Political Line | Keywords of 2024: Communalism, casteism, and constitutionalism

May 03, 2024 09:30 pm | Updated May 04, 2024 11:49 am IST

(This is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George. The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week. You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox every Friday.)

As campaigning rolls on for the 2024 general election, the BJP is sensing danger that cannot be overcome by dog-whistle slogans. Hassan MP Prajwal Revanna of the Janata Dal (Secular), an ally of the BJP in Karnataka and grandson of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, has been booked for rape after scores of video clips surfaced allegedly showing him in acts of sexual assault on hundreds of women. The rainbow caste coalition achieved by the BJP in 2014 is threatening to unravel. In response, the BJP campaign is pivoting to three Cs —communalism and casteism, which are, paradoxically, couched in constitutionalism.

A glimpse of how these themes appear in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches can be found here

The BJP possibly thinks that communal insinuations, with deniability clauses, may not be sufficient and it is resorting to open name-calling of the Muslim community. If communalism is part of the old toolkit of the BJP, the other two are borrowed from its opponents, but retrofitted for its politics.

Mr. Modi is specifically addressing the OBCs, tribal communities, and Dalits — which would be considered casteist when done by subaltern parties. So, the polarisation being sought this time is not a generic Hindu-Muslim one, but a Hindu subaltern vs Muslim one. This approach of the BJP led by Mr. Modi is causing unease among the party’s upper caste supporters. In fact, the Rajput resentment against the BJP in Gujarat originated from an attempt by a party leader to please the Dalits. But the BJP, specifically Mr. Modi, knows the votes are at the bottom of the social pyramid. It is willing to risk the alienation of the upper castes and middle class for an all-out outreach to the subalterns.

This communalism and casteism of the BJP’s 2024 campaign is packaged as constitutionalism, which it is accused of undermining. Mr. Modi’s constant refrain is that the Congress is planning to undermine the Constitution, and give reservation to Muslims at the cost of Hindu OBCs, Dalits, and tribal people.

Hindutva ideology believes that India’s growth is because of nationalism, not in spite of it; the Ram temple is not seen as a distraction from or barrier to India’s development, but as its foundation and catalyst, I argue in this piece on the link between economics and politics of the BJP.

Shivsena (UBT) MLA and Leader Aaditya Thackeray 

Shivsena (UBT) MLA and Leader Aaditya Thackeray 

Talking of Muslims and Hindutva, Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Aaditya Thackeray says his party has a different understanding of it from the BJP. “Our Hindutva is very clear — Hriday me Ram aur haath ka kaam (Ram in our hearts and skill in our hands). Religion resides in our hearts, but in governance, the Constitution must prevail as the supreme religion. Our Hindutva does not dictate what to eat or what to wear.”

Indeed, his party, founded by his grandfather Bal Thackeray, is turning out to be a favourite of Muslim voters in Mumbai. 

Federalism Tract -Notes on Indian Diversity

Regional and National

In the interview cited above, Mr. Thackeray also accused the BJP of being anti-Maharashtra. The BJP is facing accusations of being insensitive to the sentiments and aspirations of regions in Maharashtra and West Bengal, and all southern States.

Telangana Chief Minister A. Revanth Reddy 

Telangana Chief Minister A. Revanth Reddy 

Telangana Chief Minister A. Revanth Reddy has said “Gujarat hegemony” would not be tolerated by the State.

Ironic as it is, the BJP is accusing regional outfit the Biju Janata Dal of insulting Odisha. The context is BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s decision to anoint a Tamil as his successor — IAS officer-turned-politician V.K. Pandian. This is a strange role reversal in which a national party is trying to rake up regional sentiment in a State, against a regional party.

‘Ex-Muslims’ of Kerala seek recourse to be governed by secular laws

The Supreme Court Bench headed by CJI D.Y. Chandrachud has agreed to examine the claim of P.M. Safiya, an “ex-Muslim” and resident of Kerala’s Alappuzha, who sought to be governed by the secular laws related to inheritance to parental property. Shafiya argued that due to her loss of belief in Islam and Muslim personal laws, she should be governed by secular laws such as the Indian Succession Act, 1925. The counsel to Shafiya noted that there’s no legal instrument through which the petitioner could claim parental property even after obtaining a no religion certificate. They further argued that the right to not believe in religion is also a fundamental right under Article 25 and, hence, must be protected.

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