On a sunny morning in the early 1990s, an American magazine sent a young model walking down a city’s sidewalk, topless. The bizarre experiment was to capture how passersby reacted.
The organisers of the spectacle were surprised to find that apart from a few bewildered looks, second looks and the odd catcall, there wasn’t much of a hubbub. Encountered out of place and without a context, in full public glare and totally shorn of its mystique, the naked body seemed to have got de-eroticised. It had lost its explosive effect on people.
Totally disconnected, but it bears a weird, tangential similarity with what some BJP leaders are doing with words like ‘Pakistan’ and ‘terrorism’. The party’s new MLA from Delhi’s Vishwas Nagar, OP Sharma, has called Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal a “terrorist” and a “Pakistan Army spokesperson”.
A few days ago, Delhi BJP leader Parvesh Verma had caused a stir calling Kejriwal a “terrorist” during the Delhi election campaign. State BJP chief Manoj Tiwari topped it by calling for the cleansing of the Hanuman temple that the Delhi chief minister had visited during the campaign.
Kejriwal simply took a page out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s playbook, kept quiet and came out a bigger person. Delhi’s public noticed and rewarded him.
The BJP’s error could have been laughed off as facile and childish if it did not have damaging long-term implications.
By loosely and callously using these terms about a democratically elected and popular leader — whether or not one agrees with his politics, BJP leaders are unwittingly chipping away at the seriousness of Pakistan’s culpability, trivialising the terrorism it sponsors. In a nation seventh-most affected globally by terrorism, such levity is unforgivable.
Just as the naked body gets de-eroticised by out-of-context exposure, Pakistan’s diabolical actions get diluted by such brazen overuse of references to it. People first disbelieve you, then ignore you, and then begin to despise you for cheapening a very grave issue. They stop taking you seriously.
Next time even when you rightly flag somebody as a national security threat, it gets the cold, ‘crying-wolf’ treatment.
The Left, for instance, keeps calling its adversaries ‘Nazi’ and ‘fascist’ like high-schoolers in a losing debate. The frivolity of comparing a strong-willed or even autocratic leader with the mass-murderers of two million people is lost on no-one.
On the Right, from Giriraj Singh to Yogi Adityanath, senior BJP leaders are guilty of using Pakistan as a strawman too frivolously, too often. They have now set a crippling precedent.
Then-chief minister Modi had said before the 2002 Gujarat election that if he lost, there would be celebrations in Pakistan. This deeply polarising dog-whistle had an electric effect because the Godhra train burning and Gujarat riots were fresh on the public mind and Pakistan was orchestrating violence around the country almost unchecked.
Also, the message was carefully coded, aimed at the heart of a polity steeped in overt Muslim appeasement. It was not a scattershot volley fired at an individual who has returned to power not on the shoulders of one community, but voted by all sections including Hindus.
Does Delhi BJP’s Sharma mean Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs voted for a Pakistani terrorist?
Besides being way over-the-top, Sharma’s remark could not have been more ill-timed. It was fine to slam Kejriwal when he had questioned the Indian Army’ surgical strikes. But the Kejriwal of 2020 is a lot shrewder, politically supple creature who played to the Hindu nationalism gallery and returned to power with a staggering 53 percent of the votes. Irresponsible allegations will make him stronger and make the BJP look like sore, laughable losers.
Ironically, the BJP is mirroring the way its own bitter opponents created the phenomenon called Modi.
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