September 12, 2014

BJP is back to hard-line Hindutva - Editorial, EPW, 6 Sep 2014

Back to Basics

Economic and Political Weekly, Vol - XLIX No. 36, September 06, 2014


Now that "development" has delivered the votes, the BJP is back to hard-line Hindutva.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is supposed to have won the recent general elections on the basis of its campaign on “development”. Vikas is supposed to have been the strong pitch for transforming India – accomplishing in 60 months what the Congress and other governments could not do in 60 years – into a developed country that created the electoral tsunami which carried the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, the “vikas purush”, to power.

While it may well be true that some voters were swayed by this massive public relations exercise, a look at the electoral evidence also suggests that vicious communal divisions played a significant role in giving the BJP an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. The sweep in Uttar Pradesh would have been impossible without the execution of the well-planned Muzaffarnagar riots where Muslim communities in the rural areas were systematically targeted and an atmosphere of communal tension and suspicion was created in the entire state. A spillover of this was also the electoral bounty in Haryana. The showing in Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand, etc, also cannot be accounted for without the killings, general violence and displacement of Muslims, for instance, in Assam’s Bodo-dominated areas. Other states like Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, etc, also saw openly aggressive campaigns on communal issues accomplished by the BJP and other Hindutva organisations. Given the reach of the BJP’s high voltage “360 degree” media campaign, these communal pitches did not remain local but had a national effect.

Depending on the analysis, it is possible that anything from 50 to 75 of the 283 seats that the BJP won in the general elections were primarily due to the proximate reasons of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims (and also Christians). Those who have studied the popular mobilisations and political strategies of the Sangh Parivar would agree that the total number of seats won by the BJP through communal mobilisations would be much higher than the conservative psephological estimate we give here.

If communal polarisation of the electorate to build a Hindutva vote bank was a constant presence in the general election campaign, it has only seen a sharpening in the, supposedly important, “first 100 days” of the BJP-led government in office. An important way in which this has been done is the strategy of the Sangh Parivar to calibrate communal violence and hate campaigns in a way so as to keep it “under the radar”. One of the ways of accomplishing this is to shift the locus of violence and mobilisations from the urban centres to small towns and rural areas; another course is to keep the “dead-count” low and use variants of everyday, “routine” violence to spread tensions and create panic. Yet another scheme is to convert India-Pakistan relations into a subset of the Hindu-Muslim relations within India (and here the conveniently timed ratcheting up of tensions and cross-border firing is proving very useful). The most prominent method deployed in recent weeks has been the issue of “Love Jihad”.

The uncontrolled (and uncontrollable) sexuality of women has always been among the main insecurities of men who form the backbone of all right-wing movements. The fear of the “Mussalman” stealing away the innocent “Hindu” woman, impregnating her with Muslim children and thus weakening the Hindus, and adding strength to the Muslims, has been a continuous strain within Hindutva fear-mongering for at least a century in India. In one single slogan “Love Jihad” brings together the fears over sexuality, family and patriarchy, caste, religion and nation. Its potency, if a pun may be excused, as a rallying cry has long been established as reliable. No wonder it is again being deployed in precisely those areas – Jat-dominated western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, northern Rajasthan – where the first wave of communal violence consolidated the BJP’s electoral position but may not guarantee long-term dominance. In these areas the anti-Muslim slant of “Love Jihad” also fits in well with the ongoing patriarchal insecurities of the dominant communities, which have been expressed till now in “non-communal” ways, for instance, in the form of low sex ratios, honour killings, injunctions over dress and the use of mobile phones.

As some reports in the media have shown, the “argument” that there is a “conspiracy” by Muslim men to marry Hindu women and produce Muslim children through them is entirely without any basis. There is some “evidence” to show that there is an increase in the number of people marrying across caste and religious lines. Inasmuch as this indicates a growing ability of individuals to break from their traditional chains of patriarchal control, it is an entirely welcome trend. And it is unlikely that this silly, yet extremely dangerous, “Love Jihad” campaign will put a stop to the growing trend of people exercising individual choice in matters of sex and marriage. What it will however do is increase the risk for young people and provide rich electoral gains to the BJP in the upcoming state elections.