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Delhi Elections: BJP Campaign Shows It Can’t Win Without Hindutva

BJP stands exposed as a party which sees no outside chance for itself, unless it harps on divisive rhetoric.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
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The Bharatiya Janata Party's Shaheen Bagh refrain by a plethora of its leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah downward, during the campaign for the Delhi assembly polls, is indicative of the party's U-turn from the limited period of propagating inclusiveness, to shrinking in its ideological shell.

The stridency against the protesters and consistent efforts in depicting these as the ‘handiwork of Muslim-dominated sponsored groups’, coupled with Modi's announcement regarding the formation of a Trust to oversee the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, underlines the BJP’s realisation that it cannot win elections without playing the Hindutva or polarisation card.

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Snapshot
  • For a PM who spoke about the necessity for his party to secure “sabka vishwas” (everybody’s trust) barely months ago, the retreat into his own ideological silo marks more than just a great personal fall.
  • The BJP leadership has been further incensed because these protests no longer merely articulate the anti-CAA sentiment, but have widened in ambit.
  • With the Constitution, in the public imagination, being portrayed more as one which has to be ‘saved’ and not showcased as the only ‘Holy Book’, the BJP has suddenly found itself without the new tools it had chiselled for use.

Where’s the Promise of ‘Sabka Vishwas’?

In the course of the Delhi electoral campaign, the BJP stands exposed as a party which sees no outside chance for itself, unless it harps on the divisive rhetoric against the loathed ‘dishonourable’ quartet of ‘Muslims-Communists-Liberals and Supporters of Dynasticism’ — who are also maligned as ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘pro-Pakistan’.

For a prime minister who spoke about the necessity for his party to secure “sabka vishwas” (everybody's trust) barely months ago (after securing a spectacular successive mandate), the retreat into his own ideological silo marks not just a great personal fall, but is also symptomatic of the party's duplicity and narrow bandwidth.

It requires recalling that after re-election as leader of the National Democratic Alliance following the May 2019 verdict, Modi added the task of securing the trust of all Indians to his 2014 slogan “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (“together with all, growth for all”). His message was for party workers to reach out not just to religious minorities, but to ideological adversaries as well.

Modi reiterated this advice weeks later while addressing lawmakers of the ruling coalition.

At the conclusion of a two-day training session, he stated that they must remain positive and bring around even those who did not vote for the party. He asked MPs not to entertain negative thoughts about rivals, and encouraged them to think of ways to draw even critics into the party fold.

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Why BJP Had to Return to Politics of ‘Othering’

The polarising diatribe which has doubled up as the BJP's electoral anthem, has been sung by a chorus line in which Modi, Shah, Yogi Adityanath, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma were lead players. This demonstrates the party's exasperation with the intensity, expanse and duration of protests.

The BJP leadership has been further incensed because these protests no longer merely articulate the anti-CAA sentiment, but have widened in ambit. Additionally, some of the national symbols which the BJP and its affiliates appropriated since 2014 have once again changed hands.

With the Constitution, in public imagination, being portrayed more as one which has to be ‘saved’ and not showcased as the only ‘Holy Book’, the BJP has suddenly found itself without the new tools it had chiselled for use.

As a result, in its Delhi assembly campaign, the party perforce returned to the politics of ‘othering’. Because it has constantly named and shamed protesters, BJP cannot shield itself from accusations that this is part of a deliberate plot. Two specific instances demonstrate this is as premeditated strategy:

First, of all members of the troupe of 303 in the Lok Sabha, the BJP chose Verma to initiate a debate on the Motion of Thanks on the President's address. This decision was taken despite the Election Commission order debarring him for campaigning. The party's decision was legally correct, because a speech in Parliament is not election campaigning.

Why Choosing Verma Was Unethical

Yet, choosing Verma was ethically incorrect as speeches on the motion of thanks are rarely non-political, and the spirit of the EC order was that he should reserve comments on all political matters for the period detailed in its order. His choice was virtually cocking a snook at an EC which has hardly made a mark in asserting its autonomy.

Verma’s selection as lead speaker is also a political message to BJP’s core constituency that the divisive game is on, and foot soldiers should pass the word.

Two, the tone was set by the top leadership. On 20 January, in a speech felicitating newly-elevated BJP President JP Nadda, PM Modi, weeks after claiming that anti-government protesters could be identified by the “clothes they wear”, gave indication that previous talk of reaching out to critics was mere false piety.

“At every stage, this toli (group of opera singers, dancers, actors, or other performers) has never been with us. So, because there is no certainty of them being with us in future, what is the point of wasting time (to reach out),” Modi had told assembled party leaders. He also asserted that several people in the country were ‘habituated to opposing BJP's ideals’. ‘These critics’, he contended, ‘persistently drummed up support through their ecosystem’. In effect, Modi announced to party workers that it was time to shut once again the windows it had purportedly opened to the ‘other’.

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BJP Can’t Look Beyond Its Core Constituency

In Delhi, the BJP is the challenger, having sat out the past five years on a miniature Opposition bench. Its handicap was two-fold: first, Arvind Kejriwal has done a fair bit to claim a high score on the achievements index. As a result, BJP remained hamstrung in its criticism of the state government on matters of performance.

Second, the chief minister refused to be drawn into the debate over CAA and the protests in the city. His second tactic reflects hope that possibly, the Aam Aadmi Party, and not the Congress, would be seen as the party with the best chance to defeat BJP and thereby not split the anti-BJP vote.

The Delhi verdict either way, shall have long-term implications for India.

A victory for the BJP will indicate that India will certainly witness more of the politics of communal polarisation because the party will conclude that the strategy worked, and remain on the same path. A victory for AAP shall however, indicate the limits of BJP's brand of divisive politics, and prove that voters in India continue to go local when it comes to state polls. Whatever be the result, the BJP shall be proven as a party which cannot look beyond its core constituency. No ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas and ‘sabka vishwas’ for the party. Only ‘kuchka saath, kuchka vikas aur kuchka vishwas’ (togetherness of some, development for same and trust of few)!

(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. He has authored the book ‘The Demolition: India at the Crossroads’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached @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.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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