The BJP’s Nationalist Hysteria Has Only Succeeded in Uniting the Opposition

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It is becoming increasingly evident that the BJP’s hyper-nationalist manoeuvres are floundering politically and are only creating unity among the opposition.

The BJP's nationalist agenda does not appear to be serving the party politically. Credit: PTI

The BJP’s nationalist agenda does not appear to be serving the party politically. Credit: PTI

With its utterly cynical politics degenerating into naked violence against students and mediapersons outside the Patiala House courts, the BJP finds itself totally exposed as the opposition parties and the student community close ranks against what now emerges as a failed attempt by the Amit Shah-Narendra Modi duo to paint all other political forces with the “anti-national” brush. It is becoming clear that Shah is bent on playing the aggressive nationalist card, a lot else having failed in the 15 months, without any sophistication. In the pre-Modi era, the BJP did display some finesse in playing the “nationalism” game. They did not outrightly describe other political parties as anti-national. Those were different times, of course.

Today, Shah seems to suffer a deep complex about the BJP’s true nationalist credentials. There is an attempt to constantly hype up the party’s nationalism, almost as if it needs to be pushed down people’s throats. This hyper self-belief was on display in Bihar late last year when Shah said the BJP’s loss in the state polls would be celebrated in Pakistan.

The BJP as the sole custodian of nationalism is a running theme now, which seems to repeat with regularity. This time it was supposedly a tweet – fake, as it turns out – by Hafiz Saeed supporting an event at JNU. A month ago in Hyderabad, it was about reading Rohith Vemula selectively and dubbing him an anti-national because he opposed capital punishment in general and in the context of Yakub Memon’s hanging. On each of these occasions, the BJP has had egg on its face.

The BJP is conducting some of these Shah-style experiments through its student wing, the ABVP. Under Modi and Shah, the ABVP is far more radicalised on the theme of Hindutva nationalism than ever before. Remember how Shah, on commencing his second term as the party president, publicly declared that the BJP’s young cadres wanted Vikas with Hindutva.  As there is growing sign of failure on the “Vikas” front, it is not surprising that Shah is encouraging the cadres, including the ABVP, to ratchet up the Hindu nationalist agenda aggressively. All this is being done in a manner that is backfiring on the BJP.

Massive defeats in the assembly polls in 2015, the economy not showing any real signs of a revival and virtually no improvement in job growth has resulted in the BJP getting a bit desperate. In its desperation, the party is tending to make the mistakes that Indira Gandhi had made after 1973 when the students’ movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan had begun to gather momentum. Today, if JP and Ram Manohar Lohia were alive, they would have had no hesitation in describing the Modi government as authoritarian in the way political dissent is being quelled with violence, both physical and institutional as seen in Vemula’s case. The more the government uses the law of sedition against protesters and agitators like Hardik Patel and Kanhaiya Kumar, the more their leaders look insecure and paranoid, like Indira did in 1975.

What happened in the run-up to the Emergency is a classic lesson for political rulers to restrain their autocratic instinct, even if it tends to run amok. It seems the BJP is currently testing the waters on how far they can push their authoritarian, pseudo-nationalist agenda in order to create a nationwide hysteria around it. This testing of waters took on a highly sinister turn when the Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi publicly declared that the JNU event and the meeting at the Press Club of India by well-known Kashmir activists may be handed over to the National Investigative Agency (NIA) to uncover a possible deeper conspiracy that the Delhi Police is incapable of handling.

Everyone knows that the NIA is called upon to investigate serious terror cases. So the Centre, through Bassi’s statement, was suggesting that both the JNU students’ union members and the  Press Club office bearers/members could face an inquiry in a larger conspiracy under section 124 A of the IPC, which defines sedition. This strategy appears to come straight from the Gujarat handbook of criminal conspiracies to fix political opponents. Incidentally, Bassi’s statement hinting at the JNU and Press Club events being part of the same conspiracy came about the same time Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke of the Saeed tweet in support of the JNU event.

If the BJP thinks it can build national hysteria based on such theories of conspiracy involving student leaders of JNU or members of the Press Club, it is barking up the wrong tree. The plain fact is the Kashmir activists in Delhi, such as SAR Gilani, have been around and holding meetings every year to mark “Afzal Guru’s martyrdom.” The police and intelligence have full dossiers on all prominent pro-independence Kashmir activists. This is nothing new. The BJP is in an alliance with a party in Jammu and Kashmir that believes in independent Kashmir and has also declared that Guru did not receive justice. So where does the BJP stand on this? This is one question most party spokespersons have carefully avoided answering in hyperventilating TV debates. The BJP knows it is on a slippery slope, in this regard. The fact is the Kashmir issue is so complex that it cannot be made a testing ground for anyone’s nationalist credentials as long as the BJP is in power in an alliance with the PDP.

So what exactly is BJP attempting, politically? So far, all it has done is to end up creating more unity among the opposition. After a long time one witnessed opposition leaders coming together on a single platform to express solidarity with the JNU students. This will clearly reflect in parliament as the budget session opens next week. Some opposition leaders are already thinking of jointly asking for a debate on Vemula’s suicide and the wanton use of sedition laws against political dissenters. It is inexplicable that the BJP hands the opposition a big issue to disrupt parliament before or during each important session. Although one can see some method in the hyper-nationalist manoeuvres being perpetrated by the government and the Sangh leadership, it is also increasingly evident that they are floundering politically. The more they flounder, the more the ‘hysteria’ index goes up. Again, does this sound like Indira’s Congress in 1973-74? One can possibly see history repeating, this time as a farce.

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