For the BJP, the Hindu Card is No Longer as Potent as it Once Was

Those who supported the messaging of 'appeasement' of the minorities did not hate them to the extent of making them politically invisible.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government calling for an emergency special session of the parliament and its alleged attempts to bring in ‘one nation, one poll’ as a Bill show definite signs of ‘panic’ on its part. It has read the situation correctly that things are slipping out of hand. The BJP should have read the trend long back after the loss in the Delhi elections and more recently in Karnataka that the ‘Hindu card’ cannot work on its own, independent of all other concerns.

What has been referred to by the mediocre media as ‘Modi magic’ was, in fact, a combination of a deep sense of belonging through Hindu identity as a common culture that also meant inclusive development. It was a combination of cultural selves with aspirational self. Claiming to be Hindu meant a cultural assertion that would also bring greater economic and social benefits. It was always more about belonging and less about Islamophobia. People supported Narendra Modi and his theatrics, performance and symbolism for the sense of belonging and security that they thought it offered, while the regime took it as support for toxic majoritarianism or at least a clear opportunity to convert and equate belonging with toxicity. This hiatus existed all through the last 10 years.

The gap between the two was that people wanted a sense of belonging to convert into more inclusive development, while the regime wanted to convert it into the toxic exclusion of religious minorities and all others who disagreed with them. The disappointment was already visible by 2019, but Balakot ‘saved’ the situation from disappointment growing into discontent and anger. People were morally locked with the consent they were extending. After 2019, there was further mobilisation around the abrogation of Article 370, which further reinforced the sense of a stronger India.

Coming to 2024, people continue to endorse Hindu culture and its visible role as offering a sense of security in light of the facelessness of post-Westphalian globalisation. But when belonging did not mean a sense of inclusive development, and when acknowledgment of culture also meant its instrumental use for electoral victories at all costs, including breaking the opposition and buying of MLAs from other parties, people could make a difference between their belonging of Hindu identity and the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) claim to own it.

People consented to the messaging of what they felt was ‘unfair favouring’ or ‘appeasement’ of Muslims but never hated them to the extent of wanting to exterminate them and make them politically invisible. People contextually supported violence but never celebrated it. It was always a case of remorse that was all the more clearly visible with the backfiring of the violence in Manipur and Nuh. In essence, violence, fear, and lawlessness cannot go with a sense of belonging.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty.

Fear and lawlessness create a sense of homelessness, and without developmental benefits, one becomes an ‘outcaste’ and its accompanying feelings and sensibilities that exist in our collective subconscious. Thus, the success of Chandrayaan, the inauguration of the new Parliament building, and even the Ram temple in Ayodhya will be welcomed by the people but may not convert into votes. The failures of the regime have diminished the electoral convertibility of such issues.

Even if one observes the support for Modi, people ‘loved’ him for the right reasons. For the reasons, they identify with epics, myths, mythologies, and ethics that came with them. Modi was liked for opting out of a family for the sake of a larger good, for being selfless and his preparedness for sacrifice, for being simple and without possessions, for loving his nation and its people (desh chalana hai, sarkar nahi), for going beyond the political and claiming the spiritual, and for the ‘authenticity’ of making it big on his own merit without a pedigree.

Come to think of it these are positive values to abide by, and they liked Modi for the right reasons. This did enable, politically, the shift from representation to identification. It did come across as blind support and adoration. It was more faith-based than contractual, it was emotional than instrumental, and it was ethical rather than narrow interests. But who said that faith, emotions, and ethics are not evaluative? They are not merely experiential but also evaluative.

Modi, in turn, concentrated more on what he could turn that faith into, like any other Godman, he thought more about how emotions could mean being unreasonable and propensity for irrationality and hysteria, and being ethical meant being naïve and gullible. Again this hiatus existed all through and the wedge kept growing. The attempt to keep up Modi’s image by shifting blame and responsibilities initially worked and kept gradually tapering off.

Modi’s persona is not one to be circumscribed by the imperatives of projected image. It has to be in excess and exceptional. Modi compulsively needs consent beyond the contractual. He has to be beyond accountability to be larger than life. This impulse became all-consuming but it did not ever mean people got sucked into it, as much as the BJP and RSS wanted and projected through high-decibel social media campaigns. They created an eco for others but looks like are the only ones left believing it.

‘The people’ will continue to believe in Hindu identity and its sense of belonging and in the values they espoused as desirable but they no longer think Modi, BJP, and the RSS are the best custodians of it. The problem for the BJP and RSS is that with a failed development track record, poor governance, and now an exhausted Hindu card they are staring at blankness. The credibility of the regime and the mood of the nation with low energy are not favourable for another larger-than-life spectacle.

People supported the spectacle, for they read their small-time stories and needs into it but now that they realise the big-time spectacle of nationalism and religiosity have nothing to do with their lives, they don’t count into it. They may not feel the compulsion to support the regime but vestiges of the compunction to go beyond themselves might still exist, but that would also mean questioning if Modi went beyond his interests.

Did the BJP demonstrate that kind of large-heartedness in the last 10 years? Did they not target the Muslims but also remain indifferent to the Hindus? Once such questions come up, the gloss and glitter are lost. High-decibel campaigns will prove to be counter-productive. Can Modi and his entourage still manage to pull the rabbit out of the hat?