Campaigning away from the spotlight in Uttar Pradesh, several BJP leaders said that they had expected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “kabristan-shamshaan” remark at an election rally in Fatehpur to help deepen the fault lines, and polarise the voters with Hindus consolidating across castes in the party’s favour. But after four phases of polling, the extent of polarisation remains a puzzle. In fact, on the ground, there isn’t much evidence to show that this is happening in any significant way.
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Voters from Allahabad to Rae Bareli, Faizabad to Gonda and even in the temple town of Ayodhya, where the BJP’s presence is stronger in discussions as well as in the demonstration of support to the party, react coldly to the remark.
In Fatepur on February 19, Modi had said: “Gaon mein agar kabristan banta hai, to gaon mein shamshaan bhi banana chahiye. Agar Ramzan mein bijli milti hai, to Diwali mein bhi milni chahiye. Agar Holi mein bijli milti hai, to Eid par bhi bijli milni chahiye. Bhed bhav nahin hona chahiye (If a village gets a graveyard, it should get a cremation ground too. If there is electricity during Ramzan, there should be electricity during Diwali too. If there is electricity during Holi, there should be electricity during Eid too. There should not be any discrimination).”
“It was the right strike. There will be an intense polarisation and by the end of seven phases, the BJP, which has an edge now, will emerge with a clear majority,” a senior party leader had said.
Nearly a week later, BJP leaders say they haven’t seen signs of “Hindu consolidation.”
“It’s not happening on the ground. Jaativaad (casteism), which was overshadowed by the desire for change in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, is back. Hindus do not get united for one party,” said Umesh Gupta, who runs a shop in Hanuman Garhi in Ayodhya and identifies himself as a passionate BJP supporter. “That’s the curse for Hindus. Every other community gets together for a cause, but Hindus do not.”
Political observers say this strategy of BJP — some call it an oversimplification of electoral arithmetic and chemistry — has come up short in the past, too. The BJP won the 1991 Assembly election not just on the Hindutva appeal but as a party promising change in the political landscape of UP. It lost the election in 1993, when tempers were high in the wake of Babri Masjid’s demolition the year before; in 1996, the party got 174 seats in the then 425-member Assembly.
Voters, meanwhile, are split. Some said what Modi said was “correct”, even as others dismissed it as a “political speech.” At Hanuman Garhi, Gupta seemed worried about the Samajwadi Party’s “appeasement” policies. “At least three graveyards in Ayodhya got walls constructed and they have grabbed the land, but there are no facilities on the banks of Sarayu river for Hindus,” he pointed out. Anil Kumar, who was listening to the conversation, said, “What Prime Minister said was that everyone should be treated equally. There is nothing wrong in it.”
Ankit Mishra, a resident of Sohawal, said that Hindus do not need a specific place like Muslims or Christians, who bury their dead in a kabristan or cemetery. Hindus cremate and immerse the ashes in rivers. The same cremation ground, he said, can be used for countless cremations but a graveyard, once it is full, needs more land, he said.
Sohawal resident Daya Prasad said, “Neta aise baat karte hain. Unke kehne ki chakkar pe hum ko kyun ladna hai? Kaam ke upar vote dena hai (Political leaders speak like that. Why should we fight over what they say? We should vote according to the work done).” Young shopkeeper Saurav, who swears that the youth in the region wholeheartedly back Modi, agreed with him: “Those who want to do good for the nation should support Modi, but it’s just because he means good for the country. Aisa nahin hai ki main Hindu hoon isliye BJP ko support karna hai (it’s not that I support BJP just because I am a Hindu).”
Ramdas Mahant at Hanuman Garhi, who is confident that Modi would ensure that the Ram Temple is built in Ayodhya during his term as Prime Minister, said: “Political leaders should not make any statement that divides people in the name of religion…BJP came to power giving hopes to people that a temple will be built for Lord Ram here. That would make everyone happy — even the Muslims here want it.”
In his speeches at election rallies, BJP’s local MP from Faizabad, Lallu Singh, refrains from talking on communal lines and focuses on development initiatives of the Modi government. Singh said, “There is a wave in favour of Modi-ji. So naturally the SP-Congress and BSP are trying to polarise voters communally. We want votes in the name of Modi-ji’s good work.”
While in some pockets Faizabad traders are upset with demonetisation will still back the BJP, the Pasis, a sub-caste among Dalits and a community that had backed the BJP in 2014, now show a soft corner for the BSP. People from Koeri and Maurya castes, whom the BJP has been wooing, may vote for the SP. Mirza Salim Beg, a practicing doctor in Padawd (Sohawal constituency), said, “Muslims in this area are largely with SP; about 20-25 per cent (votes) could go to Mayawati.”