One of the BJP’s general secretaries, Ram Madhav, who is on loan from the RSS to the party, has said that Parliament will take the final decision on the future of Article 370 relating to Kashmir. However, according to his boss, the BJP chief, Amit Shah, the controversial measure will be scrapped if Narendra Modi becomes the prime minister. This was one of the reasons why Shah asked the audience at a rally in Jharkhand to ensure Modi’s victory.
If Shah was more forthright about the BJP’s intention and the method of achieving it, the reason perhaps is his objective of peddling a hard line on Kashmir to underscore the party’s nationalist agenda, which brooks no obstacles on its path such as a debate in parliament on Article 370. It is the same hawkishness which has led the BJP to tell its ally in Bihar, the Janata Dal (United), to desist from taking a line on Kashmir (and also on the uniform civil code and the Ayodhya temple) which differs from the BJP’s.
But which line should Nitish Kumar’s party follow – Ram Madhav’s more conciliatory one or Amit Shah’s tough stance? If differences have appeared between the BJP and a major NDA partner, the reason is that large sections in the former have apparently made up their minds to drop all pretences about “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (development for all) and adopt an unabashedly polarizing attitude.
While the growing prominence of the yogis and sadhvis tell the nation at large that Hindutva is here to stay, the signs of an uncompromising posture on Kashmir convey an even harsher message to the Muslims. Yet, democracy is still stopping the BJP from going all the way. After all, there is still the need to convince parliament and counter those sections of the media which are “anti-national”. Hence, the good cop, bad cop routine of Ram Madhav and Amit Shah.
But, notwithstanding this ruse, few will be deceived, for it is obvious that it is the “bad cop” who represents the “real” BJP. In this context, Ram Madhav is probably a mere “mukhota” (mask) as Atal Behari Vajpayee once was. Not surprisingly, the shelving of Article 370, the uniform civil code and the Ayodhya temple was Vajpayee’s idea,
which he articulated in 1996 when looking for allies for his first government at the centre. Nearly, a quarter of a century later, the BJP under a hardline leadership is preparing to reject Vajpayee’s initiative, which drew more than 20 parties to his side.
Even then, the hawks in the party may have to take a step back if the election results do not fully satisfy them on May 23. If the BJP fails to get a majority of its own even if it emerges as the largest party, it will not be easy for it to push through a majoritarian agenda.
It is possible, therefore, that the BJP’s present divisive stance which seeks to marginalize the Muslims is actually meant more to consolidate the illiberal Hindus behind the party at a time when its electoral prospects do not look all that satisfactory outside northern and western India.
Even in these areas, the BJP cannot expect to fare as well as in 2014 which marked the peak of its performance. The party may gain a little in West Bengal and Odisha, but not enough to compensate for the expected losses from the “high” of five years ago in the north and the west.
The BJP also may not be able to make the anticipated gains in the north-east because of the uneasiness in the region over the citizenship bill which penalises the Muslim immigrants – the “Jinnahs”, as a BJP leader of Assam called them. What is odd nevertheless is that despite being aware of the resentment over the issue in the north-east, the “bad cops” continue to harp on extending the national register of citizens from Assam to the rest of the country to mobilise its core supporters.
It is as if the BJP has become too obsessed with its campaign against the ghuspetias (immigrants) to modify its line even if it alienates large sections in the north-east. The “bad cop” even promises to deport them one by one – chunchunke – without clarifying where to since Bangladesh will not accept them.
Assertions of this nature, including those on Kashmir, are so out of touch with the real life that it seems that the BJP makes them solely for the purpose of drumming up support among its committed backers although the party knows that implementing its hardline promises is well nigh impossible.
The danger, however, is that even as Amit Shah and Co rouse anti-Muslim feelings to the frenzied delight of their supporters in the social media, they are banking heavily on a BJP victory, leaving little scope for retreat. The RSS may have realized this mistake. Hence, Ram Madhav’s caveat.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal.