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BRP Bhaskar: Hindutva’s divisive preoccupations
May 02, 2017
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

As the Narendra Modi government heads for the fourth of its term of five years, its popularity is largely intact. However, the methods it employs to gain and retain electoral support remain problematical in view of the use of highly divisive tactics.

For a quarter century the Bharatiya Janata Party has been contesting parliamentary elections under the banner of National Democratic Alliance. Most of the NDA constituents share its Hindutva agenda but it also includes some which are committed to broader ideals but find it beneficial to be a BJP ally.

In the 2014 elections, the BJP secured an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha on its own, with only 31 per cent of the total votes polled. Thanks to the fragmented polity and the ‘first past the post’ principle that governs the electoral system, political parties have often secured a majority in the house with a minority of votes but never before did a party win enough seats to form the government with so small a vote share.

The credit for the BJP’s unprecedented electoral performance belongs to Modi, who vigorously campaigned all over the country and to the cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the prime mover of the Hindutva ideology, who were deployed extensively at the booth level in several states.

Although the BJP had majority, Modi and the party decided to keep the NDA intact and continue to work under its banner. One partner, Shiv Sena, which was Hindutva’s chief instrument in the western state of Maharashtra for decades, has been needling the BJP from time to time but Modi and party president Amit Shah have ignored the pinpricks.

The RSS has brought the Central and state administrations under its influence since Modi took office. The central universities which enjoyed a reputation as centres of excellence and liberal thought were among the first to come under its radar. The RSS-affiliated student organisation queered the pitch for central intervention by provoking conflicts with the leaders of the elected students unions and progressive elements like Ambedkarite groups.

When the attempt invited strong criticism, Modi gave Smriti Irani, who was presiding over the Ministry of Human Resources, to a less important charge. However, efforts to effect changes have continued in a less obtrusive manner.

In states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP gained power after 2014, breaking with the tradition the party followed in the past, hard core RSS leaders were chosen to head the government. This indicated that the RSS was no longer content to remain in the background.

Emboldened by the emergence of the RSS as a major power centre, shadowy Hindutva outfits resorted to violent activities in many states, including those under non-BJP governments, during the last three years. People were lynched to death in the name of eating beef or killing cows. The police have not been able to restrain the unruly elements or pursue the cases against them vigorously.

In a situation like the one in which the BJP is now placed, a leadership with qualities of statesmanship would have striven to strengthen its credentials as the ruling party in a democracy by reaching out to people outside its fold, especially the minorities and the marginalised sections, and enhance its appeal to them. But the Hindutva mindset is too narrow to permit the party to move in that direction.

Instead, it appears, the RSS-BJP combine is working on a strategy which aims at enhancing its vote share by mobilising more support from the Hindu fold. There is, of course, room for the BJP to raise its share of Hindu votes as the Hindus constitute close to 80 per cent of the population. But this will require intensification of communal polarisation, which can have disastrous consequences.

Reports indicate that the Central government has plans to push the use of Hindi in the south as part of an attempt at promoting national integration. The move will strengthen the BJP’s position in the Hindi-speaking states but it may produce a backlash elsewhere, particularly in the Tamil Nadu state.

The Dravidian movement of Tamil Nadu has a history of defeating attempts to impose Hindi. In the 1930s its followers foiled the move by a pre-Independence government to promote Hindi by invoking the spirit of nationalism fostered by the freedom movement. They rose against the imposition of Hindi again in the 1960s and the 1980s and are sure to do so again, if necessary.

Modi needs to recognise that Hindutva’s divisive preoccupations pose a threat to his development agenda.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning
 

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