The results of the forthcoming elections to four state assemblies and one Union Territory will have a momentous impact on the political history of the country, particularly if the BJP manages to retain Assam and wins West Bengal. The BJP has very low stakes or a marginal presence in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP is riding piggyback on the AIADMK and even if the AIADMK alliance wins, not much credit will be given to the BJP. In Kerala, the BJP has no chance of turning the tables and emerging victorious.
Similarly, it has a negligible presence in Puducherry. But in Assam, the BJP has its government. And retaining that government will be a huge challenge. In West Bengal, the BJP was a marginal player in the 2014 parliamentary elections and in the 2016 assembly elections as well. In fact, in the 2014 elections, the BJP had got only 16 per cent votes, despite riding on the huge Modi wave and afterwards, slipped to 10 per cent of the vote share in the assembly elections in 2016.
Since 2014, the political landscape in the country has changed. A new paradigm has engulfed the nation and a lot of water has flown under the bridge. Fundamental changes have taken root in the body politic of the country. Now, the hegemony of the Congress system has collapsed and is being replaced by the BJP’s overpowering presence. Its dominance is robust, and the Congress is lying in the pits. On the one hand, while the Congress is struggling to retain its presence as a serious national party in Parliament and the state legislatures, the BJP on the other, has improved its tally in the Lok Sabha and pocketed new frontiers for itself.
The Congress has, in the past, lost elections many times but the basic ethos of politics remained more or less the same. Today, the political consensus which was arrived at during the freedom struggle and continued afterwards, has been broken. The broader framework of that consensus encompassed adherence to secular values, respect for the democratic ethos, autonomy of the constitutional institutions, a culture of debate and discussion, the tradition of inclusion of all and exclusion of none, the inculcation of a scientific temper and a promise to build a modern nation-state, where the rule of law was to be supreme. Some people call it the ‘Nehruvian consensus’ and others name it the ‘idea of India’.
Today that ‘idea of India’ seems to be in profound danger, waiting to be replaced by an ‘alternative idea’.
This ‘alternative idea’ has its contours drawn but is yet to be examined by the future, to ascertain if it is deep enough to build a new consensus and survive as many years as the old one. If the old consensus was rooted in a grand old civilisation, based on compassion and diversity, the new one, in its DNA has disregard for the pluralism and its edifice is built on hate. It believes in the superiority of one tradition and within that tradition, the paramountcy of the select few. Exclusion, not inclusion is the rule.
For the old consensus, history was a guiding force, a torchbearer for the future but the new consensus seeks revenge on the past. In its proclamation to discover the old and ancient, it has heaped disdain on its glorious tradition; the multi-dimensional approach to address multi-layered history has been reduced to simple formulae, facts have been fictionalised to suit its narrative and it has succeeded in brainwashing a larger audience for the construction of a utopia.
This idea seems to be winning as of now. Democratic institutions have been crumbling, the pillars of the Constitution have surrendered to the executive and the majoritarian view prevails over the rest. Parliament has been reduced to one party and the party has submerged into one entity; that entity is the law and the government; his views are unwritten Constitution. In the majoritarian view, the rule of the majority is sovereign, and the minority should not complain about its numerical inadequacy.
Within this framework the BJP takes great pride that it has successfully neutralised the minorities, mainly Muslims. It brags that the politics of Hindutva have changed the electoral bargaining power of the Muslims. For the party, the concern for the minority by the earlier governments is equal to appeasement of Muslims and is reverse communalism, which poses inherent dangers to natural security.
There is no denying the fact that the Prime Minister has propounded a new slogan after 2019 – Sabka saath, sabka vikaas, sabka vishwaas (Every one’s support, everyone’s development, everyone’s trust). Everyone’s trust was added to counter the mounting criticism that the government does not trust minorities. But the same did not reflect on the ground.
Minority in fear
The abrogation of Article 370, passing of the citizenship law, the brutal crackdown on the Shaheen Bagh protest, the demonisation of the Tablighi Jamaat during the pandemic, the random misuse of sedition laws against Muslims and the promulgation of the Love Jihad Act in different BJP-ruled states belies the claim of the government. The Muslim minority today virtually lives in fear. The Hindutva ideology sees them as the enemies of the state, and they are referred to as ‘cockroaches’ and ‘termites’ by the top leaders.
This thought flows from the writings of the second chief of the RSS, M S Golwalkar, who identified them as one of the enemies of India. In his book, ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ he writes, “It would be suicidal to delude ourselves into believing that they have turned patriots overnight after the creation of the Pakistan. On the contrary, the Muslim menace has increased a hundred-fold by the creation which has become a springboard for all their future aggressive designs on our country.”
He further writes, “The second front of their aggression is increasing their numbers in strategic areas of our country. After Kashmir, Assam is their next target. They have been successfully flooding Assam, Tripura and the rest of Bengal since long.”
Golwalkar indicates that the presence of Muslims in large numbers in Kashmir, Assam and West Bengal is a direct threat to the nation. If Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim-majority Union Territory, then Assam has more than 30 per cent Muslims and in West Bengal, their number is 27 per cent of the population. In Kashmir, remedial steps have been taken, Art 370 has been abrogated, the state has been split into two and has been reduced to a Union Territory.
In Assam, the BJP succeeded in forming the government in 2016 and the process of identification of the Bangladeshi migrants, who, in their opinion, are mostly Muslims, began in the name of the NRC but the task is still incomplete. Assam was the first state where the anti-CAA and NRC protest erupted majorly, followed by the other states. So, despite the massive resentment, if the BJP wins Assam again, then it will be an indicator of the fact that the victory of the Hindutva forces was not a fluke earlier and that it has a deeper resonance in the society.
Ideologically, like Assam, West Bengal has to be a very high priority state for the followers of Hindutva. But till 2019, it failed to make inroads into the state. Now, after winning 18 parliamentary seats and attaining 40 per cent of the vote share, it has tasted blood. The unprecedented aggression displayed by the BJP and its leaders vis a vis the Mamata Banerjee government, is propelled by the rigour of the conviction, soaked in Hindutva. A victory in West Bengal will provide an ‘ideological opportunity’ to ‘stop the spread of the menace’, ‘decimate enemies of the nation’ and correct the wrongs of history.
And if the BJP could win both Assam and West Bengal, then it could easily be said that Hindutva has far greater traction than is normally assumed, that it has perfected the art of majoritarian politics and governance and that their unfinished civilisational project is on the ‘right’ track, in which Muslims will have no other option than to forfeit their political space and live like a second-grade citizens for a long time to come.
The writer is an author and Editor, SatyaHindi.com