My office keeps a track of some of the outlandish things said by leaders of the BJP. I am not sure how it started, and I doubt if we follow other parties equally assiduously. But the BJP collection, if I can use that term, is quite a hoard. It includes the offensive and the ludicrous, it ranges from the Prime Minister to the least known MLA, and it covers subjects as varied as religion, mythology, history, couture, cuisine, practically everything to do with cows and, of course, sex. On a slow day it can be quite fun to browse.
Well, that’s what I did over the recent holidays and I noticed a few intriguing patterns. Perhaps the most striking is that the BJP has a very poor grasp of history. For instance, Tirath Singh Rawat, the new chief minister of Uttarakhand, believes “America enslaved India for 200 years”. His counterpart in Tripura, Biplab Kumar Deb, is convinced that Rabindranath Tagore returned his Nobel Prize to protest against the British. But what really surprised me is the number of times the Prime Minister is confused by the past.
Alexander’s army, he once said, conquered the entire world but was defeated by the Biharis. On another occasion he relocated Taxila to somewhere not far from Patna. On a third, he said when he thinks of the Gupta dynasty, he remembers Chandragupta. Of course, at the time he was wooing the voters of Bihar so perhaps this was intended as flattery.
But what do you make of this? In 2018 he claimed Kabir, Guru Nanak and Baba Gorakhnath “sat together and discussed spirituality”. It’s an interesting idea but as impossible as the claim Jesus and Muhammad had a fireside chat or as inaccurate as the belief Buddha and Zarathustra were buddies.
However, my favourite is a bloomer about the man many consider the Prime Minister’s party’s revered founder. This is what Mr Modi told a gathering in Gujarat in 2013: “Syama Prasad Mookerjee was a revolutionary. He died in 1930 in London.” I would call that a three-in-one. Mookerjee was not a revolutionary. He was a member of Jawaharlal Nehru’s first Cabinet. Before that he was president of the Hindu Mahasabha. Earlier, he was a lawyer and academic. He didn’t die in 1930 but 1953. It wasn’t in London but in a jail in Jammu and Kashmir. And, of course, he founded the Bharatiya Jan Sangh.
A second theme in the file is the BJP’s questioning of science alongside its conviction that most modern achievements actually occurred centuries or even millennia earlier. When he was junior minister for human resources development -- which, incidentally, includes education -- Satyapal Singh said Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was “scientifically wrong”. Since no one had seen “an ape turning into a man”, he said, that was proof dear Charles had got things mixed up. Our textbooks, he concluded, need to be changed.
And not surprisingly, long is the list of BJP leaders who believe some of the greatest modern achievements actually existed in the times of the Mahabharata. Tripura’s Biplab Deb claims the Internet and satellite communications were known to the Kauravas and Pandavas. Bengal’s Jagdeep Dhankhar insists that Arjun’s arrows had nuclear power. UP’s Dinesh Sharma maintains journalism started to cover the battle at Kurukshetra. Not just that, there were live telecasts too. And he adds: “Your Google has started now but our Google started long time back”.
Much the same sort of claim is made about genetic science, plastic surgery and test-tube babies. In 2014, in a speech at the inauguration of the Reliance Hospital in Mumbai, the Prime Minister said the fact Karan was born from Kunti’s ear is proof that genetic science was known at the time. He added the fact Ganesh has an elephant head is proof there were plastic surgeons in those days. No doubt inspired by his leader, Dinesh Sharma has more recently proclaimed Sita was a test-tube baby!
Less surprising but also far more frequent is evidence of the BJP’s incredible faith in the Indian cow and its many products. Suman Haripriya, a member of the Assam Assembly, believes “gaumutra” and “gobar” can cure coronovirus. Sadhvi Pragya believes it’s already cured her cancer. Meanwhile, for those who have blood pressure problems, she strongly recommends a good rub of a cow’s back.
If, however, wealth rather than health is your concern Dilip Ghosh, the BJP’s Bengal chief, insists that cow’s milk contains gold. “There’s a nari (blood vessel) that helps produce gold with the help of sunlight”, he has declared. So rather than drink a glass of the stuff, you ought to sift it.
Michael Lobo, a BJP minister in Goa, says that cows in Calangute have recently changed their character and now “only eat non-vegetarian food”. I wonder if earlier they were fond of beef? Uttarakhand’s former chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had once proclaimed that cows exhale oxygen. So what do they breathe?
Our file reflects these days BJP leaders have become specialists in haute couture. They’ve taken to advising women what to wear. Tirath Singh Rawat has firmly ruled out ripped jeans. He doesn’t approve of bare knees. “If this kind of woman goes out in society to meet people and solve their problems, what kind of message are we giving to society and to our kids?”, he asks. So clearly, he’s not in favour of a plunging décolletage.
Dilip Ghosh, his colleague in Bengal, who perhaps hopes to replace Mamata Banerjee as chief minister, is more avant-garde. He’s suggested Ms Banrejee should wear Bermudas. “If she has to keep her leg out then why wear a sari”, he asks. “She could wear a pair of Bermudas instead. So that it can be seen clearly”.
Of course, the thickest part of the file is what BJP leaders have to say about Muslims, their religion Islam and the fact that they would be better off in Pakistan. Termites feature in this part fairly substantially. So does the size of their families. But there’s nothing imaginative or fanciful about this portion. Just offensive and horribly wrong.
Now I don’t know how other parties compare with the BJP. My office hasn’t kept a track of their statements. My producer, Arvind Kumar, tells me this is something he intends to do. But will it be as much fun? Or is this one respect in which the BJP is truly special?