Campaign 2019 is off to a nasty start. And the intemperance flows from the top. Mere days into electioneering, in a speech in Wardha, Maharashtra, on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought the acquittals of the accused in the Samjhauta blasts case into his attack on the Congress. He dismissed and denied “Hindu terror”, blamed the Congress for coining the term, and invoked the spectre of “Hindu anger”, which, he suggested, was the reason why Congress president Rahul Gandhi had chosen Wayanad in Kerala, with a large non-Hindu population, as a second constituency. The PM’s assertions are unbecoming of his office. For one, it is misleading to say that “Hindu terror” is a political formulation. More importantly, the PM’s intervention on the Samjhauta acquittals politicises and potentially perverts an already imperilled due process in a set of cases where members of radical Hindu outfits have been accused of violence and terror. On the Samjhauta case, PM Modi ignores the court’s anguish — on the record — at letting off the accused because of the NIA withholding evidence. He disregards the fact that an NIA court had earlier, in 2017, convicted three ex-RSS pracharaks in the 2007 Ajmer dargah blasts case or that the Maharashtra ATS, in 2018, under a government led by his own party, chargesheeted 12 linked to hardline Hindutva groups under the anti-terror law, UAPA.
If his comments on the Samjhauta case can be read as politicisation of due process in a sensitive security matter, the PM’s characterisation of Wayanad as a constituency where “the majority is in a minority” and his references to “Hindu awakening” are communally polarising. It has long been a strategy of the BJP to talk up Hindu anger and stoke Hindu fear as two sides of the same mobilisation. By promoting a sense of siege in the majority, and by inciting resentments, the party has sought to unify and consolidate a scattered and diverse community. But at the same time, the BJP’s appeal has also extended beyond this contrived binary. Its political-electoral success has also been a result of its ability to sell dreams of change and of a better tomorrow to an aspiring and largely young electorate. Those dreams and expectations will now be tested against the delivery by the Modi government in the upcoming election. The PM’s majority-minority talk, however, signals a BJP intent to change the subject from a potentially awkward stocktaking of the government’s record and to openly play the Hindu-Muslim card to do so.
When a PM stoops to conquer, as he leads his party into the election, it is dispiriting for the entire democratic polity. It can also be taken as a cue for others who seek to cross the line, lower the discourse, like UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who has described the army as “Modi ji ki sena” in his own election speech, with impunity. April is the cruellest month, said the poet. This one could very well be the longest too.