Mainstream, VOL LII, No 32, August 2, 2014
Can a Leopard Change its Spots?
Saturday 2 August 2014
by Mouli Dey
Although the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may appear to be ‘accomodative’ in rhetoric, in reality and action it still remains communal. It had failed to shed off its orthodox Hindu fundamentalist ideas. Several instances during the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections 2014 bear testimony. The gesture of tolerance towards the Muslims lacks credibility. The manifesto of the BJP still echoes the desire of the party to walk on the line of mandir—masjid politics when it expresses its desire to construct the Ram temple in the disputed site of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The party that is vowing in the name of ‘development’ and ‘good governanace’ has nothing to offer with regard to Muslim empowerment. Neither does the manifesto clearly spell out how the party seeks to amelio-rate the socio-economic conditions of the Muslim community.
On the contrary, the Minority Affairs Minister, Najma Heptulla, has shown her reservation in considering the Muslims as a minority, although the Minority Affairs Ministry was established in 2006 to look into the social, economic and educational conditions of the Muslims in India in accordance with the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report. According to her, Muslims are too large in numbers to call themselves a minority and it is the Parsis who need special attention for they are a ‘miniscule minority’. She did not appear much encouraging about religion-based reservations in matters of employment for the Muslims too as she termed it as unconstitutional. Heptulla even seemed disinterested in continuing and forging ahead with the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for the welfare of the minorities.
The party still remains steeped in the ideology of Hindutva and Hindu nationalism. This was evident in its series of inflammatory and provocative hate speeches given during the campaign for the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections 2014. Amit Shah, the BJP General Secretary (who was entrusted with the task of managing the election campaign in the State of Uttar Pradesh), for instance, was accused of polarising the atmosphere in the State when he in a rally appealed for votes for the party from the Jats in order to take revenge on the ‘Muslims’ for the Muzaffarnagar riots. In September 2013 a conflict had broken out between the Jats and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar. It has also been reported that some of the leaders from the BJP, apart from other political parties, allegedly played a role in inciting the Hindus to resort to violence for taking revenge on the Muslims. This testified to the antipathy of the party towards the Muslim community thereby subtly establishing its fondness for fanatic fundamentalist ideas that threatenes to destabilise the harmony and fraternity of a country which upholds secularism, unity, integrity and fraternity.
In another instance, one of its cadres Giriraj Singh, a BJP candidate for the Lok Sabha from Nawada, in an election rally in Deoghar, Jharkhand, had threatened that whosoever dared to oppose the BJP’s nominated prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, would be deported to Pakistan. This controversial statement exposed the fact that the party that promises to seek development, modernity, peace, prosperity, unity, integrity was still not able to eschew its anti-Muslim ideology and had failed to reorient and adapt to the present age that is marked by technological advances. Similarly, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, Pravin Togadia, had also triggered a sense of insecurity and fear among the Muslims when he, during the election campaign in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, had warned the Muslims that they should not dare to buy property in Hindu majority areas. This statement was a direct attack on the secular ethos of a heterogeneous country like India which cherishes the concept of unity in diversity. This was decried by the Aam Aadmi Party but defended by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader Ram Madhav and BJP spokeperson Prakash Javadekar. This also brought into focus the BJP’s linkages with the RSS, a militant Hindu nationalist organisation, and VHP, a Hindu revivalist organisation that favours adopting a militant Hindu stand on political and social issues. (Malik and Singh,1994) Moreover, it was the RSS under the stewardship of Mohan Bhagat that was said to have toiled hard to bring unanimity among the rank-and-file of the BJP leadership to endorse Modi’s candidature for prime ministership in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The RSS and VHP were backing the BJP in the recently concluded general elections. To make things worse, another leader of the Shiv Sena, a long-time and close ally of the BJP, Ramdas Kadam, while sharing the stage with Narendra Modi in Maharashtra during the election campaign, had threatened to take revenge over the Muslims for the 2012 Azad Maidan attack. He had also vociferously stated that Modi will destroy Pakistan within six months of assuming power at the Centre. In an election rally in Bengal Modi had threatened to deport only the illegal Muslim Bangladeshi immigrants once he come to power. All these instances unmask the real face of the BJP: it still remains aggressively communal in its ideology and manoeuvres and this is enough to petrify people.
The BJP still retains its hardline Hindu credentials. During the 1980s its communal agenda centred around issues like the Babri mosque, construction of the Ram temple in the city of Ayodhya. Earlier it mobilised Hindu voters through the anti-cow slaughter movement during the 1966-67 and demonstration in front of Parliament to pass the law for prohibiting the practice. In the 2014 electoral campaign, apart from issues like develpoment, eradication of corruption, good governance, mobilisation in the name of ‘identity’ was also evident as the BJP had chosen the city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, the most religiously significant Hindu city on the banks of the sacred Ganga as its citadel. Uttar Pradesh is the most populous State that sends eighty Members of Parliament to the Lok Sabha. Since the BJP lacked much presence in the North-East and down south, therefore winning the maximum number of seats from the most populous Hindi heartland State (that has the maximum Hindu population) became imperative for the party to capture power at the Centre.1 Therefore, to rekindle the feeling of ‘being Hindu’ and to popularise Modi for bigger electoral gains in the State of Uttar Pradesh the BJP leadership very intelligently opted for the most sacred city of the Hindus, the Varanasi, which is primarily an ancient Hindu holy site. This would compel the Muslim population to view the ruling pary’s intention of being ‘accomodative’ in nature with suspicion and fear about the ulterior BJP motive of communal polarisation.
The BJP, with all its pro-Hindu and anti-minority stances, will only jeopardise its political position in the electoral map of the country and may find itself deserted by the disadvantageous sections of the society. Although the BJP has promised a strong, decisive leadership and high economic growth, it is still oscillating between the Hindutva ideology and a modern vision for itself and the nation. The political success of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Modi in the coming days depends largely in their ability to deliver as promised.
1. Census 2001 data on population by religious communities. Out of 166197921 people from all religious communities in UP, 133979263 Hindus resided in Uttar Pradesh in comparison with 30740158 Muslims. (NSSO National Data Bank For Socio-Religious Categories).
1. BJP Election Manifesto (2014): http://www.bjp.org/images/pdf_2014/full_manifesto_english_07.04.2014.pdf
2. Deccan Chronicle (2014): “BJP’s Giriraj Singh granted anticipatory bail for his alleged hate speeches”, April 25.
3. Hindustan Times (2014): “FIR against VHP leader Praveen Togadia for hate spech, EC seeks report”. April 21. http://mospi.gov.in/national_data_bank/Population_22oct2012/Census_2001_table_22oct12/1.%20Population%20by%20Religious%20Community.pdf viewed on May 2, 2014.
4. “Indian Media: Anti-Muslim Remarks”, April 22, viewed on May 2, 2014 (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-27107593).
5. India Today (2014): “Shiv Sena leader Kadam shares stage with Modi, makes hate speech against Muslims”, April 22.
6. Malik, Yogendra K. and V.P. Singh (1994): Hindu Nationalist in India: the Rise of BJP (Boulder: West view Press).
7. The Hindu (2014) : “Ahead of Conclave, RSS preparing the ground for Modi’s anointment”. September 9.
8. The Hindu (2013): “FIR Against several BJP leader, death toll upto 33". September 9.
9. The Hindu (2014): “FIR against Amit shah for hate speech”. April 7.
10. The Asian Age (2014): “Hate speech by saffron leader BJP worried”. May 2.
11. The Hindu (2013): “Muzaffarnagar toll mounts to 21". September 9.
12. The Hindu (2013): “The chilling similiarity of Muzaffarnagar”. September 18.
13. The Indian Express (2014): “ Muslims too many to be called minority, its Parsis who need special attention”. May 28.
The author is a Research Scholar pursuing her Ph.D in the Department of Political Science, University of North Bengal.