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Portending Bad Days For Democracy

By Anand Teltumbde

08 May, 2014

Given the fissures within that party, the BJP carried out its election campaign in an astoundingly disciplined manner until recent weeks just focussing on development and misgovernance during the UPA-2 rule. It skilfully managed to use environmental factors: significantly, popular resentment against the Congress, the weaknesses of Rahul Gandhi’s persona, the heir apparent of the Congress as the next leader, and the support of the corporate India for the change, all with precision of a management strategist. Burying the intra-party differences, it projected Narendra Modi, the seeming darling of the big capitalists to be its prime ministerial candidate and his governance in Gujarat as the proof for his capabilities. Modi carried out his whirlwind campaign with Gobblesque zeal unmindful of the mounting exposures of the fakeness of the so called Gujarat model, which appeared to have worked well for him so far in elections. But as the elections are coming to end, the things seem to have suddenly taken a turn flashing what the BJP is up to.

Communal Fangs

Development theme of the BJP in this election is just an expedient strategy. It does not mean that BJP has grown above its hindutva agenda. BJP has clearly visualized a big opportunity to recapture power at Delhi and realized that the overt projection of hindutva would not go well with the voters who have undergone sea change since it succeeded last time. However, if it projected development as the central theme, hindutva could well piggy back it. After all, there is no necessary contradiction between development and hindutva. The prevailing understanding of development in terms of GDP growth or such other parameters rather goes well with the national self identity, which BJP forcefully projects through its cultural nationalism. The burgeoning middle class and professionally educated youth project their own success and prospects onto the entire country and think that India can become superpower. The only problem with this hindutva identity is the religious minorities and the lower castes, although fast diminishing in numbers, because they see themselves directly hit by its operational avatar.

In order therefore to widen its base, the BJP naturally shunned the overt projection of hindutva. Over the years it has created its constituency, which anyways knew what it was. But it could not afford to ignore others if it dreamt of grabbing the prime ministerial chair. Moreover, in the era of coalition, it had to think of its potential allies who may not like to openly identify with ideological BJP. Therefore it has held hindutva as the backburner to be used clandestinely and sparingly as they did in Muffarnagar and as its minions began doing now. The practical application of hindutva is to consolidate the Hindus against Muslims. Wherever, it sees the need to do so it would do it. In Uttar Pradesh, BJP has been a weakling for many years, the ground having been totally usurped by SP and BSP with Muslims and Dalits as their core props respectively, reinforced with chunks from the splintered constituency of the BJP. In such a situation, the BJP would not mind using the weapon of hindutva. But at the same time it would not do it openly.

Back to Dirty Tricks

But suddenly from mid-April various hindutva cronies began violating this code and baring their fangs. On 5 April, Narendra Modi's close aide and BJP’s General Secretary Amit Shah expectedly fired one of the first salvos when he reportedly described the elections as an opportunity to avenge the insult meted out to the people by a handful of those who enjoy the support of the government in the state. "This is not just another election. This is the time to avenge the insult meted out to our community. This election will be a reply to those who have been ill treating our mothers and sisters," he said. On 19 April, right in Modi’s Ahmedbad, his friend and the VHP chief Praveen Togadia had reportedly targeted Muslims buying properties in Hindu areas urging his supporters to forcibly evict them. The same day, Girirraj Kishor Singh, a former minister in the Nitish Kumar government, had said during an election meeting in Jharkhand’s Deoghar district that those who are opposing Modi had no place in India and should go to Pakistan. These repulsive statements coming from the close aides of Modi, stunned many observers as they would not understand why they would wantonly spoil his prospects, as everything seemed to be going well for him.

Indeed, it is ordinarily difficult to fathom the crooked logic of the hydra headed sangh pariwar of which BJP is just one part. Most times, it issues statements in a test-fire mode and watches for the reaction. Then to contain it within limits, it marshals further statements from within. Expectedly, Modi reacted to Togadia's ‘hate-speech’ saying "Petty statements by those claiming to be BJP’s well wishers are deviating campaign from the issues of development and good governance”. Ram Madhav, spokesman of the RSS countered it saying, “I have spoken to Praveen Togadia, he completely denies making such comments. It is fabricated. No Swayamsevak thinks on such divisive lines. They think of all people as one: One people, one nation.” Prakash Javadekar, spokesperson of the BJP reinforced Madhav’s statement and went further saying, Togadia was taking legal action in the matter. While the statement has served its purpose, in assuring its own constituency that the BJP has not given up its hindutva agenda, the seculars and Muslims are assuaged that these were either the loose statements of some overenthusiastic ‘BJP-supporters’ which are not supported by the party, or they were total untruths.

In the case of Amit Shah, however, the BJP defended him saying those chanting secularism were responsible for what happened. "Jo log secular tourism karne gaye the unhone apmaan kiya hai, chahe Hindu ho ya Musalman," BJP’s Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told ANI. Both Togadia’s as well as Shah’s remarks were strategic: Togadia’s was to assuage Hindus that nothing was changed and Shah's incendiary rhetoric was to incite non-Muslim non-Dalit voters of Uttar Pradesh to zealously vote for BJP. This seems to have already worked as according to a survey conducted by CSDS Lokniti-IBN, the BJP is clearly ahead in Western Uttar Pradesh. The survey showed that the Muzaffarnagar riots and their impact have actually grown in prominence since early this year. As much as 78 percent of the respondents in March said they knew about the communal riots of 2013, as compared to the 64 percent in January. Also, 40 percent of respondents believed the Samajwadi Party to be "most responsible" for the riots. It was obviously a risky gamble but BJP is adept at playing such gambles.

Burning Coalition Bridges

The most risky gamble BJP is playing is in terms of antagonizing its potential allies. Perhaps it is deluded itself into believing as they did in 2004 ‘India Shining’ campaign that they would get past the magic mark of 272 seats and displaying their bravado. Perhaps it is simply an offensive against the parties who would not support it. None other than Mody himself is playing this gamble in mounting attacks on his possible allies in Mamata Banerjee, Farooqe Abdullah, Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik. On 8 February, Modi in his hyperbolic style remarked that the “third front” of which Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik were important members, would turn India into a “third rate” country, which miffed them both. Similarly, his high pitched ‘Gujarat” brag hasn’t gone well with the allies either as it implicitly undermined their own performance.

In addition to these indirect slurs, Modi had criticized both AIADMK and DMK that both ignored development of Tamil people busying with fighting among themselves. Ms Jayalalithaa retorted saying that Gujarat's development is a "myth"; Tamil Nadu's growth has been far more impressive than that of Gujarat. In a recent rally in Karur in the Cauvery belt of her state, Ms Jayalalithaa accused the BJP of "betrayal" and of being no different from the Congress on the contentious issue of water-sharing between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and asked people to ensure that DMK, Congress and BJP candidates forfeited their deposits. Modi targeted Naveen Patnaik as intriguing to save the Congress through the third front. In the wordy dual with his ex-admirer Farooqe Abdullah Modi said that he and his family had communalised Kashmir. His insinuation that Mamata was involved in the infamous multi-crore chit fund scam in West Bengal in a recent election rally in Kolkata brought him most vitriolic epithets like ‘shaitan’ (devil) and ‘butcher of Gujarat’ from TMC in addition to a threat of defamation suit.

Why should Modi burn the bridges to the prospects of power? Even the best estimate of the opinion polls fall short of the majority mark. Of course the trend of these estimates has been scaling up but no one in sound mind would simply extrapolate it and take it as certain. Somehow, BJP appears to be confident about riding past the 272 mark. Whatsoever may be its agenda, it inadvertently reveals a stark truth about its undemocratic self in arrogantly pitching itself against all. If it gets power, BJP could just ride roughshod any opinion in driving its agenda!

Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer and a civil rights activist associated with CPDR, Mumbai



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