It is possible that the BJP will aggressively pursue its Hindutva agenda at a time of economic slowdown by adopting the well-known bread and circuses tactic - panem et circenses. The attention of hoi polloi is diverted from sources of grievances by ensuring filled bellies and providing extravagant entertainment.
The first example of circenses, the Latin term used by Juvenal, the Roman poet who is credited with noting the bread-circus dualism, was the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution.
The furore it has created in the subcontinent and the accolades it has received from Narendra Modi’s supporters have succeeded to a considerable extent in pushing the issues of the economic malaise to the background. Instead, all attention is now focussed on the conditions in Kashmir and the Supreme Court’s deliberations on the subject.
And so it will continue for a longish period of time irrespective of whether the situation in the valley improves or deteriorates. In the meantime, the falling growth rate and the crisis in the automobile sector along with the paucity of jobs and investment will not hit the headlines which they otherwise would have done.
The obliteration of Article 370 is, of course, only one item on the Hindutva agenda. The others are the building of the Ram temple and introduction of a uniform civil code.
All the three had been put on the back burner by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1996 when the BJP was still gingerly feeling its way into the national mainstream from its position on the margins and, therefore, did not want to antagonize potential allies outside the saffron brotherhood.
But, now, when the BJP feels that it has firmly established itself as the No. 1 party which is ready to rule from panchayats to parliament for 50 years, as Amit Shah has said, the party has decided to fire the first salvo of its longstanding game plan.
The next may well relate to the temple. In fact, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat wanted the Modi government to start work on the temple without waiting for the Supreme Court’s verdict. Although the government had demurred at the time, it may be less diffident now in its present confident, belligerent mood.
Just as Article 35A disappeared into limbo along with Article 370 although a case on it was pending before the judiciary, the government may not hesitate to initiate construction work, especially if the economy continues to sink.
The uniform civil code will probably be left alone at the moment if it transpires that the male hegemony of the “karta” (head of the household) in a Hindu joint family will be undermined, but other measures are likely to be on the anvil concerning the minorities.
One is a check on population “explosion” with the enactment of stringent family planning dos and don’ts so that a Muslim family comprising one husband and four wives will not be able to boast hum paanch, hamare pachees.
It has long been a feature of saffron propaganda that the Muslim population is growing at a faster rate than that of the Hindus, thereby threatening in course of time to reduce the latter to a minority in their only country since the Muslims have several.
There is little doubt that the government’s social and legislative initiatives will be warmly welcomed by its dedicated supporters as well its “B” team comprising, among others, the BijuJanata Dal and the YSR Congress and its timid ally, the Janata Dal (United) – all of whom went along with the government’s move on triple talaq.
The old chestnut about religious conversions can also be resurrected in the present atmosphere where the BJP is riding high outside of Kashmir. While triple talaq was a new issue for the saffron lobby, a ban on conversions has long been its demand with its ire being directed mainly at the Christian missionaries.
However, the BJP may go slow on this subject at the moment, as also on the consumption of beef, lest a muscular approach unsettles the party’s newly established but still unstable base in the north-east. But they will probably be mentioned in passing more often just to keep the embers burning.
With the deletion of Article 370, the BJP has inaugurated a new phase of its politics where it will articulate its nationalistic/ jingoistic themes with greater vigour and depend heavily, as in Kashmir, on the armed forces to push through its plan of action and, politically, on some of the subservient non-NDA parties to buttress its position in parliament and outside.
Needless to say, the collapse of the Congress has been a godsend for it with the Left-Liberals at their wit’s end in front of the oratorical flourishes of the prime minister, which enable him to win over ever an increasing numbers of supporters.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal.