There have been signs of a purposeful hardening of the BJP’s policies during the current election campaign. From the announcement of the intention to scrap Articles 370 and 35A to the description of illegal immigrants as “termites” to making the sedition laws more stringent, there is a determined endeavour to refurbish the party’s harsh right-wing credentials.
The objective is clear. The BJP has convinced itself that its chances of electoral success lie in the pursuit of a hawkish line. The basis of this outlook is an uncompromising emphasis on Hindu nationalism, which was neatly articulated by UP’s hardline chief minister, Yogi Adityanath. when he divided the citizenry into Bajrang Balis or Hindus and Alis or Muslims.
It is patent enough that the BJP under the tutelage of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has returned to its Hindu roots based on seeing only the Hindus as true citizens of the country, or the Chosen People, so to say, because India is both their pitribhu or fatherland and punyabhu or holy land of the Hindus, as V D Savarkar said, while the holy lands of the Muslims and Christians are in Mecca or Rome even if they have been born in India.
In making this assertion about the BJP’s “real” self, the Modi-Shah duo can be said to have distanced themselves from the legacy of Atal Behari Vajpayee, who had called for shelving Article 370 along with the proposals for a uniform civil code and the construction of a Ram temple for an indefinite period in 1996.
It has taken the BJP about two decades to dump the moderate Vajpayee’s accommodative initiatives and expose the party’s feral instincts. Arguably, this is all to the good, for it would have served no purpose for the BJP to pretend what it is not, as Vajpayee tried to make it do, and come out instead in its true, saffron colours.
From now on, its cards are all on the table, which should leave no one in any doubt about its unabashed pro-Hindu agenda. Among those who are likely to take note of it are allies like the Janata Dal (United), which still seem to harbour illusions about smoothening some of the BJP’s rough edges as on Article 370 or the triple talaq. However, irrespective of how the allies behave, what is worth considering is why the BJP chose to bare its fangs at a time when there are doubts as to whether it can get a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha.
Surely, the party’s think tank could not have believed that a pledge to deny Kashmir’s special status and the exclusion of even Christians and Parsis from the list of immigrants under an amended citizenship law would provide a major boost to its patriotic vote bank and not frighten not only the minorities, but also the liberal-minded among the middle class and rekindle the concerns of the average people in the north-east.
Previously, only Muslims were excluded from the list, which was understandable from Savarkar’s devotees. But to restrict the citizenship rights only to the followers of the so-called Indic religions like Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism is a step further down a fascistic line at a time when the party’s Lok Sabha tally is expected to fall to around 200 from the present 282.
Are Modi and Shah prepared to mellow down for the sake of new allies like the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the YSR Congress which will be expected to stand by it at a time of trouble? If so, will not such a tactic of two steps forward, one step back underline their opportunism?
It isn’t that the BJP and the RSS haven’t played such games before. Only a few weeks ago, the RSS was all sound and fury with its demand for an immediate start to the construction of the Ram temple. The apparent belief of the BJP’s Nagpur bosses was that only an ordinance decreeing the beginning of the construction work would stop the BJP’s sliding fortunes.
But ever since the air strikes seemingly ensured that the BJP was back in the reckoning, the faith of the RSS in the temple appears to have evaporated. It may well be, therefore, that a fall in the BJP’s number of seats will make the party say that it is not so hawkish after all.
The BJP has always found it difficult to fit its square peg of majoritarianism into the round hole of Indian pluralism. As a result, it has generally kept its rabid proclivities in check. However, the heady success of securing a majority of its own in 2014 because of the Congress’s dramatic collapse under a weak prime minister has evidently encouraged the BJP to shed its inhibitions. But a setback may persuade it to return to the Vajpayee line once again.
Amulya Ganguli is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.