Rearview | A Pariksha Pe Charcha for Hindu Mahasabha’s Pooja Shakun Pandey & Co

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Rearview | A Pariksha Pe Charcha for Hindu Mahasabha’s Pooja Shakun Pandey & Co

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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ow that Bigg Boss Season 12 is done and dusted and the Rakhi Sawant-Deepak Kalal wedding turned out to be a no-show, I tuned into the TV event of the month. That’s right, Pariksha Pe Charcha 2.0, live-streamed from New Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium, which has not witnessed much action after it got all gussied up for the scam-riddled Commonwealth Games. Pariksha Pe Charcha 2.0, as the trademark ought to alert you, was a snazzy, “with it” Prime Ministerial event, where Narendra Modiji addresses thousands of students and their worried parents preparing for the upcoming exam season.   

I gotta say, I came to it with suspicion, but by the time the two-hour affair was over, I was left suitably impressed. It might have started with Human Resource Development minister Prakash Javadekar, asking the gathered students, thrice over, “How’s the Josh?!” which honestly made me miss all the forced hip hip hurrays I was a reluctant part of in school. But it was smooth sailing once Mr Modi took to the stage.   

Everything that they say about the Prime Minister’s oratorical abilities is true. He is assured and assuring, his politesse replaced with genuine warmth – he threw in a PUBG reference here, complimented a student from Kerala for speaking better Hindi than him there. He strongly took on parents trying to fulfil their ambitions through their children, parents who “bachon ka report card apna visiting card bana ke chalte hain”.

At Pariksha Pe Charcha 2.0, Mr Modi assumed the air of that slightly bombastic neighbourhood grandad at whose feet you want to sit and listen to advice that sounds great, but which is eventually ineffectual. His platitudes were such a balm that I feel even an old fish like me will now finally stop waking up in a cold sweat, after a nightmare where I’ve forgotten to attach the supplementary sheets in my Math exam. Were I so forward, I’d probably say that he reminds me of Chacha Nehru, even though the helpful travel agents that lurk around our comments section will kindly advise me to surrender my passport and buy a one-way ticket to Pakistan, stat.

But by far the most helpful tip from the interaction was Modi telling the kids to not only listen to their parents, but to appear to listen to them. “Let them feel that they have your full attention and that you enjoy listening to them,” he advises them. “Interrupt your mother and ask her to explain something better so that they know that you’re attentive. Once you try this, mama will tell you in the evening that she went over the top in the morning.” He was met with smiling faces and loud cheers as he ought to be – for this is tremendous advice that can be applied to any human interaction, not just for children dealing with haranguing parents. It’s excellent for lovers going over the same old bruises, for colleagues in a boardroom “marketing strategy” meeting with a 58-slide presentation, and I cannot overstate its facility for a government heading into an election year.

Ours is a government that is also focused on appearing to listen to us – it is a government that has learnt from the mistakes of the folks that came prior to them, and is committed to optics. Optics like the initiative that shall not be named (but whose first half means “evil spirit that takes away all your money”), like the surgical strike across the LoC (routine, since the ’80s, at the very least), and reservations for economically weaker upper-class folks. And yet, despite all these Grade A efforts, they’re undone by bad news – you know, like “#HowsTheJobs” which pegs unemployment at a 45-year high, and US intelligence agency warnings of how we might be headed for communal riots in the run-up to the 2019 general election.

But these are minor quibbles. The unkindest cuts come from runaway elements that align and identify with the BJP’s larger ideology.

Just a few days ago, on the sombre occasion of Martyrs’ Day, Hindu Mahasabha leader Pooja Shakun Pandey recreated the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, by firing at an effigy that also bled. She also garlanded Nathuram Godse, who, you might recall, was an OG member of the organisation. Now we know that the RSS and its allies define themselves in opposition to quite a few Gandhian ideals, but even they’d have to admit that reenacting his assassination is FUBAR. The BJP could have conveniently dropped Pandey, but as it turns out, she was photographed with several leaders like former Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and her sister from another mister, Ms “Ek dhakka aur do”, union minister Uma Bharti.   

Ours is a government that is also focused on appearing to listen to us – it is a government that has learnt from the mistakes of the folks that came prior to them, and is committed to optics.

Every once in a while, the BJP has to control a leader or self-styled spokesperson that steps just a little over a tenuous line. Like Sakshi Maharaj calling upon Hindu women to produce four children each, to counter the supposed birth rate of Muslims. Like BJP MLA Sadhna Singh referring to Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati as “worse than a eunuch” for her alliance with Samajwadi Party in UP. These are, of course, examples of what party apologists were once fond of calling “fringe elements” – as opposed to the ingrained, rewarded bigotry of senior leaders like Anantkumar Hegde and eternal favourite Subramanian Swamy. Hegde, you’ll remember, who also serves as a union minister, had said a couple of years ago: “As long as there is Islam in the world, there will be terrorism. Until we uproot Islam, we can’t remove terrorism.” He recently labelled Karnataka state Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao the “guy who ran behind a Muslim lady,” in reference to his Muslim wife. Anything Swamy utters is too distasteful to reproduce, but here’s a sample anyway.

Pandey made the mistake of doing these things, while being on the outside of the laxman rekha – on the inside there is scope to take enough liberties. Maybe Pandey and the others will learn over the years. Might I suggest a Pariksha Pe Charcha of their own?

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