Union Minister of State for Food Processing Industries Niranjan Jyoti is unlikely to be fired, no matter how long and hard the Opposition disrupts Parliament to insist she must. She is likely to be immune for several reasons. First, the government will not want to give in to disruption so early and about something they deem so trivial. Second, Ms Jyoti is politically important: she represents in her leaders’ minds a section of society in Uttar Pradesh that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) desperately wants to woo for its votes. (Given this, and the identity-based defence of Ms Jyoti it has launched, let us never pretend henceforth that Mr Modi’s BJP is beyond “vote-bank politics”.) And third, she didn’t say anything that the BJP believes is particularly outlandish.
It is this third reason that we need to think about a little harder, for it has implications for what we should expect from this government. Here’s what Ms Jyoti told a public rally: that they should vote for the children of the Hindu deity Rama, and not for those who are illegitimate – the two relevant words rhyme pleasingly in Hindustani. As far as the BJP is concerned, the problem is that Ms Jyoti used bad language for the BJP’s opponents. The problem is, in fact, different and worse: that Ms Jyoti was insisting that nobody opposing the BJP could be a proper Hindu; and, by implication and extension, that non-Hindus are by their very nature illegitimate when it comes to government. But this the BJP cannot admit is an unacceptable sentiment, because it is the very basis of their electoral strategy.