June 16, 2016

India: A familiar re-run in UP - BJP sanctifies rumour to incite communal divide says Editorial in The Tribune

The Tribune, June 15, 2016

A familiar re-run in UP
BJP sanctifies rumour to incite communal divide

The BJP has sounded the bugle for the UP elections at its national executive meet in Allahabad. Prime Minister Narendra Modi kept his focus squarely on vikas, politically running down the two major regional parties, but it was left to party president Amit Shah to unveil the BJP’s strategy of Hindu vote-bank. Shah is playing a dangerous game. The BJP has never hit the current sweet spot in UP for over two decades. It was a leading contender for the Lucknow gaddi on either side of the Babri Masjid demolition but had to cede the political space to the SP and the BSP after Hindu-Muslim polarisation faded and the familiar caste divide re-emerged.

A revised Hindu vote-bank strategy paid hefty dividends in UP in the last Lok Sabha elections. The party failed to catch the fancy of voters in Bihar but the BJP swept into power in Assam on the perceived threat from Bangladeshi (read Muslim) migrants. At Allahabad, the BJP peddled an absolute lie — of Hindus fleeing a western UP town due to bigotry. What made it reprehensible was not this claim’s potential to set fire to the state’s social fabric that is already under considerable strain; rather the unverified allegation came from a BJP parliamentarian who admitted as much after the district administration and the media rebutted his lie.

The noises at Allahabad were not isolated utterances. The latest issue of Organiser, the RSS mouthpiece, offers a glimpse into the BJP Hindu vote-bank strategy. It talks of a “demographic offensive” against the Hindus in western UP. For good measure, the migration of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley is cited as a parallel. It can only be a matter of deep concern that the president of the ruling party should have added his imprimatur to unverified allegations. Worse, the Organiser cover story on “the silent exodus” from a western UP town shows an ominous convergence. All this talk of vikas gets overshadowed by a preoccupation with the Hindu-Muslim divide and its electoral uses. But then the leopard cannot change its spots.