Between Hanuman and Shri Ram, BJP’s Hindu Vote May Get Divided

The Sangh’s claim to speak on behalf of both the Hindu faith and nationalism is being seriously challenged.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Arvind Kejriwal has shown that AAP can also woo Hindu voters. This is the first time in several decades that the Sangh’s claim to speak on behalf of both the Hindu faith and nationalism is being seriously challenged.
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Delhi’s victorious chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s ingenious invocation of the popular Hindu monkey-god Hanuman to successfully counter the BJP’s overt religious polarisation campaign on the eve of the Delhi assembly elections is believed to be causing serious worry in the saffron camp in the aftermath of AAP’s landslide win.

Sangh strategists fear that Hanuman and the slogan “Jai Bajrangbali” that his devotees chant could be used in the future as well as a political ploy to dent the BJP’s own war cry of “Jai Shri Ram” and appropriation of Lord Ram and the Ram Janambhoomi movement as a party platform.

 Delhi CM and AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal (C), accompanied by wife Sunita, Dy CM Manish Sisodia and other party leaders, offer prayers at the Hanuman Mandir in Connaught Place on Tuesday, 11 February 2020.
Delhi CM and AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal (C), accompanied by wife Sunita, Dy CM Manish Sisodia and other party leaders, offer prayers at the Hanuman Mandir in Connaught Place on Tuesday, 11 February 2020.
(Photo: AP)

Significantly, Hanuman is the only Hindu icon revered across various sects of the faith. Apart from being adored for his heroic exploits in the Ramayana, Hanuman is also associated with the powerful goddess Mahakali—a gatekeeper of her temples and a god in his own right as an avatar of Lord Shiva.

Why Mass Appeal of the Monkey God Worries BJP

What is most worrisome for the BJP—which has been in recent years trying to cultivate a following among Dalits and backward castes beyond its traditional upper caste base—is Hanuman’s wider acceptance as a deity among the poor, lower castes as well as women. Indeed, there are many more Hanuman temples across the country than those in the worship of Lord Ram.

 AAP candidate from Greater Kailash constituency Saurabh Bhardwaj holds a mace as he along with his supporters, dressed as Lord Hanuman, celebrates his victory in the Assembly polls, outside a temple in New Delhi, Tuesday, 11 February 2020. 
AAP candidate from Greater Kailash constituency Saurabh Bhardwaj holds a mace as he along with his supporters, dressed as Lord Hanuman, celebrates his victory in the Assembly polls, outside a temple in New Delhi, Tuesday, 11 February 2020. 
(Photo: PTI)

While the Ramayana remains the most universal religious epic among Hindus—particularly the 16th century poet saint Tulsidas’s version Ramcharitmanas—the same poet’s devotional hymn in the name of Hanuman, Hanuman Chalisa, is hugely popular. This was also sung with devastating effect by Arvind Kejriwal on various media shows before the Delhi polls.

Interestingly barely a year ago Yogi Adityanath, the saffron clad monk chief minister of Uttar Pradesh was embroiled in a controversy after he described Hanuman while campaigning at an election rally as a “forest dweller, deprived and a Dalit”. He was castigated by a rightwing Brahmin group who served him a legal notice accusing the monk turned chief minister for “dragging Lord Hanuman’s caste for political gain”.

How Bajrangbali Helped Counter Religious Polarisation

A senior BJP leader admitted off the record that both the party and its mentor RSS were taken aback at the clever choice by the Delhi chief minister of Hanuman as his religious mascot to turn the tables on the high octane campaign by the Sangh propaganda machine to depict Kejriwal as anti-Hindu. He admitted rather ruefully that many of the attributes of Hanuman as the most accessible of all deities known for his selfless devotion to get the work done in the Ramayana as well as his stature of “bahubali” worshipped for his magical powers were almost tailor made to suit the AAP campaign on development targets achieved by a humble dedicated chief minister undaunted by obstacles in his way.

Victorious AAP legislator Saurabh Bhardwaj from Greater Kailash constituency in New Delhi district described in detail on how the slogan “Jai Bajrangbali” came to his aid on polling day while dealing with BJP workers next to polling booths determined to influence voters by openly appealing to Hindu sentiments. He said he was taken aback at first by the BJP workers exhorting people to cast their ballot on the basis of their religion by shrieking loudly “Jai Shri Ram”. Complaints that this violated electoral regulations to the police force present proved futile as the police said that they could not stop people shouting religious slogans. It was only after the AAP workers countered by shouting “Jai Bajrangbali” even louder that the police stopped the sloganeering.

Sangh Parivar Will Have To Find New Strategies

There is little doubt that Kejriwal has broken new political ground showing the way how to effectively use Hindu religious symbols against the BJP, which has so far been allowed to completely monopolize the faith and speak on behalf of the majority community. Having so spectacularly lost the battle between its own mascot Lord Ram and Kejriwal’s Hanuman, Sangh strategists have now to go back to the drawing board on how to recalibrate its Hindutva agenda.

What is making life even more difficult for the RSS and the BJP leadership is that even as the Delhi chief minister has snatched the Hindu mantle from round their necks, the Muslim community most notably the burqa-clad matrons of Shaheen Bagh have refused to play the role of religious stereotypes imposed by the Sangh or cede the ground of nationalism. By taking a lead role in the anti-CAA NRC demonstrations as well as singing the national anthem, waving the national flag, and invoking the Indian constitution, the Shaheen Bagh protesters have shown that the Muslim minority has neither been intimidated nor provoked into a sectarian response by the shock and awe tactics of the current regime.

This is the first time in several decades that the Sangh’s claim to speak on behalf of both the Hindu faith and nationalism is being seriously challenged and it will have to come up with some new strategies and tactics.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist and the author ofBehenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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