2018 hasn’t exactly brought good tidings for the BJP. The new year saw a new push to peddle caste based identities, putting different communities on a collision course. The aftermath of the violence at Koregaon Bhima resulted in widespread arson across Maharashtra and an unprecedented shutdown in Mumbai. The events in Maharashtra should put the debate on Gujarat elections to rest.
The BJP might have scraped through in Gujarat but the Congress’s strong showing at the hustings proved that Caste continues to be as potent a force in the national political discourse as ever before. Congress strategists have realized that the road to power in New Delhi, leads through caste politics. If nothing else, the nation must brace itself for a more vicious clash of caste based identities across the country. If 2014 saw a consolidation of Hindu vote and a gentle effacing of caste identities, 2019 is going to be all about reinforcing caste identities and peddling false narratives to splinter the Hindu vote, all to get Congress back to power.
To be honest, BJP strategists should have seen this coming. After all, it is the logical counter to the soft Hindutva card that BJP flaunts during election time. Unfortunately for the party, it has never moved beyond the mouthing symbolic platitudes to Hindu unity. BJP is a pro-Hindu party only when in opposition. When in power, it chooses to brandish secular colours more prominently.
By trying to sail two boats at the same time, the BJP has failed to build up a solid Hindu votebank that it can cling on to when the going gets tough. In spite of its terrific victory in 2014, the BJP disdainfully put ‘Hindu issues’ on the perennial backburner, wrongly assuming that the vote was for ‘Vikas’ alone. Sure, people were awed by Modi’s development oriented credentials, but the electorate also voted for the way he chose to rise above political correctness in his speeches and how he seemed to be willing to take the bull by its horns. ‘Hindu Unity’ built by the party in 2014 proved to be a fleeting mirage. It was put under strain when Jats in Haryana agitated for reservations and then again in Gujarat when anti-Dalit violence rocked the state, followed by mass protests by Patels. BJP governments in both states seemed woefully unprepared to face the challenge and failed on multiple fronts- law & order, countering the narrative and appearing in control.
It was the outcome of Gujarat elections which came as a shot in the arm for the Congress-liberal cabal which for years had been trying to rein in Modi. First came the church attacks, then the whole manufactured controversy on beef, the intolerance piece and so on and so forth. But no charge seemed to stick. Modi’s strategic silence and strategically timed counter attacks continued to deprive the Congress of power in one state after another. And then, Gujarat happened. Congress played BJP’s game and added its own lethal mixture of caste and community to the mix. For the first time in several years, it was the BJP which was on a backfoot. It took all of Modi’s persuasive campaigning for the BJP to scrape through by skin of its teeth. A combination of temple visits, caste politics and rural distress saw the Congress end up with the highest number of seats in over 2 decades.
Congress strategists will now perfect this template further and unleash it across the nation to counter Modi & the BJP. Caste Politics could be the main cause of distress for the BJP in 2019 Elections.
BJP of 2018 is not the BJP which fought the 2014 general elections. It seems uncertain, almost unsure of itself. There is no other reason why Devendra Fadnavis, who otherwise possesses stellar administrative credentials, would allow the likes of Jignesh Mewani, Umer Khalid and other assortment of ‘Bharat tere tukde’ activists to gather and incite mobs. Calls were made for the overthrow of ‘Neo Peshwai’ and Devendra Fadnavis and his administration sat looking the other way. There was literally no attempt by the administration to counter the narrative of hate being peddled in the name of ‘Dalit solidarity’. A proven fact that the battle of Koregaon Bhima was not a battle between the Mahars and the Brahmins could not be stated forcefully by the government. In spite of the fact that Maharashtra, in recent times has been a caste cauldron with Marathas upping the ante in their grievances against provisions of law that they consider discriminatory and in demanding reservations, the government chose to keep its head buried in sand. Ever since Fadnavis’s ascent to power, the traditional Brahmin-Maratha rift has also begun to widen. That the government was so unprepared and so unwilling to even contest the Goblessian lies is deeply unnerving.
The only way for BJP to stage a turnaround in 2019 is if it can return to its roots. While development will and should continue to be the centre of its policies, BJP will need to take ‘Hindu issues’ to their logical conclusion.
No longer can it afford to dispairingly wring its hands while its activists are hacked down in Kerala & Karnataka, no longer can it put off Ram Janmabhoomi indefinitely, no longer can it appear speechless on the issue of Rohingyas and illegal Bangladeshis in the country, the list is endless. At the same time, the party will need to aggressively counter Congress’s casteist agenda by focussing on a more inclusive ‘Hindu identity’ for various castes and sub groups within the community. Lastly, the electorate will punish the party severely if it is seen as being weak-kneed in tackling toxic individuals & organizations such as Umer Khalid, Jignesh Mewani, Hardik Patel, Kanhaiyya Kumar, PFI and others. BJP has all the power it needs to run its agenda, what remains to be seen is its willingness in enforcing it.
Get real time updates about our posts directly on your device