Propaganda, communal divide, appeasement, blatant lies and emotional rhetoric resulted in the saffron surge in India. BJP’s Gujarat win is no different. It has nothing to do with development or reforms that the BJP government claims.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fought off a resurgent Congress to retain Gujarat for a record 6th consecutive term, though with the lowest-ever tally of 99 in the 182-member Vidhan Sabha in the past 22 years. However, the party remarkably swept Himachal Pradesh with 44 seats, a two-thirds majority. In the felicitation function at the party headquarters, Delhi, the BJP chief, Amit Shah blamed the “Congress’ caste politics and low-level political discourse” for the reduction in the number of seats won by his party. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi credited the victory to the development brought about by his party’s government in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country. However, all said and done, a victory is a victory. Congratulations!
Addressing the gathering, Modi said he fought 22 long years to contain the venom of caste being injected into the hearts and minds of the people of Gujarat. The Prime Minister may have forgotten who and which party had spewed the venom of caste but the nation knows who played the ‘Hindutva’ card to grab power. And the same is at work till now. It would be better for him to introspect, because, ultimately it is the people who will judge whether what he is saying is true or false. For “Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return.” Yes, it is the law of the nature, if you sow, you will reap; you will reap what you sows, and you will reap more than what you sows.
Modi, who did not mention even a word about development and only made cheap jibes at and complaints against the Congress and its leaders, who allegedly rained barbs at him, all through his rigorous campaign for more than a month in Gujarat, said “You may not like the BJP, but please do not do anything to derail the country’s development.” He also scripted a new slogan “Jai, Jai Vikas; Jai, Jai Vikas” and asked the audience to shout the same after him.
Not only Modi, but other top BJP leaders were also vocal over the “disappointing” victory in Gujarat, saying that the party, even after more than 20 years of anti-incumbency, has emerged victorious with 99 seats. This theory of the BJP leaders is beyond the understanding of common man. For, when they say that widespread development and unique reforms were underway, and are still going on in the country, especially in Gujarat state, why should there be any anti-incumbency.
This assembly poll results will have a far-reaching impact on the 2019 general elections for both the parties.
One thing is for sure, caste-driven politics has struck deep roots in India and the same was visible during the Gujarat elections too. Leaders of all political parties threw themselves on the thresholds of temples and mosques, not necessarily because of their faith, but obviously with the intention of wooing the voters.
The BJP leader Narendra Modi, who is the Prime Minister of India too, started his election campaign in Gujarat after taking the blessings of Ma Ashapura at Kutch (Kachchh) and concluded it at the footstool of Ma Ambaji, while Congress leader Rahul Gandhi offered prayers at 27 temples in the state during his 85-day electioneering.
Meanwhile, Patidar leader, Hardik Patel also displayed his clout with road shows in the state ahead of polls. It is evident from this election that the secular identity of the country has now been replaced by Hinduism, as it has become a necessary condition for electoral victory, with the majority of voters belonging to that community.
Our political leaders have shown their mastery in violation of model code of conduct in the Gujarat election, as they are immune to the law and the rule of the land.
The Ahmedabad police had denied permission to the BJP and the Congress to hold road shows of Prime Minister Modi and Congress’ Rahul Gandhi in the city on the last day of campaigning on December 12, citing security and law and order concerns, traffic and inconvenience to the public.
Following the denial of permission to road show, Modi allegedly staged a ‘water show’ by landing in a seaplane flight from the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad on the last day of campaigning. Modi landed at Dharoi dam in Mehsana district, some 150 km from Ahmedabad, flouting the guidelines by travelling in the seaplane. The aircraft is a single-engine one, while the prime minister should only travel in a multi-engine aircraft, which is viewed as being the safer option.
Addressing a press conference in Ahmedabad, Rahul Gandhi, his first after getting elected president of the Congress, had said Modi has forgotten the real issues of Gujarat. However, the Election Commission issued a letter to the chief electoral officer of Gujarat after Gandhi’s interview to a regional Gujarati channel. Accusing Rahul Gandhi of flouting EC norms, senior BJP leader and Union minister Piyush Goyal said, “As per MCC (model code of conduct), it’s (giving such interviews) not permitted. We’ve learnt from EC too that 48 hours in run up to polls, interviews can’t be given.”
A day after the BJP complained to the Election Commission over Rahul Gandhi’s interview to a Gujarati channel, the Congress hit back and said Narendra Modi’s road show after casting vote in Gujarat is a clear violation of the model code of conduct. After casting his vote at booth number 115 in Sabarmati’s Ranip locality, Modi, standing on door step of the car, addressed the cheering crowd showing his inked finger. His car barrelled through the crowd that was chanting his name.
“Prime Minister Modi’s road show after casting vote is a clear case of violation of the model code of conduct. Election Commission it seems is working under pressure from PM and PMO,” said Congress leader Ashok Gehlot. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “The Chief Election Commissioner, who was PS (personal secretary) to Modi ji, is still working as his PS”, and called it a “matter of shame” for the Election Commission.
“Aaj jab humne EC se subah pucha apni compliant ke baare mein toh kaha ki 5 baje ke baad jawab denge. Mukhya Chunav Aayukt jo PS to Modi ji the aaj bhi PS to Modi ji ki terah kaam kar rahe hain. Ye chunav aayog ke liye sharm ki baat hai,” Surjewala was quoted by news agency ANI.
The Congress has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of holding a road show on the Election Day in Ahmedabad and the Election Commission of being a “puppet” for allegedly ignoring “violation of model poll code.”
So far, the saffron party believes that Hindutva is its fiefdom, but now the party leaders are fretting on seeing temple-hopping of leaders of other parties also, and have made wild allegations against their opponents.
The brouhaha over Rahul Gandhi’s religious identity sparked by his innocuous act of signing an entry book at the Somnath Temple is one of the examples of that. It is a matter of common sense that temples, mosques, churches or Gurudwaras are made for humans and any person can visit any temple, mosque, church or Gurudwara at any time and pay obeisance, because God is one and for all. Then what is in it to make such a hue and cry over anybody’s visit to any temple or mosque.
Unsurprisingly, the BJP has lashed out at its rival for pandering to identity politics. “Congress is once again doing what it always did in the past, divide people, be it on caste lines, communal lines, between villages and cities,” stormed Modi at a rally held in Gujarat. “Congress has learnt divide and rule from our colonial rulers,” he added.
Meanwhile, the BJP’s supporters circulated a tweet suggesting that while the Congress supporters would be voting for HAJ (an acronym made up of the first names of Patel, Thakor and Mevani), a vote for the BJP was a vote for RAM (an acronym derived from the names of the party leaders Rupani, Amit Shah and Modi). The insinuation was that the BJP stood for the Hindu majority who believe in Ram, whereas the Congress is the political defender of Muslims, who go on pilgrimage to Mecca.
Now it is official! Our leaders are not only masters in violating rules, but are doctors in vilification campaign and abusing each other also. The languages and expressions used in the no holds barred public rhetoric of the politicians in elections are highly deplorable. Electioneering often generates more heat than light, but this one was riddled with a string of controversies, which served to deflect attention from the real issues, particularly those relating to Gujarat’s development.
For much of the campaign, the focus was on such things as Rahul Gandhi’s religious identity, a rash and intemperate remark against Prime Minister Modi and more broadly on personalities rather than issues. Ironically, very little was heard of the State’s record on the economic front during the campaign, which ended on a bizarre note with the Prime Minister accusing the Congress of colluding with Pakistan on the Gujarat election.
This accusation was made on the basis that the Pakistan High Commissioner and its former foreign minister had attended a dinner at which some Congress leaders, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, were present.
The allegation that the meeting was held in “secret” is laughable given the presence of a clutch of political leaders, diplomats and journalists, not to mention a former Army Chief of Staff and a former Vice-President of India. A stung Manmohan Singh has exposed the irresponsibility of the PM in painting such a meeting as an act of collusion with foreign officials.
On the contrary, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ‘neech’ (vile) jibe at Prime Minister Modi was the latest in a series of ill-timed personal attacks he has made on top BJP leaders, often at the cost of political embarrassment to his party.
Aiyar’s unsavoury remarks gave fresh ammunition to Modi to target the Congress. Modi had only recently used Aiyar’s reference to succession to Mughal kings by their sons to justify Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as Congress president.
The common man’s concern is: The Lok Sabha sits for barely 70 days a year. The shortest of its three sessions normally starts in mid-November. This year, the government has given MPs an extra month’s holiday. The reason is the assembly election in Gujarat, a bastion of the ruling BJP and home state of Modi. Why should Modi want to delay the business of the country for a whole month, just to go campaigning in a middling state of only 66 million people? Party spokesmen said this was the BJP’s style; it takes every election seriously. But opponents said the party was scared of losing in Gujarat.
The BJP had a reason to worry. As recently as August, according to the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a Delhi think-tank with long polling experience, the BJP held an unassailable-looking 30-point lead over its main rival, the Congress party. By late October this had fallen to 6% and by late November to zero; in the last lap of the race, Congress and the Hindu-nationalist BJP are neck and neck.
By the time the campaign for the Gujarat elections closed, Narendra Modi has travelled 30,557 km and had addressed 34 public rallies in his home state, while Rahul Gandhi travelled around 22,000 km and had addressed 30 rallies, counting from the day the polls were announced on October 25. Modi is looking for a second term in 2019. A loss in Gujarat would blunt this momentum and, more important, tarnish the lustre of the party’s star attraction. He had turned his much-hyped “Gujarat Model” of business-friendly development into a springboard to national power.
There are multiple reasons for the BJP’s woes. Anti-incumbency always runs strong in India, and some of Modi’s policies have also angered key constituents. Last year’s sudden ban on high-value currency notes hurt farmers and small businesses badly; this year’s clumsy imposition of GST has frustrated traders and manufacturers.
“This election is a contest between those who benefit from the ‘Gujarat Model’ and those who do not,” says Jignesh Mevani, a lawyer and an outspoken leader of Gujarat’s Dalits.
New grievance of the party is the Congress’ ability to exploit it. In recent times many have dismissed the once-dominant party as a wobbly collection of has-beens, lacking any message or solid base and saddled with the increasingly lacklustre hereditary leadership of the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty. Modi’s BJP, in contrast, has been energetic, focused and cleverly ruthless in its exploitation of class and, especially, sectarian differences to hook voters.
Its winning formula has been to stoke Hindu fear of the Muslim minority while “uniting” Hindus by weaving a careful web of alliances with leaders of various castes, all under the general rubric of paternal rule, order and progress.
Now, the Congress is learning from these tricks, however. It has been accused in former times of “appeasing” Muslims to win their votes, so in Gujarat it is simply ignoring them, knowing they are unlikely to vote for the BJP.
Meanwhile, it has concocted an unlikely coalition of unhappy castes, headed by a trio of charismatic local leaders. Mevani is one of these, but reckons himself small fry next to Hardik Patel, a 24-year-old agitator for the rights of Patidars, a far higher caste that includes around 12% of Gujaratis. (Dalits are 7% of the population and Muslims 10%). Alpesh Thakor, a young leader representing mid-ranked castes, has also joined, while Congress typically enjoys the support of tribal communities who account for another 15%.
The architects of the decolonised Indian state anchored political belonging to an idea of secularism, which, they felt, reflected India’s pluralistic, multi-faith ethos and history, warts and all. This idea would also ensure that all Indians, regardless of faith, could claim the nation as their own on equal footing. In this matter, Nehru, Gandhi, Ambedkar, Patel, and others, were essentially in agreement.
For a large part of India’s post-1947 history, the performance and public affirmation of this principle of secularism, even if hypocritical and inconsistent, has been part of political life. This is what has allowed the Congress and other parties to engage in soft Hindutva or religious identity politics while claiming to protect and endorse secularism. But even with its hypocritical invocations and inconsistencies, that principle has generally served the purpose of quarantining religious minorities from pervasive suspicions of disloyalty or questioning their very entry in formal political life.
Starting roughly in the 1980s, with the ramping up of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, the main principle of the Indian political field has steadily been challenged. States like UP did witness rank communalism in the build up to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, and the history of inflammatory speeches and political rioting by Indian politicians is well known enough to not warrant repeating here in detail. Despite these blows, the principle of public commitment to secularism seemed robust enough that Narendra Modi’s alleged role in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots got him rebuked by AB Vajpayee, the PM at the time. LK Advani, whatever his private sentiments might have been, publicly expressed anguish at the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992.
Indeed, one may have believed that secularism as the bedrock of Indian political life was strengthened again under the UPA regime from 2004 to 2014. But the speed with which the political stakes have changed since the ascendancy of Modi as Prime Minister in 2014 suggests that the principle of secularism itself may have lost enough legitimacy that even its staunchest advocates seem to lack conviction when they invoke it.
Under the Modi-Shah dispensation, the new sine qua non for participation in public political life is a defence and endorsement of Hinduness, by both Hindus and non-Hindus, but especially if one is not a Hindu. This test, dutifully administered by government officials and an infatuated or cowed media, is applied to politicians, whether Rahul Gandhi or former Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari, celebrities like Aamir Khan who may speak up against the climate of intolerance, and critics of the government who are described as anti-Hindu, deracinated Hindus, and so on. It is the same sentiment that in ugly and brutal ways manifests itself in lynchings of Muslims on false pretexts of cow slaughter and assaults on Christians and Dalits, who exist precariously at the limit of Hinduism.
Apparently seeking to showcase the Congress’ soft Hindutva, Rahul Gandhi offered prayers at 27 temples in the poll-bound Gujarat, a move his party said was aimed at countering the hardline Hindutva of the BJP and RSS.
However, the ruling BJP took a dig at Gandhi, saying the Congress vice-president was visiting temples as his party has failed to win elections in the state for a long time.
Asked about Rahul Gandhi’s visit to various temples ahead of Gujarat assembly elections, former Union minister and Congress’ senior spokesperson P Chidambaram said it is “out of courtesy” that all politicians during their visits to their constituencies visit various places of worship at the request of their supporters. “I don’t think you should read political meaning into that. I think there is much else that is happening in his visit to Gujarat. I think we should focus on that,” he said.
“We have always held that each one is entitled to practise his own faith, we treat all faiths equal. That is the position of the Congress party. From the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, that is the stance of the Congress party,” he said while dismissing suggestions that the temple visits were an attempt to woo Hindu voters. Commenting on Rahul Gandhi’s visit to temples, Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said the party was deliberately projected as anti-Hindu by the BJP and the RSS. “Rahul Gandhi’s visit to various temples during his tour is aimed at countering the hardline Hindutva campaign of the BJP and the RSS,” Doshi said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the silver jubilee function of the Akshardham temple of the Bochasanwasi Shri Aksharpurushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) which has many followers in the Patidar community in Gujarat.
Modi did not speak much about politics but made a reference to the agitation by the Patels for quotas, while recalling his long association with the seers of the Swaminarayan sect, apparently seeking to strike a chord with the Patidar community. “This Swaminarayan sect has a very large following among the Patel community members. Patel community has traditionally been with the BJP, but a section of the community has turned against the party due to recent agitation for reservation,” he said.
External Affairs Ministry officials here downplayed the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the world’s third largest mosque, during his UAE visit, saying it was more in the nature of homage to Sheikh Zayed – the father of the nation. That is an understatement. The other view is that this was a ground-breaking attempt at a rapprochement between the Prime Minister and the largest minority community back home.
The ambiguity surrounding the visit’s intentions was best expressed by Modi’s confidante, Zafar Sareshwala, who has been camping in the UAE in preparation of the visit for months. “There is an old mosque in Ahmedabad, called the Sarkhej Roza, which also has the tomb of one of the founders of Ahmedabad, Sheikh Ahmad Khattu. It was in a dilapidated condition and the Gujarat government gave funds for its restoration,” he told The Hindu. “In October 2007-08, the management there started a Sufi music festival. I am witness to the fact that Prime Minister Modi attended the festival for at least three years.”
He admitted, however, that the visit would be great to the domestic constituency. “The UAE visit, on the whole, will have a huge impact on Indian honour and Muslims, though the Prime Minister has visited several Central Asian countries and Bangladesh in the recent past. Indian Muslims do look to the Arab world as a leader in their religious affairs,” he said.*Views expressed are author’s own.