By Harihar Swarup
Over the past decades, the Hindu-Muslim axis has once again emerged as the Central pole of Indian politics. But now, a period of churn has set in, following a raft of incidents, the latest being the brutal daylight murder of a Hindu tailor in Rajasthan’s Udaipur by two Muslim men, because the former, backed the controversial comments on Prophet Mohammed by a former BJP spokesperson. The current state of sectarian tensions were inevitable in a way, because majoritarian rhetoric has been part of the ruling party’s electoral agenda.
But signals coming from the top leadership of the BJP and the RSS indicate that ruling party is increasingly finding itself in a tricky position due to the cascading effect of these events. The tipping point seems to have been breached. It has not only exposed the inner fault lines of the hard liners versus moderates within the Hindutva ecosystem, but also exposed a fundamental contradiction between party’s ideological—political goals and its governance-related imperatives.
How will the BJP proceed from now? There are two views on what the party must do. The first group believes that the BJP, before it’s too late must do course correction before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The reason is there is no nationally assertive opposition and the party might find it difficult to counterbalance anti-incumbency emanating from continuously winning Lok Sabha seats for several terms in many parts of north-west India. Furthermore, as the ruling party, it must focus on establishing order, and shift from agitational routes of politics to implementing its governance agenda, especially on employment. This necessitates that the party must reign in some supports who are flirting with what amounts to hate politics, adopt a more, restrained position on majoritarian nationalism, and reach out to Muslim communities.
The second group believes that the uproar over the remarks on Prophet Mohammed was yet another organized attempt to undermine Hindus and the Modi government. According to this view, the riot-like situations in many parts of the country thereafter, the backlash from West Asia, and the selective response of liberal—secular position on some of these incidents (including those who commented on symbols related to Hindu religious beliefs) have been hypocritical at best. A section of the Hindutva base— which have been unhappy with the BJP for not doing enough—has been further galvanized by the Prophet row and the gruesome murder in Udaipur. This group has likely imbibed the idea that having the BJP in power is necessary to protect its religious interest and keep so-called anti- Hindu forces at bay. This group is firm on pursuing Hindutva agenda with vengeance.
The BJP confronts a clear dilemma and its strategies will depend on the party’s calibration of the positive and negative fallouts on various fronts. The party realizes that impulse towards radicalism and polarization has strained the rule of law and impacted governance. And, many of the controversies will hurt investment and hinder the government’s efforts to reign in commodity prices and boost job growth. The current regime is already seen unfavourably by large sections of the global civil society, including many international media outlets on questions of liberties, and now it is being forced to spend political capital in mending diplomatic strains.
The biggest challenges for the party is both ideological and political. Since coming to power in 2014, the Modi regime has delivered on two outstanding ideological goals—construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya and changing the status quo in Jammu and Kashmir. (IPA Service)