It wasn’t just good-natured ribbing. It wasn’t merely a breach of Parliamentary propriety. The heckling of Opposition members by Bharatiya Janata Party MPs as they were taking their oaths to the 17th Lok Sabha must be called for what it is: rank intimidation.
The message underlying the taunts by the MPs of the ruling party was clear. Representatives of the Indian people opposed to the BJP’s Hindutva ideology were told that they aren’t just political opponents – they are enemies.
On Tuesday, as Asaddudin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen walked down to the well of the house to take oath, BJP members began to chant, “Jai Shri Ram”, “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Vande Mataram”. Muslims have long explained why their loyalty to India does not require them to worship the country as a deity, so this kind of welcome for the Muslim MP from Hyderabad was a clear act of provocation.
The pro-tem Speaker Virendra Kumar failed to to anything to stop the jeering. Owaisi handled the situation with dignity. After taking oath, he retorted with the declaration “Jai Bhim”, a slogan in praise of the architect of India’s Constitution BR Ambedkar, and “Allahu akbar”, god is the greatest.
Owaisi was not the only MP to be heckled. After Shafiqur Rahman Barq of the Samajwadi Party took oath, he responded to the chants of “Jai Shri Ram” by asserting, “Constitution zindabad”, long live the Constitution. His party colleague ST Hasan
chose the response, “Hindustan zindabad.”
The heckling was not confined to Muslim members. Almost every member of the Trinamool Congress from West Bengal faced slogans too, as did some Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam members from Tamil Nadu. When former Congress president Sonia Gandhi was sworn in, she was thanked by the BJP MPs for taking the oath in Hindi, an allusion at her foreign origins.
What does this boorish behaviour tell us about the BJP? It is an obvious expression of the party complete intoxication with the power of its numbers in the Lok Sabha. Holding 303 of the 545 Lok Sabha seats, BJP MPs seem to believe that parliamentary norms no longer apply to them.
This attitude flies in the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on Monday that numbers shouldn’t matter as he went on to seek the support of the Opposition to run Parliament smoothly. The heckling isn’t going to help achieve that.
The slogans were not only an insult to the secular traditions of Parliament and the Constitution, they should alarm Hindus who hold their faith dear. By choosing to deploy revered deities such as Ram as a political device, the BJP is mocking the faith it claims to be championing.