The BJP Wants Its Activists to Forget Sushma and Keep the Focus on Muslims

Siddharth Varadarajan  Published 09 Jul 2018

Even when an RSS man and they are all men – tries to sound reasonable, he cannot resist the urge to indulge his communal obsessions.

After a shameful week of silence punctuated only by the somewhat tepid statements of Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari, a senior BJP leader, Ram Madhav, has finally seen fit to chide those from his own camp who attacked external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj for saving an inter-faith couple from a pettifogging passport official bent on giving them the runaround.

Despite their papers being in order, the official created trouble for the woman, Tanvi Seth. Pointing to her marriage certificate (in this case, a nikahnama) which she had brought along with a host of other papers by way of abundant caution, the official said that since her name on that document was ‘Shadia Anas’, she could not get a passport on her actual name. Her husband, Mohammed Anas Siddiqui said that he too was subjected to a communal harangue.

Tanvi reached out via Twitter to Swaraj, who in turn asked senior officials to review the matter. They found the couple’s documentation to be complete in all respects and issued them their passports. The errant officer, accordingly, found himself shunted out.

Instead of taking credit for the fact that even under a BJP dispensation the communal prejudices of an individual official would not be allowed to trump official rules, the Hindutva camp went into a deep sulk.

Within hours, its fake news factory began churning out bogus information aimed at sowing doubts about not just Tanvi Seth and her husband but all Muslims in general. Muslims are being “appeased”, we were told, while innocent Hindu officers who were “simply doing their job” are being “victimised”. All of this was arrant nonsense but that didn’t stop pro-establishment TV channels from organising angry debates and fuelling speculation based on complete ignorance about the actual rules governing the issuing of passports.

Writing in the Indian Express, Ram Madhav is not bothered by any of this. He even says the role played by “pseudo-secular enthusiasm” and “a secular clique” in the transfer of the junior officer “are important questions… serious questions” even if of secondary importance. “What is of primary importance is whether the language of obscenity, hate and worse, violence that we employ in our social media conversations is acceptable.”

Fortunately, Madhav believes this is not acceptable and for this we are truly grateful. It is a different matter that elsewhere in the article, his majoritarian bigotry is on full display:

“The social media activists should have taken on the clerics who insist on writing a different name in the nikahnama, or the officers, who take cognisance of that false document and overrule all other valid documents. Unfortunately in this case, a woman who stood up and said I wish to continue as a Hindu has become the villain and the regressive cleric who changed her name to a Muslim became the hero.”

Madhav wants “the benefit of doubt” to go in Tanvi Seth’s favour as she “decided to retain her Hindu name even after marrying a Muslim man … Such instances of individuals retaining their religious identity, even after inter-religious marriages, are numerous. There are many such prominent people in public life, including in the BJP. It is a glorious testimony to the omnitheistic nature of Indian society and culture.”

Now, why should it be the business of the “national general secretary” of a party that officially swears by the Indian constitution whether someone changes or retains their name or religion after marriage or not? Does he not know that an Indian passport is given to an Indian citizen  and that citizen has the right to stand up and say “I wish to continue as a Hindu” or that “I do not wish to continue as a Hindu”.

Reviled until now as someone playing the so-called ‘Muslim card”, Tanvi Seth in Ram Madhav’s telling is a heroine for remaining a Hindu despite marrying a Muslim. So where does that leave Hadiya? Or any other Hindu woman or man who chooses to change their religion? Not to speak of the non-Hindus who change theirs?

India is full of people who marry according to customs, traditions, beliefs and methods they (and usually their families) decide, and politicians like Madhav have no right to pass sweeping judgments about the individual decisions that get taken in such situations, let alone incite trolls to “take on” the clerics involved. If Madhav insists on offering his opinion, he should at least be consistent.

In 2004, the 25-year-old nikahnama of the actors-turned-BJP politicians – Dharmendra and Hema Malini – became a public document. The duo had apparently converted to Islam in order to marry since this was to be Dharmendra’s second marriage; the name he was given was Dilawar and Hema Malini’s was Ayesha. “This is something very personal between us … Don’t bother to get into it,” Hema Malini told a reporter who asked her about this – and she was absolutely right. But by Ram Madhav’s logic, “social media activists” should take on the cleric who gave them those Muslim names.

In 2016, the model Hazel Keech took on the name Gurbasant Kaur after she married the cricketer Yuvaraj Singh. The name was given by Sant Balvinder Singh. Should the trolls “take on” the sant for violating the “omnitheistic nature of Indian society and culture”?

Among some Hindu Maharashtrians, it is not uncommon for the groom’s side to change not just the bride’s surname but her first name as well. For the sake of consistency, will Ram Madhav criticise this patriarchal erasure by a Hindu man of a Hindu woman’s identity too?

He won’t, of course, because as an RSS ideologue, his primary aim in writing is to get the party cadre to stop wasting time trolling Sushma Swaraj on an issue which no longer has the potential to polarise people on religious lines.

The buffet-table of ‘Muslim appeasement’ the Sangh was hoping to feed off has collapsed now that all the facts about Tanvi Seth’s passport are out. What Ram Madhav is trying to do by re-framing the controversy  is retrieve some scraps of ‘love jihad’ for the BJP’s ever-hungry troll army.( The Wire )