At the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington looked at his army and said, “I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy but by God they frighten me.” This should be very much what Narendra Modi should be saying. His threat does not come from the motley collection of opposition parties, which have nothing in common except an intense dislike for him. It is his side which he should worry about.
This is the problem with ideological parties. India has only two ideological parties, the BJP and CPM. The ideology is outdated in both cases. But the committed members want to pursue core ideological goals. That loses elections. The Labour Party kept losing elections when it pursued its ideology. Tony Blair moved to the centre and won three elections in a row. Modi should stick to sabka saath.
There are dedicated volunteers from the RSS and the lower ranks of the BJP who will work hard. It is the MLAs and MPs who are a total negative force. They cannot keep their mouths shut. Their agenda is Muslim bashing or Dalit hatred rather than inclusive development. This is how the BJP used to be. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was able to bring the BJP to power by projecting a moderate image. He made the BJP the largest single party three times — 1996,1998 and 1999, but with 182 seats at most. This was the limit of the popular appeal of a sanitised BJP.
The party ideologues, mainly in the Hindi belt, want the hardcore goals of Hindu nation and Ram mandir. There is no Hindu nationalist majority in India. There never has been. The simple fact that Dalits plus Muslims account for a third of the electorate tells you all. The BJP would have to win 51 per cent out of 67 per cent — almost three quarter — to get a majority on a Hindu nationalist platform.
Narendra Modi devised an inclusive strategy in 2014. He reached out to the Dalit voters. He downplayed anti-Muslim sentiments. He modernised the BJP by remaking its image as a tech-savvy party with social media and holograms. This captured the youth vote. He spoke about inclusive development, smart cities, cleanliness and reducing outdoor defecation, costs to women of cooking with traditional fuel. He spread the BJP’s appeal outside the Hindi heartland, to the Northeast and the South.
His success is now coming back as a cost. The hubris of the BJP legislators, especially in the heartland, will cost him votes unless BJP president Amit Shah tells them to shut up. Their anti-Muslim sentiments (renaming the Taj Mahal) and hatred for Dalits (washing Ambedkar’s statue in milk to make him pure!) are sure signs of these people being out of sync with Modi. The signs of this disconnect are clear in Uttar Pradesh, where the electoral victories in 2014 and 2017 were on the inclusive development platform but the core only wants ideology.
There is now the demand about the temple. These ideologues do not understand that India doesn’t lack temples but good jobs, clean cities, safety for women and decent economic growth. The Supreme Court has yet to hear the temple case, and given the speed at which such things are done in Indian courts, we could still be debating the land dispute in 2024.
Modi should ignore the temple.