The Big Story: Polar express

In Gujarat last month, the fears that the Bharatiya Janata Party would resort to a communally polarising approach to win elections in the face of its failure to achieve much success on its jobs-and-economy platform came true. Despite it having been in power in the state for more than 20 years, its leaders chose to whip up toxic sentiment instead of highlighting the achievements of its famed Gujarat model of development. Those same fears are now coming true in Karnataka where, faced with an opponent that appears to actually be competent, the BJP appears to have decided it can only win by stoking religious fires and pretending to be the sole protector of a certain kind of Hindu.
The campaign had already begun in earnest across much of the state, with groups allied to the Sangh Parivar making efforts to polarise communities. But it was fully formalised this week with the visits to Karnataka of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, known as Yogi to his supporters, and BJP President Amit Shah. Although both spoke of the incompetence of the current Congress government, the thrust of their arguments remained that Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was not Hindu enough and had failed to protect Hindus. “The Siddaramaiah government is doing vote bank politics, it is an anti-Hindu government,” Shah said. Adityanath, on his part, questioned why Siddaramaiah had spoken about eating beef and had refused to ban it.
It is not just about the rhetoric. Hindutva outfits have ramped up their activities in the state, attempting to present every issue as a Hindus vs Muslims dispute, often leading to violence. Their involvement in heightening communal tensions in Mangalore is well documented. But reports have of late emerged of violence from other parts of Karnataka, such as Uttara and Dakshina Kannada – areas that have large non-Hindu populations. Most tragically this week, a 20-year-old girl is said to have committed suicide after Hindutva activists hounded her for saying that she liked Muslims.
This is a dangerous trend. But it is one that, simply by virtue of having become familiar by now, is at risk of being seen as normal. It is imperative for it to be called out by citizens, including supporters of the BJP who hoped the party would focus on its economic plan. As the latter portion of the Gujarat campaign showed, the BJP is happy to dispense with all talk of vikas and jobs and indulge in communal fear-mongering in order to win elections. This threatens to turn Karnataka into a religious tinderbox, with spillover effects in other relatively diverse and progressive southern states.