gandhi family needs to be reminded that it was not long back when campaigning in UP assembly elections he had said that if there was a prime minister from the Gandhi family in 1992, the Babri Masjid would not have been demolished, raising doubts over the secular credentials of other leaders within the Congress party.
Worse still, and probably as crude as Varun Gandhi's, was his statement that his grandmother Indira Gandhi should be given the credit for dismemberment of Pakistan. There were objections raised by Pakistanis on this statement. What was the need for Rahul Gandhi, who otherwise appears a very sensible person, to say those communal things? Was he any different from Varun Gandhi is making those statements?
It is a symptom of a disease which afflicts the India politics. The politicians don't mind playing with the sentiments of the people if it can help them fetch votes no matter what the consequences. They can say and do the most atrocious things and know that they enjoy certain immunity so that they'll never be punished. Navjot Singh Sidhu got back his Parliamentary seat after being convicted for a murder.
Other criminals hope that their crimes will be pardoned by the courts so that they may remain active in politics. Politics, in fact, provides immunity from punishment. On top of it Varun Gandhi is trying to gain mileage from this incident by trying to project himself as a martyr by getting arrested. This is sheer desperation.
The interesting fallout of the Philibhit incident is that now the two most upwardly mobile young leaders of India 's two major parties are members of the same family. Or is one cousin being used to check the rise of the other who most certainly will be India 's PM one day? Whatever may be the reason behind Varun Gandhi's pronouncements he has degraded Indian politics down to one more level. He and his party may stand to gain in the short run but the Indian politics in the long run is the loser.
One only hopes that the damage caused by him will be contained and he will not become a model to be imitated by other youth in society. If his performance from political stage were to be repeated by lesser mortals in real life it could cause havoc with peace and harmony in society.
The author is a Magsaysay award winner, member of national presidium, People's Politics Front, heads the National Alliance of People's Movements