The Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s next rally in Uttar Pradesh will be enmeshed in the double rhetoric of development and Hinduvta.
Party leaders say Mr. Modi is likely to raise local issues such as the defunct sugarcane mills in the Gorakhpur region, Japanese Encephalitis and the neglect of Buddhist monuments in Kushinagar in his address.
However, Hinduvta will glaringly feature in the backdrop, as the stage for the rally will be in the shape of the Gorakhnath temple. Guru Gorakshnath is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva and the temple derives its name from him. Interestingly, over the course of its rallies in UP, the BJP has popularized the slogan “Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi,” which draws a parallel between Lord Shiva and Mr. Modi.
Observers believe this could be to shift from the Ram Mandir issue, which has become politically obsolete in caste-driven UP. Some believe the reference to Shiva could even be to woo OBCs and Dalits.
However, Badri Narayan Tiwari, author of Fascinating Hinduvta: Saffron Politics and Dalit Mobilization, says the slogan was a direct appeasement of “militant Hinduvta” since Lord Shiva represents the image of a warring God. “Har Har Mahadev has been a popular war-cry,” points out Mr. Tiwari. He, however, adds that the BJP campaign would not totally abandon the rhetoric of Lord Ram. In fact, both would be juxtaposed.
This could be an attempt to incorporate the Naghpanthi sects, which include some weaver castes and Dalits like the Koris (numerically fourth largest Dalit group) who are populated in districts close to the Indo-Nepal border like Gonda and Bahraich, says Mr. Tiwari. To recall, in the BJP's Bahraich rally, the stage was named after the dargah (shrine) of Ghazi Mian, revered by both Pasis (dalits) and Muslims.
The rally on Thursday will also bring into focus Gorakhpur MP and the head priest of Gorakhnath temple, Yogi Adityanath, who is known for espousing the cause of strident Hinduvta.
Mr. Adtiyanath has had rifts with the BJP in the past, however this time he has voiced no such reservations.
In fact, he is personally overseeing the preparations for Mr. Modi’s rally. "I have no objection" if the slogan is used for Mr. Modi, he told The Hindu.
The popularization of the slogan will also help his sect, as it represents the aggressive symbol of Hinduvta, while also keeping it in relevance as it has lost political significance, Mr. Tiwari says.
Professor M.P Singh of the Banaras Hindu University, however, differs with the logic that the BJP was using the image of Lord Shiva to polarize votes on religion.
“Any gain they have in UP will be due to the image of Modi as a 'performer.' These are only attempts at desperate rhetoric by a few. Not a strategy. The masses do not connect with such slogans anymore.” He said.
The Samajwadi Party has asked the BJP to apologize for using the slogan as it "disrespected Lord Shiva."
The BJP, which is ferociously wooing the OBC community, will hold a month-long social justice programme in February. A party leader admits that such slogans were popularized to gain "maximum reach" among people of “all castes and classes” but the official BJP stand contends that the reference to Lord Shiva should not be viewed in context of Hinduvta.
UP BJP president Laxmikant Bajpai, who coined the slogan during the Jhansi rally, says: “Just like we look up to Lord Shiva for kalyan, the country today looks at Modiji.”
What inspired the slogan? Mr. Bajpai credits it to chance. “A party worker was casually shouting the slogan. I liked it and adopted it. It quickly became popular among the cadres.”