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Hate Ecosystem: Is BJP Losing the Plot?

The saffron party clearly displays the anxiety of being unable to deliver on any of the governance-related promises or coming close to fulfilling people’s expectations. This is forcing the party and its leaders to provide a free run to forces that stand to jeopardise social stability.

Two hashtags which trended on Twitter recently – #HinduLivesMatter and #SupremeCourtIsCompromised – epitomise the perilous path that the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are treading. Neither was formally sponsored by the BJP but originated and was kept in circulation by many within its ecosystem.

They are the products of a timbre with bigotry and loathing as constant notes. The BJP has played this cacophonous dissonance for decades from the late 1980s, making hay while hate ruled.

The risk of this device or appliance switching to auto-pilot mode is now increasing by the day. There is little that the leadership can do at this late stage but hope that its script does not go awry in a self-propelled mode.

But first, the back story is essential.

“The progress of human history,” former BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani, who shepherded the party during its toughest periods, wrote in his memoirs, My Country, My Life, “rarely follows a linear path.”

“Mass movements,” he further said, “seldom unfold entirely according to a predetermined script. Events sometimes take an unexpected turn. Untoward events take place. Setbacks happen. Often that is irreversible, something that was not desired by the leaders and not even anticipated by the followers.

For him, the demolition of the Babri Masjid was one such event and a part of the “extraordinary category of history-changing events”. For him, it remained "unclear who had broken the ranks and taken the law into their own hands.”

In his account of the day’s events, he narrated how he failed in his efforts to get exuberant activists in Ayodhya to climb down from the domes of the mosque.

Other leaders, Ashok Singhal, HV Seshadri, Vijayaraje Scindia and Uma Bharati, too tried. But, their labours “seemed to have no effect”. The first of this lot, the initial charioteer of the Ram temple agitation, was even “manhandled while making these attempts.”

Part of the reason behind the failure to ensure that the mob did not charge toward the Babri Masjid was due to the deeply-held belief that the mosque must ‘yield’ to a temple.

Advani wrote that after making desultory pleas to vacate the mosque site, the same set of leaders were affected, after the demolition, by the “mood of elation” in the temple-town. “Someone came and started distributing sweets,” he wrote.

This was firm proof that in their hearts, almost every leader was glad and happy at the heartbreaking turn of events.

A detailed recap of the so-called failure, or if one may, deliberate intention to let the demolition 'happen', was necessary to flag a question.

If the Sangh Parivar stalwarts – then too, like it is since 2014, the Ram temple agitation was a multi-organisation project involving the phalanx of RSS-BJP-VHP-Bajrang Dal – failed in preventing the demolition of Babri Masjid and ensuring the promise to the highest court to maintain status quo was kept, what certainty is there that the present lot of activists, foot soldiers or neo-converts, do not take “law into their own hands” once again and trigger a repeat of violence witnessed in the aftermath of December 6, 1992?

Can any senior Hindutva leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi downward, ensure that anger being whipped in the days following the reprehensible killing of the Udaipur tailor is prevented from being directed at the entire community for the crimes of two of them?

Will any of this regime’s leaders ensure that aspersions are not cast at the Supreme Court and its judges? Why has none of the leaders, not disapproved of Nupur Sharma’s eulogisation?

The BJP, or any of its affiliates, failed to emerge as a principal party of governance for almost four and half decades after independence. In the late 1980s, it became a serious contender for power only after the Ram Janmabhoomi movement secured public support.

There were periods thereafter when the BJP and its affiliates underplayed Hindutva-centric programmes – for instance, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee between 1996 and 2004, and again when Modi, as chief minister, showcased himself as riding the development podium against Hindu protectionism.

But, the party never deviated from its primary goal of making the religious minorities, Muslims and Christians (adherents of non-Indic religions) the lesser among equals.

In pursuit of this objective, phases when the BJP mainly propagated pro-Hindu policies (if in government) and politics based on 'genuine' secularism alternated with the politics of deepening anti-Muslim prejudices in society wherein belittling Islam, and its followers was an integral component.

The biggest failure of Modi has been his incapacity to integrate pro-Hindu politics with non-discriminatory pro-people and disparity-reducing development policies and programmes.

The dividing line between the moderate line and the hard-line that existed during the Vajpayee years was completely erased. Evidently, a comfortable parliamentary majority was interpreted as a social majority too.

So-called welfare schemes that are essentially doles aimed at enfeebling the people are cited to argue that the government does not look at anyone’s religious identity to decide if she or he qualifies to be a beneficiary.

Yet, from 2014 onwards, recurringly, the government and the Sangh Parivar allowed several of its leaders besides the rank and file to push boundaries of pro-Hindu politics and convert it into campaigns aimed at deepening anti-Muslim bias, switch indifference into hatred, and ostracism into physical attacks.

Since 2019, more particularly, there has been no end to this. We now see that the systemic campaign has been conjoined with attacks on adversaries in civil society, media, academia, arts and culture; in short, anyone who dares make a reply and has the temerity to reason why.

These intolerance-heightening politics has converted India into a trigger-happy majoritarian state where every Muslim is held responsible for falsely-perceived ‘indignities’ in the ‘past’.

Despite it resulting in rich electoral yields for the BJP, there is now an immense risk of the nation imploding.

The sane in this country live with the worry that at any moment, anger and hatred may clash with the rising sense of alienation and feeling hurt.

Quite often, it has been noticed that asking for constitutionally enshrined rights is frowned upon – by no lesser individuals than the prime minister and the First Citizen, who openly asked people to first fulfil fundamental duties instead of asking for their rights.

In contrast, those that work to deny these rights to people and keep them enslaved are given all the kudos.

Two genies are out in India. The first is propelled by hate for the imaginary other who is every now then also labelled as ‘one of us’ or adherents of Sanatan Dharam.

The other is the abject failure to not just improve the marginalised but also ensure that those who extricated themselves from the morass do not keep sinking into it as they have in recent years, especially after the onset of the pandemic.

The BJP might get temporarily discomfited by those like Nupur Sharma and find that the attacks on Justices JB Pardiwala and Surya Kant are needless and unwarranted.

But many of these motor mouths and Internet Hindutvawadis graduated from the same OTCs that senior Sangh Parivar leaders attended and which are addressed every year by the Sarsanghchalak as he did this year when he made the misleading statement on Gyanvapi Masjid.

The BJP clearly displays the anxiety of being unable to deliver on any of the governance-related promises or coming close to fulfilling people’s expectations. This is forcing the party and its leaders to provide a free run to forces that stand to jeopardise social stability.

With communal polarisation being the only 'card' that has the potential to work for the BJP on the road to 2024, besides the ‘who’s the alternative’ argument, the spiral of hate and creating new enemies of the people runs the constant risk of going out of control.

Attempting to show that he is personally not discriminatory towards Muslims and other minorities, Modi asked party leaders of BJP to reach out to the deprived, non-elite among them on issues of development and welfare programmes.

But this merely underscores the duplicitousness of the BJP and its leaders. Can one engage in development programmes after running bulldozers through their localities and by permitting hooliganism outside mosques and churches?

It is time for the Sangh Parivar leadership to accept that it plays only one card well, and the quicker it prepares for the consequences, the better it would be for the country.

The writer is a NCR-based author and journalist. His latest book is The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India. He has also written The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin

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