The Man Is The Message

Also Read: More Than Secularism

Much has been made of the fact that the BJP Manifesto mentions overtly Hindutva themes only towards the very end, condensed in a single page.  Many intellectuals and talking heads – who in a subtle trimming of sails exercise have become willing accomplices in the Modi makeover – have used this as further evidence of Modi as a man of development and governance.  To believe this, one would have to be blind to BJP’s ground campaign.  A manifesto is a set of commitments made by a political party to the electorate to be fulfilled after coming to power. These are the promises that the Party cadre takes to the people while canvassing for votes. For each of these purposes, the manifesto was irrelevant for the BJP. In fact the saffron Party so delayed its release that the electorate of the first phase polls voted without getting a chance to absorb the manifesto. However the unimportance of the manifesto was evident much before. In this election, Modi is the manifesto; the man is the message. This is most obvious in Uttar Pradesh, arguably the most important state in BJP’s electoral calculations.

In UP, the RSS has systematically appointed coordinators in each Lok Sabha with the task of constituting “prachaar” teams all the way down to the booth. The role of these booth committees is to canvas only the Hindu households and consolidate the vote on religious lines using the otherness of Muslims as the rallying point. Key messages include the alleged marginalization of Hindus by the Muslims, who are not only becoming materially and politically more assertive but will soon overwhelm the Hindus given their higher population growth rate. The narrative of Hindu victimization is bolstered further with the apparent patronage extended to the Muslims by the state Government and appeasement by the Central Government. Modi then is the messiah who will restore pride to the Hindus by putting Muslims decisively in their place – just like he did in Gujarat.

That communal polarization remains a key mobilizational tool in the battle for Modi’s anointment was brought to the fore by Amit Shah, Modi’s trusted lieutenant and former Home Minister of Gujarat. Shah is to use a euphemism, a “controversial” figure – at the center of investigations into encounter killings by the Gujarat Government and more recently, the protagonist in a series of leaked phone calls which depict the surveillance of a civilian woman for Saheb, allegedly Modi himself.  By all accounts, Shah is a close associate of Modi and has thus been entrusted with winning UP for him.  In the aftermath of communal riots between Jats and Muslims, which killed at least 60 people (majority Muslims) and displaced thousands of Muslim families, Shah addressed three meetings of Hindus in Muzaffarnagar to exhort, “apmaan ka badla toh lena padega”. Revenge for being treated as second class citizens, for their women being harassed, for their cows being butchered. It is apparent that the Muslim community is the target of his ire. Despite the furor over these rabidly communal comments, Modi the development man neither rebuked Shah nor advised restraint.

Hindutva is a mobilizational tactic that seeks to consolidate the majority – Hindus- through the otherness of the largest Minority – muslims. The fact that Mandir has receded in the foreground is understandable since economic considerations are paramount in people’s mind in the face of slowing growth. Putting an increasingly assertive minority community in its place takes precedence to enable the Hindu majority community to exert its control over the state and other resources. This point was simply made by Babu Bajrangi, convicted for the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre in Gujarat. In an interview, he was disapproving of Hindus who started looting during the riots since after the Muslims were killed, their belongings would automatically come to their Hindu slayers. Is Baar Modi Ki Sarkaar. The intensely personalized nature of BJP’s electoral campaign is not just a man overshadowing his Party – but central to the appeal. Modi is seen as the logical conclusion of the Hindu majoritarian ideology espoused by the RSS – and thus a key selling point for those who feel frustrated by the constraints of secular democratic governance.

The fact that BJP has not stirred the communal pot much elsewhere is irrelevant*. A political party which aims to capture political power nationally will necessarily adopt multiple strategies to mobilize the electorate based on local conditions. UP politics is inextricably linked to its Muslim population, with all parties excepting the BJP seeking part of the Muslim vote. Overt communal polarization is useful for the BJP here, less useful in other places. Exclusionary politics, which is the key characteristic of a majoritarian ideology, forms the core of BJP’s alliances though.  In Maharashtra, BJP finds traction in the regional chauvinism of Shiv Sena. In Tamil Nadu, BJP is in alliance with PMK, a virulently anti-dalit political party.

It is true that Modi holds an appeal to the aspirational youth, with his flair for bombastic rhetoric and masterful marketing. However his Gujarat model of development has been debunked elsewhere for its lopsided growth favoring a few corporates, based on large giveaways by the state government. Even if one were to concede otherwise, it is not possible to separate the “development” aspect of Modi from his communal politics. Modi could not have come this far without the support of the RSS. The RSS supported Modi’s claim to be the Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate and has extended an extensive ground campaign for his election. It is obvious that the RSS has done so because it sees in a potential Modi Government, an environment conducive for its own organization to thrive. The RSS, Bajrang Dal, VHP etc pracharaks who are campaigning for him so earnestly right now will run amok in a Modi government, and he won’t be able to stop them even if he wanted to. Viewed in this perspective, “Is Bar Modi ki Sarkar” seems more ominous than inviting.

* Many reports that RSS is running a highly communal campaign in other states too, including Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar etc

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