Politics

BJP’s ‘Warfare-Welfare’ Model: Development Was Never a Substitute for Hindutva

Political pundits are lamenting the BJP's desertion of development, but the party's idea of development is subsumed within the vision of a Hindu nation.

When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made ‘sab ka saath sab ka vikas‘ the pivot of the party’s 2014 general election campaign, a section of the population – even among liberals – believed the BJP had put its core Hindutva agenda on the backburner. The political ambition of BJP’s then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, it was argued, induced him to focus on “development” rather than pursue the ideological agenda he was well known to subscribe to.

The media unquestioningly imbibed and disseminated the idea of a “centrist” Modi, and conversations in the public domain suggested a clinical separation between development and the political ideology of exclusion and violence. It’s pertinent to remember that the developmental discourse in the run up to the 2014 elections primarily centred around the Gujarat model.

By the time welfare economists pointed to the hollowness of that model, it was too late. Though based on the exclusion of Dalits and Muslims – and the use of violence against them – the Gujarat model, juxtaposed against then Manmohan Singh-led UPA government’s supposed “policy paralysis,” became firmly embedded in the popular imagination.

Five years have passed. And the cycle has come a full circle. As we move towards the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s transit back to an openly majoritarian Hindutva campaign forces deeper questions to come to the surface. Some of these questions are well-tackled in the book, The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare: A Long View of India’s 2014 Election, edited by Irfan Ahmad and Pralay Kanungo.

Coalescence between politics of welfare and warfare

The book foregrounds the suggestion of a coalescence between the politics of welfare and warfare. Such an inference acquires significance in the present context and against the backdrop of BJP’s ‘sab ka saath sab ka vikas’ campaign, especially since the party has summarily dumped that slogan in its present electoral campaign.

“Amidst a mixed welfare narrative, which was marked by a gap between popular expectation and delivery by the Modi government, a warfare narrative had gathered momentum,” writes Kanungo. The BJP, it may be argued, never really abandoned its warfare narrative. The same narrative that foregrounded the Gujarat model. A range of stakeholders in the system – from media to opinion mobilisers – chose to ignore that part of the model.

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In the last five years, India has seen an escalation in violence against Muslims and Dalits. Dissidents of all kinds have their backs to the wall. Side by side, BJP-led Central and state governments have launched a slew of policies whose efficacy is, by now, in serious doubt.

The Modi government used its term to put in place what the book identifies as a “warfare-welfare” model of governance. The BJP simultaneously used welfare policies and direct as well as indirect patronage of violence as its two primary levers to rule.

Significantly, over the last five years, the party has fulfilled virtually none of the promises it made under the ‘sab ka saath sab ka vikas’ campaign. The Modi government’s failure to provide 2 crore jobs as the BJP promised in its 2014 poll campaign, after blasting then prime minister Manmohan Singh for presiding over jobless growth, is particularly glaring.

The government has done little else than pat itself on the back to ensure that policies like Mudra and Swachch Bharat and a host of others do not remain paper tigers. Even before the CRPF men were killed in Pulwama, the scales, given the government’s poor performance in basic welfare-delivery, were heavily tilted towards warfare.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the inauguration ceremony of the ‘Make In India’ week in Mumbai, India, February 13, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Pulwama and Hindutva

Pulwama gave the BJP an alibi to predicate its poll campaign on Hindutva. The acquittal of the Samjhauta blast case accused Swami Aseemanand, Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chauhan, and Rajinder Chaudhary by a special NIA court on March 20 has provided additional fodder to this campaign.

The BJP has readily embraced the divisive ideological rhetoric underlying election rallies and statements by leaders; rhetoric heavily laced with militaristic vocabulary and demonising ‘others.’ Modi’s constant invocation of “Mahashakti” and “surgical strikes on land, in air and in space” is just one aspect of such warfare.

To sample its more aggressive forms, consider the prime minister’s recent speech at a rally in Wardha. He said:

The Congress attempted to taint crores of people of this country with Hindu terror. Tell me, did you or did you not feel deeply hurt when you heard the word Hindu terror? Has there been any incident of Hindus resorting to terror in the history of thousands of years? Any one incident? Even British historians never mentioned that Hindus resorted to violence. Who tried to defame our culture of over 5,000 years? Who brought the word Hindu terror? Who committed the sin of calling Hindus terrorists?

Addressing a rally at Alipurduar, a Lok Sabha constituency in north Bengal on March 29, Amit Shah said:

If the BJP comes to power we will bring in the NRC here to throw out all infiltrators and illegal immigrants. We will also ensure that the Hindu refugees are not touched. They are very much a part of our country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a BJP rally in Churu, with the photographs of the CRPF jawans killed at Pulwama placed on the dias behind him so that it fits snugly into a television frame. Credit: DD News

Exclusion of Muslims

The refrain of valorising Hindus and deliberately conflating national sentiment with Hindu sentiment has added to an already existing climate of fear and anxiety. The exclusion of Muslims from the election process, firmly in place since 2014, is part of the BJP’s political arithmetic.

In 2015, a mob lynched to death 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq at his home in Dadri on the suspicion that his family kept beef in the fridge. The image of the men accused in that case sitting in the front row of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s recent rally in Greater Noida’s Bisara village last week, exemplifies the problem.

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Within this overall context, when we hear political pundits and news anchors lament, night after night, the BJP’s desertion of development for Hindutva during this election campaign, we might do well to remember that development is not the other of Hindutva.

The warfare-welfare framework should alert to us the fact that for a party dedicated to the vision of a Hindu nation, development is subsumed within that larger ideology. Today, the BJP has not shifted course; it has only unabashedly made public its political raison d’etre.