Unbridled sanctimony

A few years ago, the Indian cricket team, owing to its often erratic behavior, was often accused of ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.’ A similar malaise today afflicts the Bharatiya Janata Party; it seems to have perfected the art of converting political victory into political fiasco. Nothing else explains the aftermath to the February 9 event at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Here was a godsend opportunity for the ruling party to show to the world how Leftists and liberals sympathize with of all manner of traitors, be it jihadists or Maoists. But saffron self-righteousness went berserk with the Hindutva hotheads deciding to take matters into their own hands—even literally. So, instead of letting things happen, letting the JNU jerks and their supporters in politics and media expose themselves, the hotheads unnecessarily resorted to strong-arm tactics; without proper scrutiny of the event, first the sedition charge was slapped on Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar and then he and journalists were beaten up. Suddenly, the boot was on the other foot; the villain became the victim, and the debate shifted from the treason of ultra-Left and jihadists to the intolerance of the Right. Without the clumsiness of the nationalist brigade, Kanhaiya Kumar would have earned lifelong ignominy of humoring Kashmiri separatists, but now the guy has become a Leftwing icon.

As if the executive overreaction and the storm-troopers’ hooliganism were not enough, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani added a large dose of melodrama to the issue, further bringing ridicule and flak to the government. In a way, it was not surprising, for a dispensation that relishes in optics and pomp would surely value theatrics. And what histrionics she displayed!

Swayed by her own rhetoric, Smriti Irani went on offering her head to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati if the latter was not satisfied with her answer on the Rohith Vemula issue. And yet, Mayawati remained dissatisfied!

Apparently, Smriti was so convinced of the power of her demagoguery that she thought that facts won’t matter and her opponents would be won over by sentimentalism. She alleged that doctors were not allowed to examine Rohith Vemula and revive him after he committed suicide. This was disputed by a doctor of the Hyderabad Central University who claimed that she had examined Rohith soon after she was informed about it; it was she who declared him dead.

Further, Rohith’s mother and brother slammed Irani, accusing her of spreading lies. Pointing out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had regretted the loss of her son, she castigated her and other ministers for calling Rohith anti-national.

By the way, it was not the first time that Irani has brought trouble for her own government. In the wake of the Rohith suicide, too, about a dozen teachers at the University of Hyderabad had given up their administrative posts and criticized Irani for making “fabricated statements.”

Such are the perils of sanctimoniousness. When you wallow in cant, the faculties of sense perception, reason, and discernment go on a holiday; poise and equanimity are exiled; and the difference between the reality and fantasy gets blurred. Favorable situations turn tough. And villains and traitors become heroes.