Challenges to Hindutva’s new avatar

A supporter of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party waving the party flag in New Delhi in May 2019.   | Photo Credit: Adnan Abidi

For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), most of 2019 was a good year for its Hindutva politics. It won a general election using its majoritarian card; it swiftly enacted the Triple Talaq Act, diluted Article 370 in Kashmir and pushed through the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), even as the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a Ram Temple. The stage appeared set for the continued growth of the BJP and its ideology.

And then, countrywide protests against the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) began: young people, women of all ages — and of all religious denominations — gathered on the streets. Even harsh police action failed to deter the protesters: the people had finally decided to fight back.

Disillusionment with BJP

The beginning of disillusionment with the BJP is visible. The party’s performance in successive general elections in 2014 and 2019 were stellar, but its footprint in the States is shrinking, most recently after its defeat in Jharkhand. There are signs that the economic slowdown is hurting people. And, the spectacle on Sunday night of the police standing mute as vandals ransacked Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and attacked students and faculty members, has just added fuel to the fire already raging in universities across the country.

The BJP’s top leadership has been largely silent on these issues. Party spokespersons have distanced Mr. Modi from the reverses in Jharkhand stressing that but for him, the party would have fared even worse.

On the economy, the government has been in denial, with some suggestion that the downturn will be addressed in the Union Budget on February 1. As for the anti-CAA/NRC protests, the government has chosen not to engage the students in a dialogue; instead, the party has sponsored counter-demonstrations, the assessment being that the agitation will fizzle out.

The BJP’s recent poor performance in State elections underscores for the party, the dangers of concentrating power in the hands of one man, and the urgent need to build powerful State leaders. The disinclination to face squarely the economic slowdown, the agricultural crisis and the failure to create jobs received an answer in Jharkhand: charisma, rhetoric and slogans do not work beyond a point. Finally, a government that stops listening to its citizens, as it is doing with the protests, is one that might find, in turn, that it is not being heard.

Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah have also ensured that most party functionaries, including Working President J.P. Nadda (to be elevated as president by end-January), are reduced to ciphers.

Most of the post-2014 Assembly elections also point to the marginalisation of State leaders and the browbeating of allies. Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani returned to power, but with a considerably reduced majority. In Haryana, the BJP under Manohar Lal Khattar emerged as the single-largest party, but needed the Jannayak Janta Party’s help to form a government; in Maharashtra, the BJP’s failure to accommodate ally Shiv Sena cost it its government.

Plucked out of obscurity and made Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Haryana, Mr. Khattar and Devendra Fadnavis did not have a national profile. Today, five years later, they are still “mere pawns on a chessboard”, as a Sangh insider put it, a far cry from Mr. Modi’s status in the Vajpayee era. In April 2002, Mr. Modi mobilised an influential section of the party at the Goa National Executive meeting, upstaged Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who wanted to sack him for his role in the communal violence in Gujarat earlier that year, and went on to win three consecutive State elections. In 2014, he became Prime Minister.

Others in the BJP’s earlier crop of Chief Ministers, starting in the 1990s, were not as successful as Mr. Modi. But they had spent years working their way up the ladder, and had built reputations of their own. Take Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh; Shanta Kumar in Himachal Pradesh; Sushma Swaraj in Delhi; Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh; or B.S. Yediyurappa in Karnataka — they were all important personalities in their own right. Some, like Mr. Kalyan Singh, Mr. Shanta Kumar and Mr. Yediyurappa showed their capacity, when cornered, to even challenge the central leadership.

Compare the leaders created in the Vajpayee-Advani era — when inner-party democracy existed, if not flourished — with the second crop of yes-men Chief Ministers, with only Yogi Adityanath not fitting the pattern.

Today, the BJP is beginning to resemble the Congress of the early 1970s, when Indira Gandhi, after the liberation of Bangladesh, was at the height of her powers. She had no time for dissenters in her party, nor did she brook any challenges. If the Congress power structure depended on regional leaders building their bases, she began the process of weakening them.

Learning from the Congress

The BJP leadership would do well to take a lesson from the Congress story. Weakening inner-party democracy and reducing regional leaders to nonentities can adversely affect the party’s strength on the ground while boosting regional outfits — look at the Shiv Sena and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) today.

Today, the BJP’s efforts to crush democracy in the country is a mirror image of what is happening within the party. Indira Gandhi’s Emergency demonstrated that ultimately, the people will revolt; and party men will abandon you.

That is unless Mr. Modi believes that his majoritarian politics will ensure that 2024 is a shoo-in. But if Hindutva is allowed to have free reign, it will destroy India as we know it. It is time the Opposition got its act together. The people have already shown their willingness to join the fight — they now need leadership.

Smita Gupta is a journalist based in Delhi

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 12:13:42 PM |

Next Story