The massive BJP win in the UP assembly election has a message for the Muslims. The results have signalled that the days of inclusive politics, which gave the Muslims a role, are over. Political parties would now be wary of appealing to the Muslim vote since that could trigger a reverse mobilisation of Hindus. By not fielding a single Muslim candidate for the Vidhan Sabha, the BJP has also signalled that Muslim votes can’t influence its winnability: In fact, its electoral prospects increase when it defines itself in opposition to the Muslims. The BJP’s strategy to mobilise the voters had three aspects. First, it advocated that the party can deliver development without corruption in favour of the dominant groups of society, the upper castes and upper classes. It addressed the aspirations of a majority of upper classes and castes who felt that the centrestaging of Mandal and Dalit politics compromised their interests. The BJP mobilised voters in its favour by foregrounding development while ignoring social justice and polarising people along religious lines.
Second, the BJP played up the ideology of nationalism and opposed Pakistan and Muslim jihadis in such a way that its campaign othered ordinary Muslims of the country in the eyes of the rest. Third, it used the tools of Hindutva to mobilise a majority of the neo-rich, middle and lower caste Hindus. By mixing Hindutva with a development agenda, highlighting either of them as the situation demanded, the party perfected its strategy to win voters.
A large section of Hindus have discovered new identities in the BJP’s strategy: They see themselves as being praised across the world for their desire for development, prudent entrepreneurship and flexibility to align with capitalist goals, as opposed to citizens of West Asia, caught in internecine battles. They are also proud of their religious identities rediscovered through Hindutva politics and defined in opposition to the Muslims. These emerging identities have been very productive for the BJP in terms of political outcomes.
To mobilise votes, the BJP and its cultural and political affiliates attempted to create new rationalities among ordinary Hindus through new narratives. One narrative claims that Hindus had lived under the despotic rule of Muslim rulers for a thousand years and secular and socialist Hindus represent a mindset which seeks to rule the country with the help of the children of Muslim despots. It also claims that the socialists and secular parties do not allow “Hindu rule” and expressions of “Hindu culture”. Another narrative translates the faster growth of the Muslim population, mainly due to poverty, into demographic anxiety among the Hindus. It fans fears that the Muslims will demographically overtake the Hindu population.
A third narrative argues that Muslim men are lustful and Hindu women and girls are not safe from prying eyes of Muslim men. A bahu-beti bachao aandolan and resistance and opposition to Muslim male-Hindu female marriages by terming them “love jihad” are strategies through which a communal divide is created. A fourth claim is the Muslims treat women only as producers of children. They do not accept constitutional provisions that assure individual rights. Lastly, the Muslim community is portrayed as full of criminals and anti-nationalists. This narrative focuses on Muslim criminals and makes them representatives of the Muslim community in India. Hindu communalists are presented as a necessary response to Muslim criminal and communal elements. During the UP election, Yogi Adityanath was presented as a counter to the likes of Mukhtar Ansari and portrayed as a protector of Hindus in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Azam Khan was accused of being a Muslim communal leader and the Muzaffarnagar riots explained as the best response to Muslim communalism.
These narratives, rooted in quasi-reality and wilful interpretation, call for the disciplining of Muslims and for Hindus to assert themselves collectively and usher majoritarian (Hindu) rule in the country. Appeals are made to Hindu voters that the BJP, as a political representative of Hindutva aspirations, and its current leadership, which played a major role in disciplining Muslims in Gujarat, is the best bet to herald Hindu majoritarian rule. The radicals in the BJP are crowding out the moderates, who may want to balance and nurture religious harmony, and delivering improved electoral outcomes.
The writer is deputy director Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tuljapur