It is downright perverse to take delight in the discomfort of others. Yet, to many, Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Subramanian Swamy’s vicious swipes, adequately camouflaged with mysterious abbreviations and double entendres, against the luminaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party, will seem a case of poetic justice. And his broadsides against Times Now anchor Arnab Goswami as just desserts.

This is because the BJP has for long refused to bridle its leaders, including MPs, from hurling absurd charges against religious minorities, rebuking its ideological opponents, and digging into India’s past to float unproven theories to trigger communal animosity – all of these articulated in language which ought to make your grandmother blush.

As for Goswami, he has had a free-run of prime time TV for insulting those whom he invites to his show, clobbers them with words as judges do to criminals with their verdicts, and dresses his pique as news, even as he wags his finger to declare: “The nation wants to know.”

To the high priests of rude remarks, whether belonging to the BJP or Times Now, Swamy’s swipes are a cruel reminder that words can wound. From the acute agony inflicted on them by Swamy, BJP leaders and Goswami might perhaps learn to temper their speech and inject civility into India’s public debates.

It would perhaps be easier for Times Now and Goswami to mend their ways than it would be for the BJP. Times Now can order Goswami to moderate his style or even he could on his own restore his credibility that has taken a severe beating following his June 27 interview with the Prime Minister.

Belligerent posture

For the BJP, though, restraint and civility undercuts its very identity that has been built over the years on aggression, either expressed in the rhetoric or action of its leaders. The party’s very ideology cannot but have it adopt a belligerent posture.

This too is the challenge Swamy faces. His persona, cultivated over the years, will dissuade him to seal his lips or stop launching tweet-missiles. He, though, did say on July 1 that he won’t be tweeting at his customary frequency, but only because he needs to concentrate on the court cases he has initiated. A breather for the BJP, therefore, is likely to be temporary.

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interview to Times Now, it was commonly believed he had administered an analgesic to the BJP which could cure it of the Swamy headache. But the pain seems to have only intensified, evident from Swamy’s response to the article TV critic Shailaja Bajpai wrote for the Indian Express.

In that piece, Bajpai concluded that the Prime Minister’s interview of June 27 felt like:

“two interviews: One with Modi, the other with Goswami – for a job as his spokesperson.” 

Swami was quick to tweet:

The twitterati chortled.

Rest assured, Modi’s supporters wouldn’t have. Considering the conclusion of Bajpai’s article – that Goswami’s interview with Modi conveyed as if the former wanted to become the latter’s spokesperson – you wouldn’t be faulted to conclude that the Prime Minister was being compared with Idi Amin the dictator.

This is just the kind of tweet you expect from Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, not from one inside the party – that too, a person whom the BJP government had nominated to the Rajya Sabha barely two months ago. This tweet of Swamy was like a hammer blow on a sculpted statue, aimed at defacing it. For a party so dependent on Modi to garner votes, it was as if Swamy was sending a message – “I can destroy your principal mascot unless...”

In comparison, though, the Idi Amin symbolism pales before what he tweeted on June 28. He said,

A flurry of tweets speculated on the identity of the “mad unelectable dog.” Swamy clarified that this was the term used for stray dogs in England. But for most people, his explanation wasn’t convincing. They assumed it was a derogatory, and condemnable, reference to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who failed to win from Amritsar in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

Hint-hint, wink-wink

This writer would have desisted from decoding the “mad unelectable dog” but to make the larger point – the hint-hint, wink-wink style of making statements often have people drawing their own conclusions. Innuendoes and sly comments about social relations have devastating impact.

Sample some of the statements BJP leaders have made over the last two years, the fraudulent positions they have taken on certain issues, and you will have no doubt that most of Swamy’s tweets are mere bawdy jokes in comparison, though these tarnish reputations.

For instance, BJP MP Hukum Singh recently went to town alleging that people were migrating from Kairana, Uttar Pradesh, because of the threat of extortions from a Muslim underworld don. The list of families Singh furnished in support of his exodus theory was predominantly Hindu. It was his way of suggesting that there was a conspiracy afoot to turn Kairana into a Muslim area and trigger communal mobilisation.

When media and the local administration’s investigations brought out that the families in Singh’s list, barring three, had migrated in search of better employment opportunities, the BJP MP backtracked. However, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad promptly took out a list of over 38 villages in eight districts of UP whose Hindu population has declined dramatically. VHP national secretary Surendra Jain was quoted saying that several “mini-Pakistans” were being created.

From this perspective, Swamy’s propensity to fling unproven charges, often based on dodgy evidence – for instance, that RBI governor Raghuram Rajan is not mentally fully Indian because of having worked in the United States and possessing a green card – against the luminaries of the Modi government or its appointees mimics the tactics which the Sangh Parivar routinely adopts.

Or take the BJP’s love jihad campaign, which claimed that Muslims were engaged in a conspiracy to alter India’s demography by luring Hindu girls into marriage after converting them to Islam. In a nationally televised interview, BJP MP Yogi Adityanath pointed to the violence in West Asia and said that because Muslims “can’t do what they want by force in India, so they are using the love jihad method here.” And to think, the Yogi is said to be nursing the ambition of becoming the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh.

Then again, months before the Delhi Assembly election, Union Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti infamously called her political rivals haramzaadon, prompting Modi to plead in Parliament to forgive her as she was fresh in politics and, therefore, immature. Yet Jyoti was among the star campaigners in the Delhi Assembly election, indicating that neither Modi nor his party had been genuinely contrite.

Mirror image

Really, why should the BJP then appear so horrified at Swamy alluding to someone as “mad unelectable dog”? Why should it smart at Swamy’s invoking of the image of Idi Amin?

The list of intemperate remarks the BJP leaders make are inexhaustible, as is that of theories they frequently spin out to speak of Muslim brutalities centuries ago or of dubious claims of there being a Muslim conspiracy to undermine India. No doubt, the BJP will claim it is tarred and condemned because it speaks in a voice different from that of others, ideologically different as it is from them.

The BJP’s problem is that it hasn’t modernised its Hindutva ideology, which remains steeped in hatred, palpable from the speeches of its leaders. Its ideology prompts the party to fan paranoia among its activists who, therefore, can’t but read ominous meanings in the reality others consider routine, prosaic, even natural or inevitable – for instance, the migration from villages in UP or Hindus and Muslims entering into wedlock.

The paranoid, as we know, neither conforms to logic nor to the speech style we consider civil nor understands that actions must have moral justifications. In that sense, Swamy could well be the shock the party needed as a cure – in a perverse way, his delusions could have the party examine how deluded it tends to become periodically.

Obviously, the BJP will claim Swamy must subscribe to the party discipline, and not speak out openly against the decisions of the BJP government nor snipe at its members. This is indeed true.

But, by the same token, shouldn’t the ruling party adhere to political morality, refrain from fanning prejudices against social groups which are not its vote-banks, and issue statements or spin theories which are patently false or based on flimsy evidence? Swamy is the mirror in which the BJP and Goswami can see who they themselves are.

(Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is available in bookstores.)