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How Ram Mandir and Modi Myths Failed the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections

The Hindu voter is not a monolith of 1,200 million people waiting for Modi to rouse them.

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Yeh Jo India Hai Na, yahan khud ke rache swaang ko khud hi sacchai maan lena mehnga pad sakta hai (In India, believing your own ‘theatrics’, can prove costly). Meaning, don’t make the mistake of believing your own election gimmicks. Something the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Narendra Modi ignored in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Losing the Faizabad Lok Sabha seat, where Ayodhya and the brand new Ram Mandir are located, was one of the biggest ‘face-palm’ moments for the BJP in the 2024 election. Despite protests from revered Shankracharyas, the BJP went ahead with the Mandir inauguration because, in reality, it was a publicity stunt that had to be pulled off before the elections.

And so, what was to be a big moment for Ram bhakts — the return of Lord Ram to a Mandir symbolising the place of his birth — became a PR circus for the prime minister and Modi bhakts. A campaign was driven by BJP-aligned news channels, BJP-aligned Youtubers and celebrities, tweets and editorials by Union Ministers and BJP ideologues, converting the Ram Mandir opening into one big Modi moment.

Senior BJP and RSS functionaries receded into the background. The cameras stayed on Modi alone. The imagery of the ‘High Priest of the Hindu Faith’, of ‘Supreme Leader’, of Modi embodying India as the ‘Vishwaguru’, was expected to be imprinted on the mind of every voter. The exercise hoped to realise the BJP’s big political dream — unifying the Hindu vote. Because then, mathematically, the BJP could not lose.

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Was Modi’s Mandir Inauguration a Grand Moment That Revitalised Indian Civilisation and the Hindu Faith?

In the months that followed, more slogans followed — Modi Ki Guarantee, and of course, ‘Ab Ki Baar, 400 Paar’. They were all parroted and amplified by the so-called Godi media. In manicured interviews, as one heard Modi even projecting himself as a ‘celestial being’, it seemed he had bought into his own media myths. Alongside, making the incorrect assumption that bigotry could unify the Hindu vote, Modi also cast serious communal slurs on India’s Muslims.

But, on counting day the bubble burst. For the BJP it was not ‘400 paar’, not ‘300 paar’, not even ‘250 paar’. India’s voters finally had their say.

So, let's track back to the Ram Mandir. Was Modi’s mandir inauguration really some grand moment that revitalised Indian civilisation and the Hindu faith? No. Because Hinduism has never lacked or faltered in vitality. One Ram Mandir, which was really the culmination of a political movement, cannot define or alter the course of a religion with a composite culture or a diverse civilisation that goes back thousands of years.

Similarly, is the Hindu voter a monolith of 1,200 million people spread across a sub-continent waiting for Modi to rouse them and have them rooting and voting for a 1000-year ‘Ram Rajya’? Hindutva’s spin doctors can claim it is possible, and may craft political campaigns around the thought, but will it translate into ‘400 paar’?

No. Because the premise itself is flawed.

Faith and Modi’s charisma could have been a part of a political campaign, but instead, they became the entire campaign. There were major real-life issues that the BJP failed to address adequately, like the never-before levels of unemployment facing crores of young voters or the lakhs of small and medium businesses wrecked by the pandemic, struggling to rebuild.

Government data shows that crores are living in extreme poverty, along with rising economic inequality. From ethnic violence in Manipur to the farmers' protests in West UP, Haryana and Punjab, the BJP sought to air-brush several key issues out of its election big picture.

The other contradiction the BJP did not address, yet again, was the positioning of Hindutva, by many of its leaders and supporters, as an alternative to India’s Constitution.

As most Class 8 kids know, Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Constituent Assembly had aimed to use the Constitution to set right many of India’s fundamental inequalities – our rigid caste system is one of them. A vast number of India’s underprivileged Hindus are very possessive about the Constitution and the social, economic, legal and political guarantees built into it. And so are India’s minorities, who have been even more openly targeted by the BJP, from the PM downwards.

So, when Hindutva is pitched as the core of Indianness by the BJP, against India’s Constitution that too, the country’s underprivileged castes — well over half of India — push back.

This is exactly what happened to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, where strident Hindutva, riding on bulldozers, alienated a decisive number of Dalit voters, demolishing the BJP’s aim of consolidating the Hindu vote. In fact, in any state where the Opposition presented a viable option, the voters moved substantially away from the BJP.

It is no accident that among the NDA’s (National Democratic Alliance) a new lot of MPs, 33.2 percent are Upper Caste, against just 12.4 percent from the INDIA bloc. OBCs and SCs account for 39.5 percent of NDA’s MPs, while it’s higher at 48.5 percent for the INDIA bloc.

And lastly, while India’s minorities make up 16.4 percent of the INDIA bloc’s MPs, there is not a single Muslim, Sikh or Christian, among the NDA’s 292 MPs.

Yeh Jo India Hai Na, its message to netas is clear – ‘Agli baar, na mandir na vishwaguru, asli muddon par lado yaar!’ (Next time, not Mandir, nor Vishwaguru, fight elections on real issues!)

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