By Amulya Ganguli
The BJP can claim credit for introducing a major change in Indian politics by ensuring that its slogan, “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain” (Say with pride I am a Hindu), the leitmotiv of the saffron brotherhood’s Ramjanmabhoomi movement of the 1990s, which led to the party’s transition from the margins to centre-stage, has gained traction beyond its expectations.
As much is evident from Rahul Gandhi’s recent temple trips and Mamata Banerjee’s genuflections in the direction of the faith of the majority community. The two gestures mark a sea-change from the usual practice of avowedly secular politicians of avoiding any association with religion except in a personal capacity.
The conflation of religion and politics was the hallmark of the Muslim League when it realized after its unimpressive showing in the 1937 elections vis-à-vis the Congress that it would not be able to make any headway if it did not play the Muslim card. “Islam khatre mein hain” (Islam is in danger) was the slogan that it used to send the message that the Muslims would be imperiled if colonial rule was replaced by the rule of Hindus under the Congress.
Like the League, the BJP, too, realized after winning a mere two seats in the 1984 general election that bread-and-butter politics would take it nowhere. Hence, its flashing of the Hindu card along with a propaganda barrage blaming Muslims for everything from destroying temples in medieval times to dividing India in 1947 and continuing to remain in the country as a “fifth column”, as the RSS guru, M S Golwalkar, said in his Bunch of Thoughts.
The political dividend of this divisive line was the wrong-footing of the “secular” parties, which were confused by the sudden infusion of communalism into politics. The BJP took the opportunity of their disorientation by deriding their policies as “pseudo-secular”, which were portrayed as a means of appeasing the Muslims while the BJP was said to represent true secularism with the motto of “justice for all, appeasement of none”.
Narendra Modi’s mantra of “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (development for all) is a continuation of this line although the communal approach continues with BJP ministers like Giriraj Singh saying that the 54 Muslim majority districts pose a threat to the country’s unity and integrity and an UP MLA describing the Taj as a “blot” on Indian culture.
The BJP has been remarkably successful, therefore, of not only peddling its “sabka saath …” line, even as its members depict Muslims as anti-nationals, but also of ensuring that the secularists are unable to highlight such contradictions because of their inability to counter the BJP’s charge of Muslim appeasement which stokes the fire of communalism among the anti-minority Hindus.
It has taken nearly three decades for the secular parties to redefine their position to assert that they are, after all, not as anti-Hindu as the BJP alleges. Rahul’s temple visits during the Gujarat elections reflected this new approach, although some in the Congress like Shashi Tharoor cautioned against trying to be “BJP lite”, lest the Congress should fall between two stools by failing to win over the Hindus, while alienating the Muslims.
The BJP’s Arun Jaitley, too, was of this view, for he was doubtful whether a voter would prefer a clone when the real thing was available. However, it is not impossible that the BJP is not entirely pleased with the Congress’s change of tack. Hence, the mocking of Rahul by UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who said that the Congress president’s posture in the temples appeared like offering namaz, while Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani wanted to know whether Rahul visited temples near his home.
The uneasiness evident among these Hindutva stalwarts is understandable because they fear the loss of the party’s highly successful temple plank. Having posed as a wholesaler in the business of propagating Hinduism, the BJP is apparently concerned about the loss of its monopolistic position, for it will now find it difficult to routinely depict the secular parties as anti-Hindu and, therefore, anti-national.
At the same time, the BJP is aware that the Congress’s pro-Hindu tilt will not affect its Muslim vote bank because they are unlikely to see the new stance as a tactical maneuver, but as an expression of the outlook of Hindus in general whose religiosity is devoid of communal bias.
To them, going to a temple does not mean contemplating breaking a mosque, as the BJP supporters did in Ayodhya on December 9, 1992, and as they still target the Mathura and Varanasi mosques. From this standpoint, Rahul’s endeavours are a course correction, which was necessitated by the saffron camp’s deliberate distortion of the meaning of secularism and the Congress’s own mistake of pandering to the Muslim fundamentalists, as in the Shah Bano case, in the belief that the bigots represented the views of the average Muslim.
For the BJP, the decline in the potency of the Hindu card against the Congress means the undermining of its decades-old pretence as the standard-bearer of Hindu orthodoxy as against the Congress’s amoral politics and adherence to non-sectarian, cosmopolitan values. (IPA Service)