BJP Govt’s Denial of FCRA Renewal Shows Its Anxiety Ahead of Polls

The silence of the political leadership within the government and the BJP is a strategic compulsion.

5 min read
Hindi Female

Recent instances of right-wing attacks on India’s two largest religious minorities, Muslims and Christians, coupled with the Home Affairs Ministry’s decision not to approve the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) renewal application of the Missionaries of Charity, are indicative of deep-seated anxiety within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supportive ecosystem over the impending Assembly elections in five states.

The silence and inaction of the political leadership within the government and the party at outrageous statements and actions hint at a realisation that ambivalence would be strategically advantageous.


Looking the Other Way Works for BJP

Although taking note of and initiating action against incendiary statements and violent deeds is constitutionally obligatory, remaining blind to these serves a political purpose. It is not the first time that this regime is failing in its duties – looking the other way is electorally beneficial.

Although Muslims have been the primary targets of hardline Hindutva groups since 2014, Christians, their organisations and places of worship are also being targeted now.

This feeds into the Sangh Parivar campaign alleging a ‘conspiracy’ to reduce Hindus to a minority via conversions. The Gujarat government this month booked Missionaries of Charity on the charge of “luring towards Christianity, young girls” sheltered in a home in Vadodara city. The Home Ministry’s decision cannot but be seen with this backdrop.

Although the series of Dharam Sansads organised in recent days (more are planned), which provided a platform for making genocidal calls against Muslims, besides groups that vandalised churches, have no formal association with any Sangh Parivar affiliate, no clarification has yet been issued to distance the saffron fraternity from these outrageous activities.

The assumption is that targeted attacks on Muslims and Christians would communally polarise the electorate, besides blunting the anti-incumbent sentiment against BJP regimes in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa.

The expectation is that such attacks would simultaneously neutralise new caste alliances the Samajwadi Party forged in recent weeks in Uttar Pradesh – by far the most crucial state – by uniting Hindus across caste lines.

In Goa, too, the BJP hopes to benefit by fanning anti-Christian sentiments.

However, these hate campaigns have the potential to backfire and shrink the party back to the regions and states from where it started its campaign.


Why the Fringe is Now Mainstream

Significantly, talks of a Congress-Mukt (Congress-free) Bharat have faded to ensure that its present bastions continue remaining BJP-yukt (where the party retains its hold).

In June 2016, Amit Shah, in his previous avatar as BJP president, kickstarted the party’s Project Coromandel with the aim of increasing its strength in the eastern coastal (Coromandel) states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Tamil Nadu besides Bengal. Barring Andhra Pradesh, the BJP has come to terms with its secondary position.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is inaugurating partially-complete development projects and laying the foundation of several promissory schemes at a frenetic pace to beat the Model Code of Conduct. But bigotry remains the party’s central theme.

Be it Modi at Varanasi and his address at a Kutch gurudwara via a video link, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s speeches in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, or even Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s assertions at various public rallies, the primary objective of the party is to remind the people of the religio-cultural ‘war’ being waged since 2014.

In speech after speech, the common refrain is that this is a ‘civilisational moment’ in the history of India when long-suppressed aspirations of Hindus are being realised and their ‘rightful’ place restored. The subliminal message is that personal necessities need to be put on the back seat because the majority community is regaining lost ‘glory.’

Since 2014, there is a tendency to blame so-called ‘fringe’ groups for comments that mirror those that resonated in Haridwar and Raipur. However, as seen over decades, efforts to find a dividing line between ‘fringe’ and ‘mainstream’ always fail.

For instance, Modi waxed on the virtues of India's 'Sanatan' culture and traditions while inaugurating the Kashi Vishwanath temple corridor at Varanasi. To what extent can Dharam Sansads organised by the Hindu clergy be said to be different from this same belief system?

If it is different, why not make an outright condemnation and take the strictest action?


But There Are Limits to BJP's Politics

In recent years, Sangh Parivar leaders, from Modi and Mohan Bhagwat to colony-level party functionaries, have routinely labelled critics as rashtra-drohis (anti-nationals).

This vocabulary is drawn from the Ayodhya agitation of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then, the argument of belligerent activists, that India was polarised between “Ram Bhakts and Ram Drohis”, had been dismissed as ‘extreme’ views not endorsed by the BJP or RSS leadership, thereby posing no threat to India’s social fabric.

Given this past, it is certainly possible that what is labelled as ‘fringe’ now may be formally adopted in future, such as calls to deify Nathuram Godse as a national icon or to exterminate Muslims.

There are, however, limits to the politics of polarisation. Possible gains in Uttar Pradesh or in other states during the forthcoming state polls are likely to come at the cost of support in other states.

The action against Mother Teresa’s institution would dent the BJP’s image in several parts, especially West Bengal. Likewise, the Islamophobic hate campaign has its limitations.

It has to be recalled that between 2007 and 2012, Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister refashioned his persona from the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ (Emperor of Hindu hearts) to ‘Vikas Purush’ (Development Man). During the 2014 campaign, his 2002 past was consciously underplayed. Instead, he was projected as the creator of the notional ‘Gujarat Model’.

In the past seven years, whenever the BJP faltered, it took recourse to the heady mix of religious polarisation and hyper-nationalism. But China is not Pakistan. Hence, with India on the defensive and the BJP unable to utilise the latter tool, religious polarisation remains the only potent weapon to woo voters.

Despite the realisation of the limitations of this strategy, Modi is far too committed to this path, albeit mixed with gigantic schemes providing illusions of development.


Can People Forget Its Misgovernance?

The BJP can only hope that more sections of Indians would have accepted the Hindutva idea and would be ready to overlook slippages on the delivery of development promises, and that the majority who continue living on the margins of society will not base their electoral judgment on the poor track record in addressing livelihood concerns but on ‘sorting’ out the minorities.

If the BJP fails in this mission and people vote on the basis of their recent memory and hardships faced during the pandemic, heightened by the regime’s ineptitude, it would be left clutching its original core constituency.

This regime is also willing to risk global disapproval to pursue its primary Hindutva agenda, as is evident from 2015, when former president of the United States Barack Obama served a reminder to Modi on the need to ensure religious freedom and security of minorities.

The BJP believes that the size of the Indian economy and the possibilities it offers will prevent the West from shutting its doors to India under Modi.

The concerted anti-minorities attacks in recent days and their subtle reflection in the party’s electoral campaign proves that the Sangh Parivar is indeed a ‘single-issue’ fraternity. But shedding other pretensions has increased political risks for Modi and the party.

(The writer is an NCR-based author and journalist. His latest book is The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India. His other books include The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  BJP   Christians   Muslims 

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