So, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaign theme is out. Delhi has been plastered with 500 big hoardings on all major roads which give the essence of it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s picture adorns the roads but only three points are mentioned as ‘achievements’ of the BJP- led Central government – Article 370, Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and resolution of the Ram Mandir issue.
On the first day of its campaign, Delhi received the first full blast of a high-profile, high-drama campaign with Amit Shah, JP Nadda and other top leaders holding roadshows in different areas, and their social media machinery putting out the nuts and bolts of the BJP’s poll plank. It was centred around these three issues, though Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) ‘failures’ were also pointed out. Newsclick had earlier written that BJP is facing a tough task and is grappling with how to pitch their campaign. It seems all that is settled now, and the knives are finally out.
What does this mean for Delhi and for the country? Many may think, and the mainstream media will assist this thinking, that BJP is simply talking about their achievements. Its usual politics, just like Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is talking about AAP’s achievements, or Congress is brooding over the glorious Sheila Dikshit days. But that would be a mistake. The BJP campaign is designed for much more than that.
Attempt to Polarise
The BJP’s real intent is not just to consolidate its support base in Delhi, which is a minimum of around 30% for many years, going up in the Lok Sabha elections, but falling back in others. All these three issues are in essence representative of its Hindutva agenda which seeks to marginalise and even terrorise minorities and assert a so-called Hindu identity. So, by raising these three issues together at the cost of all other bread and butter issues, the BJP is saying ‘forget AAP’s work or even failures, forget jobs or price rise or the economic crisis – think of the greater good of the Hindu nation’. And, of course, how the BJP has made the country proud.
Have a look at the tweet put out by the Delhi BJP’s official handle:
What’s the message here? That Kejriwal is pandering to Muslims and allowing violence and damage to public property in the name of opposing CAA.
On January 23, a BJP candidate tweeted that there is going to be an India-Pakistan match on February 8, (election day), implying that India was BJP and the AAP or Congress were Pakistan:
Or, take a look at what one of BJP’s Delhi MPs tweeted earlier:
The MP is demanding that 54 Muslim properties – mosques, graveyards, madarsas – be vacated as they were illegally built on government land. He has been persistently raising this demand. As far back as August last year, the Delhi Minorities Commission had rebutted his claims in a fact- finding report completed after visiting all the sites and checking the records. Yet, as elections approach, the BJP member of Parliament has revived his claim. In fact, the Commission had said that there were “sufficient grounds to initiate legal proceedings”. But who cares when the Delhi police is under the BJP-led Central government!
Several BJP leaders also came out in an orchestrated show, condemning the ongoing protests against CAA at Shaheen Bagh, asserting that AAP and Congress were behind it and were standing with “anarchists”.
Why These Three ‘Achievements’?
The three achievements listed by the BJP have nothing to do with Delhi specifically. One is about taking away the autonomous status of Jammu & Kashmir and dividing it into two Union territories. This was a long- standing demand of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and BJP and it was portrayed by them as an assertion of ‘nationalist pride’. At the grassroots, they also propagated this as a lesson taught to Kashmiris who were projected as ‘traitors’. So, abrogation of Article 370 is perceived as a feather in the cap for strong Hindutva.
The Ram Mandir dispute was, of course, a legal dispute for ownership of the land where the Babri Masjid had stood till it was destroyed by a mob of Hindu militants in 1992. But it was weaponised by the Sangh Parivar for gaining electoral advantage and polarising society. Last year, the Supreme Court granted possession of the land to the Hindu litigants, in a strange piece of jurisprudence. So, BJP putting this issue on its election campaign as an ‘achievement’ is disingenuous – but the larger benefit is that it established BJP’s Hindu credentials.
Finally, the CAA, passed in December 2019, provides for fast-tracking citizenship applications from ‘illegal immigrants’ who are members of all communities, barring Muslims. For the first time, India has got a statute that discriminates against one particular community. Appeals against CAA are pending in the Supreme Court, pointing out that it violates the fundamental right of equality before law, as also the basic structure of the Constitution. But, then, BJP has an election to win!
So, for BJP, the sum of all this is: We are speedily and courageously implementing measures that make Hindus proud, vote for us!
Will It Work?
It is very unlikely that this strategy will work. It failed in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana. There, too, the BJP had raised the issue of Article 370 and in Jharkhand, the CAA. But it lost both states. So, the political advantage of these issues is suspect.
Moreover, Delhi has seen widespread protests continuously since the CAA was passed. Most of these protests involve large numbers of students and women. The Muslim community has definitely been involved, but to ignore the large-scale participation of secular people of all faiths, would be myopic. Many of these protestors were earlier supporters of Narendra Modi, or at least neutral towards him. Among the younger generation, there was an attraction towards his rhetoric and chest-thumping.
But, all that is cracking up now – and rapidly. In fact, the BJP’s poll plank seems to be designed more to keep its flock together. It may claim that it is looking at retaining the 54% vote share it got in the Lok Sabha elections last year, but Delhi doesn’t vote in the same direction at different levels of governance. In fact, opinion polls indicate an erosion of up to 20 percentage points from that level.
But, what will happen is this: The poisonous campaign by BJP and the Sangh Parivar will sow seeds of division among communities. It is tragic that the ruling party is one which has taken recourse to such a dangerous ploy. But then, BJP has always fallen back on this communal plank whenever faced by an indifferent electorate.