Communalism

Will the Surgical Strikes Against Pakistan Rescue the BJP in UP?

 The BJP could see this as a godsend because its position in UP has been steadily slipping over the past year or so primarily because of rural and agriculture distress caused by two back-to-back droughts.

Sanjeev Balyan (C), agriculture minister and a member of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), addresses a by-election campaign rally in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh. Credit: Reuters

Sanjeev Balyan (C), agriculture minister and a member of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), addresses a by-election campaign rally in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh. Credit: Reuters

Contrary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that members of the ruling party must refrain from using the “surgical strike” against Pakistan for political purposes, there are already signs of it becoming a dominant theme in the crucial UP assembly election which is just four to five months away. Meanwhile, the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has stirred the hornet’s nest by publicly charging the government with playing politics with the soldier’s blood.

The Sangh Parivar is a past master at coded messaging of matters involving Pakistan and Islamist terror, which in turn help in constructing a narrative of majoritarian nationalism. The first indication of this came when the UP BJP Chief Keshav Prasad Maurya indicated to The Hindu that he had invited the PM specially to attend the Vijay Dashmi celebrations this week in Lucknow, considered a prestigious event in the state capital. Maurya, who was active in VHP’s Ram Temple movement for a decade and has 10 criminal cases against him, said “this year will be special as there is a good feeling among the people about the strikes against Pakistan. It is the victory of good over evil”.  Indeed, it seems a good time to play with juicy symbolisms?  There will also be the annual Vijay Dashmi address by the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat. One doubts whether the RSS chief will also refrain from making some coded reference to the army’s surgical strikes against Pakistan. Of course, the RSS has every right to speak about such matters openly as it is merely a “cultural organisation” and is not covered by the Prime Minister’s assurances!

Closer to the elections it will become clearer how the BJP and Sangh Parivar play the whole issue. But Rahul Gandhi’s statements have already brought the issue to the political forefront. “Don’t trade in the blood of soldiers.The army did it for the country and you are now hiding behind the army. You do what you promised the country, the farmers…”, Rahul thundered yesterday at a public meeting in UP  during his pre-election tour.

BJP president Amit Shah responded to Rahul’s statement on Friday morning, saying, “I criticise attempts to undermine army’s role in surgical strikes. Rahul Gandhi crossed all limits by his ‘khoon ki dalali‘ remarks, his words insult the bravery of army. There should be no politics on the action of our security forces. No party should politicise the issue; will go to public to boost the confidence of forces.”

In saying what he did, Rahul may have provided the BJP the excuse they were looking for to take the surgical strikes against Pakistan overtly to the electorate. It is possible the Congress reckoned that the BJP was anyway going to politicise the issue closer to the elections. So he may have thought it fit to pre-empt the BJP by accusing the latter of using the army action to win votes. One really doesn’t know how these political calculations play out until they actually play out. For instance, in the Bihar assembly elections Shah tried to bring Pakistan into play in the last two phases but it badly backfired. Shah said Pakistan would celebrate if the BJP lost the elections. He has argued in the past that the BJP is a natural party to espouse the national security theme. Here again the coded message relates largely to Pakistan. One doesn’t know how this will play out in Uttar Pradesh coming as it does after the “surgical strikes” against the neighbour.

The BJP would see this as a godsend because its position in UP had been steadily slipping over the past year or so primarily because of rural and agriculture distress caused by two back-to-back droughts. This was aggravated a few months ago by the national outrage over violence against sections of the Dalit community; senior BJP leaders in UP abusing Mayawati publicly didn’t help either.

The BJP leadership was personally worried about the growing Dalit consolidation against the BJP. Several surveys have shown Mayawati-led BSP in the lead in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP had possibly been waiting for something like the strike against Pakistan to rescue it. With national security as the main plank, the BJP leadership may persuade home minister Rajnath Singh to be the face of the party in the UP elections. Remember,  Singh was also the government’s face in the Kashmir negotiations, which again is inextricably linked to the issue of national security and Pakistan. The PM had also assured that Kashmir will not be politicised for electoral gains in UP. But the way things are going, all bets are off it appears.

This copy has been updated to include Amit Shah’s response to Rahul Gandhi’s statement.

  • K SHESHU BABU

    By openly declaring the attack, the BJP has already politicised surgical strikes and the media has further dragged it into public domain. Hence, rahul Gandhi remarks may be seen as a counter to BJP taking political mileage. The UP result will hinge upon how the political events entwine with further army actions as there is still some time for elections.