The call for banning the Bajrang Dal shows rare electoral courage

The BJP’s attempt to suggest that any criticism of the Bajrang Dal is an attack on Hanuman is a stretch. The Modi roadshows cannot take away from the farce of what is on view. Manjunath Kiran / AFP / Getty Images
08 May, 2023

Should the Congress have called for a ban on the Bajrang Dal?

The question here is not whether the Bajrang Dal—the youth wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, which has a history of perpetrating communal violence—should be banned but whether the Congress should have called for a potential ban in its manifesto for the Karnataka assembly election. The short answer is a resounding yes.

From as far back as 2007 in Gujarat, I have heard the argument, both in personal conversations and closed-door meetings with eminent civil-society voices, that the opposition should not confront Narendra Modi on the turf where he is strongest: the public use of whatever he means by the term “Hinduism.” Instead, the argument goes, the Bharatiya Janata Party should be confronted on its failures of governance, such as income disparities, slowing growth, inflation or demonetisation.

The problem with such a claim is evident. First of all, it excludes from the domain of governance the fundamental question of the equality of all citizens in a constitutional democracy. What possible idea of governance does not deal with the equal treatment of citizens or the protection of minorities from bigotry and violence? Second, this strategy has never worked. Shying away from calling out the BJP’s bigotry and standing up for the rights of all citizens, rather than the Hindu majority, has hardly ensured the opposition striking success against the BJP. Elections have been turned into communally charged events not because the opposition has given the BJP an opportunity but because the BJP can turn up the heat on bigotry as and when it wants. Not confronting the fundamental problem with the BJP allows the party to pick its weapon of choice to display its idea of Hinduism. When this happens, the opposition is forced to react, reduced to absurdities in its attempt to portray its fealty to some idea of Hinduness.