It’s not for no reason that political theorists analyse landmark events by situating them in the specific historic moments that define them. The texts and sub-texts of these tectonic political moments have always intrigued scholars of politics and history. The 16th Lok Sabha elections, which began on Monday, mark one such watershed ‘moment’, its idiom played out through a complex reading of the Sangh Parivar’s politics, whose Parliamentary wing is the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP). On Monday, an upbeat BJP released its election manifesto even as the massive election juggernaut rolled out in the North East.
Predictably, the manifesto’s heady mix of development and the Ram Mandir agenda, has catalysed a debate.
It could be argued that the BJP — not even in its recent past — has jettisoned its core ideology. This includes building a Ram temple at Ayodhya, introducing a Uniform Civil Code and scrapping Article 370.
Why then should the mention of these core issues in its 2014 election manifesto renew anxieties about the reassertion of Hindutva-based politics? The answer would seem to lie in understanding the context in which the text — in this case the manifesto — is grounded. No doubt, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi dominates the overall context of these elections. A mere comparison of BJP’s different manifestos of 2004 and 2009 and the one just released could lead to an inadequate understanding of the party’s campaign roadmap.
The BJP’s 2014 manifesto comes as the RSS has launched into a full blown Hindutva campaign in Uttar Pradesh, once the crucible of the country’s communal politics. Buoyed by Modi’s winning prospects, the RSS volunteers are openly asking majority community voters to cast their votes in the name of Hindutva. This and much more suggest an overt and covert campaign by various RSS wings aimed at polarising communities at the grassroots.
The Election Commission has served a notice to Amit Shah, Modi’s close aide, asking Western UP voters to leverage these elections by way of seeking “revenge for the insult” inflicted on them in last year’s Muzaffarnagar riots. The BJP’s argument that Shah was not exhorting violence, but merely asking voters to use their mandate to avenge the ‘insult’, does not diminish the seriousness of this pernicious remark.
Nor can the BJP’s explanation be taken at its face value.
The BJP’s just-released manifesto has reiterated exploring all possibilities within the framework of Constitution that could facilitate the construction of the Ram temple. Such communally divisive issues, however, are absent from the campaign speeches of top BJP leaders. But then speeches are only one aspect of the BJP’s multi-pronged campaign. The hydra-headed Sangh Parivar is using its diverse wings to mobilise the majority community in the name of Hindu votes. While Modi talks development, RSS pracharaks propagate Hindutva, leaving Amit Shah to use an equally expedient electoral language: a carefully calibrated electoral campaign led by Modi that represents both development and Hindutva to the electorate.
Besides, a significant point is that unlike in the tenure of the Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the BJP is calling the shots this time. From all indications, its alliance partners are going to be far weaker, both ideologically and numerically, as compared to erstwhile NDA members. Former NDA partners like Nitish Kumar had indeed proved to be effective buffers to the BJP’s core ideological project. Will the absence of such strong coalition partners this time embolden the BJP to push through its key ideological agenda?