BJP’s Nationalism and Electoral Chessboard

Ram Puniyani

BJP is a party with a difference in more ways than one. It is the major electoral formation which contrary to the values of Indian Constitution of secular, democratic nation, holds that India is a Hindu nation. It is the only party which is the electoral wing of RSS, the organization formed and pursuing Hindu Nationalism. BJP also has the distinction of gaining electoral strength parallel to the rise of sectarian violence. It is also the one which has kept emotive, divisive issues and issues related to its own brand of nationalism at the core of its politics. Its massive victory in 2014 elections and then in 2019 General elections, gave the impression that it is invincible.  Its President Amit Shah did declare that BJP will rule the country for next fifty years. So when its projection, backed up by the commercial media, that it will walk away with massive victories in Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections of 2019, bit the dust, some new thinking about its electoral prospects is in order.

As the results unfolded, it fell short of simple majority in Haryana and had to ally with JJP of Dushyabt Chautala to form the Government. In Maharashtra, while it emerged as the single largest party, on its own it was nowhere close to the simple majority and so it’s electoral ally of years, is trying for a bargain hard this time. The usual boasting which has followed earlier victories of BJP is nowhere in sight and some commentators have termed it as a moral defeat for this party. The claim of its invincibility is lying shattered and the opposition parties which were feeling demoralized seem to have been infused with hope yet again.

As such BJP was formed by the elements of Bharatiya Jansangh with the proclamation of Gandhian Socialism in 1980s. Soon it changed the track and took up the issue of Ram Temple. The whole agitation around temple, the rath yatras led to communal violence and polarization of society. This is what gave fillip to BJP which then went from strength to strength. Mostly it kept taking up issues related to identity.

Having tasted power in 1996 for thirteen days and then for thirteen months in 1998, it floated National Democratic Alliance, with the power hungry leaders falling to the bait of minimum common program, which remained on paper as BJP asserted the Hindutva agenda through and through. Hindutva agenda is constituted by demand for Uniform Civil Code, abolition of Article 370 and construction of Ram Temple. The major strength of BJP so far was the solid support of RSS volunteers, which trained in the ideology of Hindu Rashtra were seeing political power as another means to enhance their agenda. Post Gujarat carnage another solid support for BJP emerged from the corporate sector. Modi in the aftermath of Gujarat carnage; encouraged the Corporate, giving them all facilities in the name of Vikas (development). The Corporate sector also came to acquire total control on the large section of Media. The third aspect which enhanced the power of BJP was its shrewd support to Jan Lok Pal Bill. Propping up Anna Hazare and riding on the popular sentiments against corruption it succeeded in defaming Congress to the hilt. Its use of Nirbhaya case to further defame Congress paid rich electoral dividends. At the same time BJP perfected its electoral machinery and now it claims to be the largest party in the World.

Modi’s promises of Rs 15 lakhs, crores of jobs, reducing prices were cleverly advertised, and Modi won 2014 elections with 31% of vote share. Anti incumbency, corruption, RSS support and corporate funding gave it comfortable victory in 2014 elections. During this period no efforts were made to fulfill these promises, BJP kept igniting the polarization through Cow beef issue. The supplementary issues like Love Jihad, Ghar Wapasi kept strengthening the electoral position of BJP, as it succeeded in projecting that the religious minorities are a threat to the majority Hindus. Back on the emotive issues it added up its brand of Nationalism. BJP nationalism means creating hysteria against Pakistan. Its nationalism seemed to be paying dividends with some sections of society. In 2019 elections all these factors played their role. Adding on to this Pulwama-Balakot and EVM machines seem to have aided the victory of BJP despite worsening economic scenario. And this gave the impression that a party adept at using emotive-divisive issues, converting nationalism into another emotive issue may take the cake for good.

So what went wrong with the Modi-Shah duo in Maharashtra-Haryana elections? Can people keep consuming emotions and nationalism to survive?  The bread butter issues are surfacing and can no more remain undermined by hysteria created around nationalism or communalism. In these elections, role of EVM machines notwithstanding, the biggest lesson to learn is that even the most powerful electoral machine cannot trample on the issues related to basic needs of society. The lesson is that hunger cannot be quenched by the boasts of abolishing article 370 or by harping on triple talaq, by creating a fear of Pakistan.

While RSS has seeped into most sections of our social life, education, media, social work, the BJP-RSS agenda cannot fill the hungry stomachs or give employment to youth or prevent farmer’s suicides. Surely this election result of two states will boost the secular values and agenda which talks of right to food, employment, health and livelihood will come to the fore. Can the opposition parties committed to issues of people pick up the gauntlet and come forward as a united force to put the national agenda back on the rails of Indian Constitution? Can social movements pick up from here and articulate people’s issues with greater vigor and zest? The limits of Communal agenda and nationalist agenda lies exposed, now the ball is in the court of those who believe in pluralism, diversity and humanism to bring back the people’s issues and counter the Hate and divisiveness which has filled the social space?