At the BJP state executive meeting in Vrindavan, a malicious whisper spread by fringe saffron organisations has been elevated to the party’s agenda for the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls. The spectre of “love jihad” has long been peddled by various Hindutva outfits to stoke communal faultlines in the state. It preys upon prejudices and fears about relationships between Muslim boys and Hindu girls. The loose and irresponsible talk in Vrindavan about “conversion of Hindu girls” and “crimes of rape by people of a particular community” that became the refrain of Day One of the BJP’s meet, and the question posed by its Uttar Pradesh president, Laxmikant Bajpai, to the SP government — “Have they got the certificate to rape girls because they belong to a particular religion?” — now appear to confirm the worst fears about the party in UP. Having notched an impressive tally in the Lok Sabha polls, in part through a strategy of Hindu consolidation, it is taking unabashed recourse to the strategy of religious polarisation to win the state.
One year later, both the SP and BJP must share the responsibility for Muzaffarnagar continuing to cast a dark shadow on UP’s future. As the party of government, the SP has failed to decisively stanch the violence that has been on slow simmer ever since. An investigation by this paper found that there have been more than 600 “communal” incidents since the Lok Sabha results, clustered around the areas due for bypolls. The Akhilesh Yadav government has also spectacularly failed to change the subject in the state. But if the SP has failed, so has the BJP. It has failed to heed its own prime minister’s exhortation from the ramparts of the Red Fort — Narendra Modi called for a 10-year “moratorium” on caste-communal strife. It has disowned its stakes, as the leading contender for power in UP, in peace between communities. If competitive communalism becomes the theme of the campaign for UP, as it did to a large extent ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, it will mean not just a going back to the politics of festering prejudices and resentments but also a giving up on the promise of a new beginning in India’s most politically crucial state.
The BJP insists that the large mandate that helped it ride to power at the Centre was made up of a positive and aspirational vote for change and good governance — it’s a claim not just about the past but one that also contains a promise for the future. The party’s regression in Vrindavan has resurrected the question marks about both that assertion and its pledge for a more wholesome politics.