“Vote for India” chants a mammoth crowd as Narendra Modi descends from a stage after addressing an election rally. This narrative repeats itself in almost all of Modi’s 200 odd Bharat Vijay rallies that he has addressed this election season.
A typical ‘Modi-speech’ starts with his trademark UPA bashing and ends with a vision for an India that can collectively empower all of her 125 crore citizen. The last phrase – ‘125 crore citizens’ – is a sequel to his famous ‘5 crore Gujaratis’ slogan, which characterised his 13 year tenure as the state’s chief minster.
If one were to scan every punctuation in Modi’s speeches, a man who was once labeled ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat' by his critics, the word Hindu would never be found. A study of Modi’s speeches reveals that the most frequently occurring word in his speeches is “Bharatiya” and not the name of any religion. This template extends to most of the top BJP leadership including Modi’s perceived protégé Amit Shah. If one were to watch in totality his alleged ‘hate speech’ in Shamili earlier this month, he concludes by making an appeal of not to vote on caste or religious lines. After all there would have been compelling evidence that Election Commission considered when it exonerated Shah by lifting his campaign ban last week.
Strangely his critics continue, a piece by Rana Ayyub on this website is one such ill informed attempt, to charge him and his colleagues of running a divisive Hindutva agenda sugar coated with development in the ongoing elections.
If there is one factor that sets apart the 2014 elections from other recent national elections is the relatively minimal influence of caste, creed and religion, Contrary to the threat propagated, by mainly left leaning intellectuals, months ago that a Modi dominated election would lead to consolidation of minority votes, there has been no anecdotal evidence to suggest tactical voting by any single community so far. The fact that every opinion polls point to a resurgent BJP and an almost decimated Congress, Samajwadi Party and JDU—traditional beneficiaries of consolidated voting—tend to dismiss the theory of conspiratorial polarisation.
It would be naïve to admit that the BJP has never tried its saffron strategies. On the eve of the 1998 elections, Kalyan Singh’s master stroke of withdrawing cases against the Babri Masjid accused helped propel the party to an emphatic win in Uttar Pradesh. Contrastingly this time, the BJP ruled Gujarat Government filed an FIR against Praveen Togadia within hours of his alleged explosive comments. Even Narendra Modi, personally, was quick to distance himself from the controversial remarks of both Praveen Togadia and Giriraj Singh.
Development and decisive leadership has been the principal engine of the Modi campaign. Though an iron-strong leadership was a BJP poll plank in 2009, Modi’s track record as an able administrator provided the party unprecedented credibility on the twin D’s—development and decisiveness—in 2014. Given that UPA’s decade long misrule forms the context of these elections, Modi has been extra cautious of not trying to alter the popular mood of the electorate. Such firm has been his conviction in the twin D’s that Modi even uses development as a vehicle for his minority outreach. From talking about the crisis of the power loom sector in Akbarpur, quoting the success of Gujarat’s kite industry to promising a transformation in the weaving industry in Varanasi, Modi has chosen to reach out to Muslims by offering to revive industries that employ them. This strategy is a marked departure from the modus operandi of the ‘secular’ parties who have traditionally used the fear or appeasement psychosis to preserve their ‘minority votebank’.
India’s diversity begins to exert itself on any rising wave. And BJP well wishers such as the Sangh are extremely cautious of this time tested principle. A party which is making serious efforts to expand its foot print beyond the cow belt and after a virulent effort has succeeded in making economy as a central election discourse has the remotest incentive to create any communal fault line. This paradigm shift in the party’s thinking—of evolving as true national party—is also reflected by, the rather less noticed, renaming of its flagship slogan Mission 272+ to Mission 300+.
Beyond electoral rhetoric, facts and performance clearly point that over the years the BJP has abdicated identity politics in favor of good governance as an instrument to remain in power. And perhaps this explains why Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have been able to defy the anti-incumbency trend more than once.
A closer analysis of central government data on communal violence incidents between 2011 and 2013 establishes that Congress ruled state have a much higher frequency of religious violence compared to the BJP governed ones. And not surprisingly Uttar Pradesh fairs the worst in maintaining communal harmony in the country. Even the Sachar committee recognises the greater participation of Muslims in public sector workforce in BJP ruled states. And it is precisely these facts and figures which Modi has been successfully able to use to punctuate the ‘secular’ credentials of his opponents.
If any attempt has been made to polarise these elections, they have mainly emanated from the opposition camp and fringe right winged elements, the latter’s political significance is close to nonexistent. Fortunately till date any attempt to veer of the discourse of this election has had minimal impact on the ground.
As two thirds of elections conclude and a clear momentum is building towards the BJP, the Congress and its allies have now every incentive to use any mechanism to prevent the BJP from crossing 200 seats, even if this would imply retorting to the politics of divide and rule. Hence it wouldn’t be a surprise if the likes of Abu Azmi, Azam Khan, Assaduddin Owaisi, and Beni Prasad Varma suddenly multiply in the coming days. And of course, like in any cacophonous democracy, their shrill provocation would attract a meaningless reaction from some marginal and peripheral zealot. Also India’s super competitive media has a remarkable ability to ensure sensationalism hijack national headlines.
Therefore Modi and his party should continue to distance themselves from such sectarian tactics and ensure that this election remains one of hope and not hardliners, that politics of development overshadow votebank politics and it is indeed vote for India and not any other identity.