The Big Story: Statutory warnings
After a number of statues were vandalised this week, starting with Lenin in Tripura, where the Bharatiya Janata Party just scored a big electoral victory, the Central leadership was firm in its response. Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the statue toppling spree, warning of “stern action”. Party president Amit Shah also said he had spoken to the state units in Tamil Nadu and Tripura and that any person associated with the BJP involved in destroying statues would face “severe action”. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh called the Tripura governor and senior police officials, asking them to maintain order till the new government was sworn in. As more statues were defaced in Tripura, the Centre asked states to investigate attacks. The vandalisation had travelled from Tripura to Tamil Nadu and then to West Bengal, where a bust of Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mukherjee was blackened in alleged retaliation by Left supporters. So it was commendable that the top leadership stepped in, made strong statements and took measures to keep the trouble from spreading.
It appears, however, that the party has not lost its old habit of speaking in mixed voices. Earlier, BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav had tweeted appreciatively about the statue toppling in Tripura, though he later deleted the tweet. Tripura governor Tathagata Roy, who seems to make no secret of his saffron loyalties, continues to cheer on the statue toppling. Tamil Nadu BJP leader H Raja’s Facebook post seemed to incite the vandalisation of Periyar statues in the state, though he also took it down later. In spite of the stern warnings of the prime minister and party president, no action will be taken against him. But the BJP has a history of double speak. After the Dadri lynching of 2015, for instance, when a man was murdered for allegedly eating beef, the party’s top leadership had kept silent for months. While one leader at the Centre condemned it, another tried to call the brutal crime a “misunderstanding” or an “accident”. All the time, BJP state-level leaders and workers spewed hate and cheered on the guilty. It had taken quite a while for the prime minister to speak then.
Indeed, the party top brass’s prompt and unequivocal response now is in striking contrast to its reticence on lynchings and attacks by cow vigilantes, where human lives were at stake. Modi took more than a week to break his silence on Dadri and even then it was an oblique reference at a political rally rather than a direct condemnation. On cow vigilantes, he first said 80% were fake, implying that some were genuine and legitimate. It was almost two years after the Dadri lynching that he said killing in the name of the cow was unacceptable. It has been argued that the BJP moved swiftly now to protect its own interests. In Tripura, where it had claimed victory over the politics of violence, statue toppling did not sit well. In Tamil Nadu, where the party is trying to expand its base and reach out to backward communities, attacks on Periyar, considered founder of the Dravidian Self-Respect Movement, could only damage the BJP’s image. Political parties will, of course, act to protect their interests. But an elected government, which is responsible for the security of all citizens, not merely those who vote for it, should perhaps be less selective. As it asks affected states to investigate vandalisations, could the Centre also ask others to speed up justice in the lynching cases?
The Big Scroll
Rohan venkataramakrishnan asks whether a toppled statue and warnings to the Supreme Court make acche din.
Ipsita Chakravarty reminds that statue toppling is not a democratic sport.
Vinita Govinfarajan explains the BJP’s animosity towards Periyar and his statues.
1. In the Indian Express, Christophe Jaffrelot writes that Karnataka offers an alternative trajectory based on growth and the closing of social, religious gaps.
2. In the Hindu, Gopalkrishna Gandhi warns against “Operation Dhakka”.
3. In the Economic Times, TK Arun writes on the lessons these North East elections hold for political parties.
Sahana Ghosh writes on the alarming levels of pangolin poaching in India and the urgent need to study the species:
Dubbing the number of pangolins illegally traded in India as “alarming”, experts say the estimated total of 5,772 animals is likely to be an underestimate, as only a fraction of illegal wildlife trade is detected and the actual number is likely to be far higher.
Pangolins, commonly referred to as scaly anteaters, are reported to be among the most trafficked wildlife species globally, the report emphasises. The mammals are mostly poached for their meat and scales.