Here is an interesting fact: In the recently concluded assembly elections, neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Party President Amit Shah was BJP’s star campaigner. That credit went to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who addressed 74 rallies in four of the five poll bound states – Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana – as compared to 32 and 58 rallies attended by the other two respectively.
In state after state, Adityanath, who now serves as the party’s Hindutva mascot, went around spewing venom against Indian Muslims and invoking Ram Mandir. At these meetings, the language used by the CM was coarse and divisive, stoking hatred, and imagining a ‘Ram Rajya’ where everyone, he said would ‘receive benefits without discrimination’. The only people who wouldn’t would be the terrorists, he explained, who he made clear would be fed bullets and not biryani.
Making absolutely clear the identity of the ‘biryani eaters’, while addressing a rally in Nagaur, Rajasthan, Adityanath said, “Dr Manmohan Singh, who was the prime minister, said Muslims have the first right to resources. If Muslims have the first right then where will Hindus go? Congress has always divided…And the result of this divisive politics is terrorists in the country, terrorists to whom they fed biryani.”
If there is one thing that the recently concluded election results made clear, it’s that spouting hate can only get a party so far, even in the Hindi heartland states, where hate has previously been used as a tactic to stitch a victory. It not only puts a question mark on the effectiveness of BJP using its ‘star campaigner’ Yogi Adityanath to espouse that tactic, but also exposes the limit of the rhetoric.
As Sanjay Kakade, a BJP member of Parliament, pointed out on Tuesday, “I think.. we forgot the issue of development that Prime Minister Narendra Modi took up in 2014, and turned our focus to statues, name-changing and the Ram temple”.
Kakade seems to be one of the few from within the party who gets it. Sure, Hindutva could appeal to the select faithful, but if there is one thing that these results show, it is that the Mandir cannot be BJP’s sole strategy to stitch together a winning coalition – of the kind it did in 2014.
The party would do well to remember that the people of India gave PM Narendra Modi a huge mandate, based on his party’s stated agenda of development or ‘vikas’. To an aspiring, urban India, that meant the promise of jobs. And to rural idea, it meant a chance at a better life, not through doles or welfare, but through smart, agricultural policies.
Instead, four and a half years later, and despite its most concerted efforts, unemployment is on a rise. The spiraling distress in the agricultural sector prompted thousands of farmers from across the nation to march to the country’s capital, demanding redressal. The effects of the party’s most controversial economic decisions – demonetization of high value currency notes in 2016 – are still being assessed today, with noted economists and ordinary citizens coming out to criticize it.
But, instead of working on providing solutions to these problems, the party seems to have doubled on its Hindutva agenda – with the narrative veering towards beef ban, Mughals, renaming cities and minority appeasement.
In the absence of a strong socio-economic and political agenda to fall back on, it seems that the party is falling back on the one trope it knows best – trying to make India vote on sectarian lines by fomenting country’s majority Hindus prejudices against its Muslims.
The results indicate that the party can no longer hope to propel itself to victory by sitting on this Hindutva high horse. It can no longer distract the country from its shortcomings of governance, by focussing on this narrative of hate.
The country WILL hold the party to account. And it would be wise for the party to remember this, as it goes into 2019.