Since winning the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with a convincing majority, the Bharatiya Janata Party has lost four state elections one after the other. The BJP’s formula was the same in all – large doses of nationalism, Hindutva and demonising of the Muslims – all delivered by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, with supporting roles played by Adityanath and some local leaders. Nowhere did it succeed in mustering up a majority.
In Haryana, the party fared poorly and managed to hurriedly cobble together a government by roping in the Jannayak Janata Party. In Maharashtra, its partner the Shiv Sena walked away after the results and we saw the tragi-comic farce of Devendra Fadnavis being sworn in surreptitiously before dawn, only to find that Ajit Pawar could not bring in the numbers acquired.
In Jharkhand, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Congress won and now, in Delhi, Aam Aadmi Party has resoundingly defeated the BJP, which has won just eight sets in a contest where it had hoped to emerge with a majority.
Any party would take a close look at its electoral strategy and recognise, at the very least, that at the state level, voters are more concerned about issues that affect their lives – health, education, infrastructure. And that neither Kashmir nor the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and certainly not the so-called dangers to Hinduism, rouse any kind of emotions. It would sit down and recalibrate its campaigns for the important state elections that are coming up in Bihar, Bengal, Assam and Tamil Nadu over the next couple of years.
Not the BJP. Already its supporters are saying that the party, in 2020, has won nearly three times its last tally of three. And the leaders are claiming that the jump in voting percentage by over 6% shows that the campaigning based on the CAA did find a response. Thus, it will continue on those lines in the coming months.
These may appear to be logical assumptions, seen from the lens of the BJP, but the real reasons may lie elsewhere. No party likes to tamper too much with its winning formula and, it is possible that the BJP, though it fared very badly, may hold on to these flimsy gains.
For the BJP and the larger Sangh parivar, however, winning elections is not the sole objective. A victory would be welcome and helpful too, yet, it is only a stepping stone towards the ultimate goal, which remains unchanged. The Sangh is clear-eyed on where it wants to reach and what it wants to achieve – a Hindu rashtra, put into place by a combination of state power, the levers of government and other completely legal measures, buttressed by a continuous hate campaign on the ground. This involves not just marginalising Muslims, or even disenfranchising them; the aim is to dehumanise them to the extent that the rest of the country is convinced that the project is perfectly legitimate and, in fact, much required.
Thus, a slogan like ‘Goli maaron Gaddaron ko (Shoot the traitors)’, by a junior minister may have been said in the heat of the election (which is no excuse), but it is in sync with the party’s strategy to keep the pot boiling by painting Muslims as anti-nationals. There are numerous examples of such toxic speech, as we have seen, and they come so quick and fast that it becomes difficult to counter each one of them. Gradually, they become normalised, even mainstream; no decent Indian, and there are millions, wants to harm Muslims, but even if a seed of doubt enters their minds, the Sangh’s job is done.
It won’t be easy of course. Indians understand the value of harmony, of living peacefully with their neighbours. Most of us are also too busy making a living to be preoccupied with these concerns. We are also patriotic and don’t feel the need to get a certificate from the BJP.
But think about how far we have come in just a generation or two. Blatantly communal sentiments are openly expressed in public by more and more people; Narendra Modi’s support base remains loyal to him, despite his incessant hate speeches and even his government’s inefficiency. Popular culture is happy to fan rabid nationalism in a way never seen before.
The Sangh’s capture of cultural institutions is almost complete. Education of school children is undergoing a massive overhaul and subverted history books are being introduced. And, the NPR and NRC are on their way to complete the job.
It is also worrying to see the lack of a robust political counter-narrative. Not too many political parties – the CPM is an honourable exception – have come out strongly against Hindutva or even the CAA-NRC exercise. Arvind Kejriwal was happy to stay away from the protests; it has been seen as a tactic to not fall for the BJP’s trap. Let us see what he does now. His Hindutva signalling has long been problematic. The Shiv Sena continues to waffle and Nitish Kumar remains quiet on the law.
As for the Congress, it has lost the plot. Individual leaders like Amarinder Singh have taken the lead, and Kamal Nath has followed, but the party itself remains its rudderless self. The ‘soft Hindutva’ did not pay any dividends; now the party does not know how to proceed.
It is the people of India who are standing up for their country. Shaheen Bagh and its many countrywide iterations have undoubtedly caught the BJP by surprise. The results in state elections show the citizen’s resolve to resist the spread of hatred and communalism. The Sangh will not stop its relentless march, and will, undoubtedly, raise the pitch; electoral losses will make it more resolute, not less. Yet, the journey will not be smooth.