In an indication of what would be on its agenda for the 2017 U.P. assembly polls, BJP — the party that flaunts ' Sabka saath, Sabha Vikas ' as its national agenda — has kept divisive issues like ' Ram Mandir ', Muzaffarnagar riots and ‘love jihad’ as the top-most issues in its campaign for the Muzaffarnagar Assembly bypoll scheduled on February 13. The seat has been vacant after Samajwadi Party's sitting MLA from the constituency Chitaranjan Swarup died.
Attending election meetings of the BJP in Muzaffarnagar gave out interesting perspectives as to how the saffron party sought to orient electorate's focus back to Hindutva and other polarising issues. The party leaders during public meetings, invoked VHP's 'international convention' for Ram Mandir in 1982 and the 2013 riots. They explained how these two “historic incidents” led to formation of the Modi government at the Centre and a BJP government in U.P. and appealed to the voters to "send out a message yet again" by voting for the BJP.
Interestingly, Muzaffarnagar lies at the centre of the rich sugarcane belt that is facing grave agrarian crisis but that does not figure anywhere in the campaign agenda or the speeches of party leaders.
The Ram temple issue and attacks on Muslims found a mention even in meetings of backward groups that were essentially organised over rights of backward castes and were addressed by S.P. Singh Baghel, BJP's backward morcha chief. In one such meeting on Friday, when several youngsters belonging to backward castes gave angry speeches highlighting BJP's ignorance towards their grievances and demanding their rights, Satyapal Singh, the district BJP president intervened and appealed them to talk like "Kanwad, (worshippers of lord Shiva) who do not talk about caste."
“While it was good to talk about one's rights, we should talk like 'kanwads', the Shiv bhakts' who do not talk about caste," he politely told the youngsters. And then he went on to explain contribution of Muzaffarnagar in the Ram Mandir movement.
"We should not forget that the first world conference of Vishwa Hindu Parishad over Ram Mandir was organised in Muzaffarnagar in 1982. The resolution to organise a 'rath yatra' and puja for the construction for Ram Mandir was passed in this conference. This led to the famous 'rath yatra' by Advani Ji and then after that BJP formed the government in U.P.," he told the gathering.
"So, all I am trying to say is that Muzaffarnagar should again send out a message to the world as this election will set the tone for the 2017 polls," he concluded his speech.
When Mr. Baghel talked about the reasons why BJP got 73 seats in U.P., without naming Muslims, he mentioned "people's expectation from him (Narendra Modi) that he would fix a particular community and group". His reasoning got loud cheers from the audience which consisted largely of backward community members.
Instead of a slogan talking about development matching that matches the BJP's national rhetoric, the campaign slogan of Kapil Dev, BJP’s candidate for Muzaffarnagar Assembly seat, raises the bogey of "love jihad" and its perceived theory of "sexual onslaught of Muslim men on Hindu women."
“ Bahu beti ke samman me/Kapil dev maidan me (for the sake of the honour of our daughters and daughter-in-law, Kapil Dev is contesting polls) ", the campaign slogan of the BJP in Muzaffarnagar, refers to incidents of alleged love affair between Hindu girls and Muslim boys which the party tried to portray as "rape" and cases of "sexual harassment".
In at least three cases which the BJP and affiliated groups portrayed as "love jihad" and "gangrape", the girls came out to defend their Muslim boyfriends and told the magistrate in court that they ran away with them on their own.
BJP over the last two years, however managed to create a narrative, by raising several incidents involving local Muslim boys and Hindu girls, that Muslim youths were after Hindu girls, to "harass", "rape", "lure" and convert them as part of an "organised Islamist conspiracy".
The saffron party has put up series of posters across flyovers and markets in Muzaffarnagar which seek to electorally encash anxiety of a patriarchal society over loosening grip on its women who, armed with education and technology get exposed to interact with men from the other community.
" Babu betiyon ke samman ki raksha koun karega. Vote aapka hai aur nirnay bhi aapka (Who will protect the honour of daughters? It is your vote and your decision," asks a huge poster fixed on one side of a prominent flyover on the city.
When this correspondent asked Kapil Dev, the party candidate why the BJP campaign was so obsessed with the idea of protecting "women's honour" he boldly declared, that "development comes later, first comes the honour of our women which is facing the onslaught of a particular community".
Historically, however, “love jihad” has been a bad omen for the BJP. It was badly defeated in the last season of by-polls in the State in 2014 when the party contested making “love Jihad” and “ghar wapsi” the main election issues in the State.