The Indian general election is inexorably moving towards the wearisomely familiar pattern of sectarian rhetoric and counter-rhetoric. It is something that unfailingly happens despite promises across the political spectrum to eschew divisive electoral hectoring. Three days ahead of the first phase of polling, the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, has given a call to Muslims to vote for the Congress nationally and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. The call itself follows a controversial meeting with Sonia Gandhi where she is presumed to have sought his support. The impropriety of the election-eve meeting and exhortations aside, there is the problem of treating Muslims as an undifferentiated group that can be herded in one direction. In actuality, there is no evidence to show that all Muslims vote one way, much less that the Imam holds any kind of influence over the community. The episode also calls into question the Congress president’s judgment — if she did indeed seek the Imam’s support. Narendra Modi’s sudden interest in meat exports and slaughterhouses is simply a case of reverse demagogy, with Hindus being seen as an exploitable whole. Some time ago, Mr. Modi had used a reference to the AK-47 assault rifle to insinuate shady Pakistani connections in the cases of Arvind Kejriwal and A.K. Antony. Lately, he has been expressing angst over the alleged growth of meat exports and slaughterhouses during the period coinciding with the United Progressive Alliance’s years in office.
The USP of the Modi campaign has been its promise to deliver efficient governance. Yet, slowly the campaign has veered towards issues with the potential to divide the polity. Meat exports are hardly the stuff of the citizen’s aspirational dreams that Mr. Modi undertook to fulfil. And yet, what should have been a non-issue has gained rapid currency thanks to Mr. Modi raising it consecutively at three election rallies. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial nominee accused the Congress of ushering in a ‘pink revolution’ by prioritising meat exports over the welfare of cowherds, while the BJP, he said, had brought in the ‘white [milk] revolution.’ The allusions are slanted and disturbing — not least because cow slaughter is an emotive issue for sections of Hindus, and its invocation on election-eve can be for no purpose other than to intensify communal polarisation. The Congress’s unprincipled overture to the Imam is clearly an act of desperation by a party with little hope in this election. As the man of the moment, Mr. Modi was in a position to offer a genuine alternative to voters. By failing to do so, he is yet to persuade unconvinced voters that Hindutva is not his only plank.