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BJP’s core supporters want the party to follow the Hindutva agenda
BJP’s core supporters want the party to follow the Hindutva agenda

Narendra Modi too accused of using communal language in UP

Soon after the BJP’s landslide victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, leading vernacular newspapers in the state published veteran RSS ideologue M.G.Vaidya’s statement that the mandate in UP was for the construction of the Ram Temple. “It is also clearly stated in the BJP manifesto,” Vaidya asserted. Within a few days of Vaidya’s statement, the BJP leadership surprised everyone by appointing 44-year-old Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Adityanath has been Lok Sabha member from Gorakhpur since 1998. It is well known that Adityanath is a hard core Hindutva face of the party who has in the past talked about placing a Hindu idol in every mosque in UP. He has publicly spoken of converting the state into a Hindu rashtra. He has also threatened from time to time saying, “when they couldn’t stop Kar Sevaks from demolishing the Babri Masjid, how can anyone stop them from constructing a temple there?”

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the RSS arm that led the Ram Temple campaign, was quick to welcome Adityanath’s appointment as chief minister. The VHP’s belligerent leader and campaigner Pravin Togadia said, “We have full faith now that under the new leadership in UP Bhagwan Ram will soon get a grand temple in Ayodhya”.

Is BJP turning to Hindutva and giving up its agenda of development?

According to some experts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s username in Uttar Pradesh was ‘development’ but his password was ‘Hindutva’, claim his political adversaries who are yet to come to terms with the BJP’s unprecedented electoral success in the country’s most populous state.

For the opposition, it could be a convenient excuse to hide their ineptitude. But the BJP might have, willingly or unwittingly, promoted the same line of arguments by appointing Adityanath Yogi the chief minister. Appointment of a Brahmin and an OBC leader as deputy CMs—both dyed-in-the-wool Hindutva advocates — is more about the burgeoning influence of the RSS in the BJP’s decision-making process than any attempt to reflect the BJP’s expanding social base.

There is no denying the fact that Modi and his party colleagues blended Hindutva in their development narrative in their campaign.

For now, the real or imagined Hindu consolidation has got the opposition in a bind. The confusion in the opposition camp was evident from reactions of Congress leaders to Yogi’s appointment.

The BJP has reasons to gloat over the principal opposition party’s plight, but the latest round of assembly elections has lessons for the ruling party, too. Since 2014, all the states the BJP won while riding the ‘Modi wave’—Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir, and Assam, among others — were those where the Congress faced strong anti-incumbency. The first time the BJP faced anti-incumbency was in the last Punjab and Goa elections. Even Modi’s popularity could not help the BJP retain its support base among Hindus in Punjab and the party almost lost in Goa.

It’s obvious that while the PM’s popularity gives BJP an edge, much also depends on the performance of its governments in states. It might face more probing questions in the future if it continues to interpret poll results, especially in UP, as a triumph of its Hindutva politics.

In the post-2014 scenario, the BJP had displayed an easy to predict pattern of selecting a CM after winning state elections. A virtual non-entity, a low-key pracharak, known to be close to Modi in his earlier days, belonging to a caste group neither dominant, nor significant in that particular state, was handpicked. So, you had M.L. Khattar in Haryana, who was not a Jat, Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, who was not a Maratha, Raghubar Das in Jharkhand, who was not a tribal, all rumoured to run a “WhatsApp sarkar”, operated centrally through the BJP office in Delhi, where ministers were apparently instructed via WhatsApp on the course of action to take.

The selection of Yogi Adityanath, mahant of the Gorakhnath peeth, is a firm break in this three-year tradition. Adityanath has an independent political base and his speeches and actions are bound to have pleased the RSS, but were not run by it. A member of the dominant upper caste in UP, Adityanath’s selection is a clear interpretation of the mandate that Modi wants to give to the UP assembly polls. It is not what the people voted for — in any case, a speculative exercise when no one saw the extent of BJP’s win coming — but it is the interpretation of that result by the BJP’s high command that is significant.

Modi was criticised by many for his communal speeches in UP
Modi was criticised by many for his communal speeches in UP

To anyone who followed the early 1990s’ BJP in the heartland, that the campaign was run as “Hindutva Redux” was as clear as day. This time, an interesting twist to the usual “Hindutva plus development” campaign was given, where it metamorphosed into a “Hindutva as development” theme. All the things usually used to signal “development” — talk of welfare schemes, laptops, housing, jobs — were now directly connected with Hindutva. The supposed inability of people to access government schemes, laptops or scholarship money was linked to caste and religious identity. Even electricity, a huge plus of Akhilesh Yadav’s regime, was given a Hindu-Muslim colour, with Modi himself talking of power supply on Diwali and Ramzan. BJP President Amit Shah regularly spoke of one caste (read Yadavs) getting all the benefits during Akhilesh’s rule. As part of that campaign, the last roadshow that Amit Shah conducted was with Adityanath next to him, getting pride of place.

There are strategic reasons why this would further other causes of the BJP in the state. With a record number of upper castes entering the assembly, this would be the best way to appease that base, and yet hope that Adityanath and his Hindu Yuva Vahini credentials “decaste” him. Also, whatever may be the state of “development” in the region, with a sure guarantee of other things being on the front-burner, this decision clarifies that the Centre is one for keeping its flock together, and keeping the message “straight”. Also, UP’s proximity to Bihar and Nepal keeps this area in sync with other aspects in the heartland that have been niggling at the BJP.

Elections should be seen a vote for a spectrum of issues. But in the choice of chief ministers and priorities, parties clarify their vision and aims. In that context, this is a moment when the BJP has offered clarity, which one must be grateful for. A statistical assessment of the results adding the seat-wise votes of the SP, BSP and the Congress, in case of a Biharlike Mahagathbandhan, indicates that the BJP would have got 90 seats and the mythical MGB 313. This is also a response to that possibility. It is an insurance against — after all the noise— not being able to offer laptops, schemes, or even shamshans and kabristans to all.

Speaking of the dead, post-2002, the-then Gujarat CM made a serious attempt at his reinvention as a “development” man. At the time, Adityanath’s organisation, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, made it clear that “UP would be the new Gujarat, and the start would be from Gorakhpur”. The need to not even reinvent is what is central to this choice for UP’s top job. That interpretation of the mandate, needs to worry us all.