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Hindutva’s onward march in Kerala

Secular and democratic Malayalis are hoping that Hindutva will continue to remain undesirable in Kerala, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) got no seats in the 2019 parliamentary election. Political commentators and non-Hindutva Malayalis are busy providing a long list of factors that ensured the BJP’s defeat in the State. These include ‘enlightenment’, ‘education’, ‘political awareness’, ‘progressiveness’, and ‘strong communist sensibilities’. In the process, the argument for a rethinking of Hindutva and an understanding of its everyday growth amongst the upper castes and new upwardly mobile social groups has effectively been contained.

A different trajectory

Unlike many northern States where Hindutva has been making consistent electoral inroads, its growth in Kerala has a slightly different trajectory. In Kerala, ideological Hindutva took precedence over electoral Hindutva. And in the process, it built a cohesive network of informed loyalists across the State. From the formation of the Hindu Mahasabha in the first quarter of the 20th century to the present, Hindutva has been successful in ideologically shaping a substantial section of the Hindu middle class in the State. Starting with disgruntled elites, former ruling households and landed aristocracy in the 1940s, Hindutva managed to reach out to middle class entrepreneurs by the 1970s. Over the last 20 years, it has been successful in attracting a significant section of aspirational lower/ intermediary caste groups like the Ezhavas. However, people overlook how Hindutva has made steady electoral inroads into the State over the last 15 years.

A microanalysis of the National Democratic Alliance/ BJP vote share in Kerala in the last three parliamentary elections questions the Malayali euphoria. Electoral data show that if Hindutva can sustain its current acceptability among the larger Hindu population, Kerala is only 10 years away from what West Bengal has become today, where Hindutva has established its strong presence after working patiently for more than a century. In the 2009 parliamentary election, the BJP alone secured more than 10 lakh votes in Kerala (6.31% of the total votes polled). With no ‘wave’ in sight and the BJP’s chances in every single parliamentary constituency being zero, each voter in this 10 lakh block stood testimony to the ideological reach that Hindutva made after a hundred years of beginning its work since the early 20th century.

A better picture emerges when we take a closer look at the total vote share in Kerala, where Muslims and Christians constitute over 45% of the population. If we assume that the bulk of the votes was from the Hindu community, as the BJP is seen as a Hindu majoritarian party, and that Muslims and Christians had little reason to vote for the BJP in 2009, then the BJP actually secured more than 11% (around 10 lakh votes) of the total Hindu votes (around 90 lakh), who constituted 55% of the total voters, numbering around 1.65 crore. Thus, the popular perception of the BJP’s 6.31% votes in 2009 does not reflect the appropriate picture of Hindutva’s electoral and ideological growth in Kerala. Going by the same logic, in 2014, the BJP alone secured 19% (around 19 lakh votes) from the Hindu majority electorate (around 1 crore), jumping from the previous 11%. However, political analysts continue to assert that the BJP only secured 10.33% vis-a vis the total votes polled in the State.

The results of this general election show a tremendous inclination among the majority of voters to adopt the social, moralistic, and ideological sensibilities of Hindutva. The BJP-led NDA secured around 32 lakh votes from this constituency of voters (over 1.11 crore), who comprised about 50% of the total polled votes (around 2.3 crore). Such a shift is quite an eye-opener in the wake of massive resentment in the State against the Modi government’s lukewarm response to the devastating floods in Kerala and its aftermath in 2018. The Hindutva mood in the State seems to have enhanced as the BJP used the Sabarimala issue to expand its electoral and ideological base. Thus, the NDA’s 32 lakh votes in 2019 shows a significant increasing section of the Hindu electorate preferring the BJP’s ideology despite demonetisation, the Goods and Services Tax, unemployment, the Modi government’s antipathy towards the State, and the presence of strong and consistent anti-Hindutva narratives in the State.

The micro details of these three elections clearly show that the BJP has been growing really fast among the majority electorate. With this growth rate, which is most likely to persist, the Sangh Parivar is not far away from garnering about 50% of the majority electorate in the next 10 years. The argument about this possibility can also be supported by a survey by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) which clearly shows how the NDA successfully secured more than 38% of the upper caste vote in Kerala in 2019. An undivided 50% from the majority electorate would definitely help Hindutva make strong electoral inroads into Kerala as it happened in West Bengal.

Replicating the Northeast policy

As the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has already positioned the Sabarimala controversy as a repeatable emotive investment like the Ram Mandir issue, maintaining such a growth rate and acceptance seem feasible. This can work with critical support from sections of the media, individuals from the film industry and bureaucracy, and a wide network of socio-ritual gatherings at both micro and macro levels.

This growth rate can be further strengthened if Hindutva succeeds in building what can be termed the ‘Christian electoral corridor’ in southern Kerala with the support of a number of prominent Christian notables in the NDA such as Alphons Kannanthanam, P.C. George, Tom Vadakkan and P.C. Thomas.

Clearly, the ‘poach Northeast’ policy, which successfully attracted a significant number of Christian religious outfits and leaders over a period of time, is being attempted in Kerala too.

P.K. Yasser Arafath is Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Delhi


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Printable version | Sep 15, 2021 8:01:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/hindutvas-onward-march-in-kerala/article28275344.ece

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