Tuesday November 13, 2018
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‘BJP divisive impulses are test of India’s plurality’

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The 12 per cent increase in the BJP’s vote share at the national level between 2009, when it secured 18.8 per cent, and 2014, when this rose to 31, showed that a fairly large section of those who did not constitute the party’s traditional support base had voted for it. The reason for their support is known– Narendra Modi’s promise of rapid economic growth.

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Two questions are relevant here; one is how many of those who chose the BJP, probably for the first time, have remained with it? the other is whether the party’s traditional supporters, who seemingly have less interest in the economy and development than in a pro-Hindu outlook, are influencing the party’s agenda.

According to a recent survey, Modi’s approval rating remains high. However, it is a curious feature of present-day politics that support for the Prime Minister cannot ipso facto be equated with support for his party. This strange outlook of the voters was highlighted by the Delhi assembly elections where the BJP was badly mauled.

But, otherwise, the party was able to hold its own in states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand and even made inroads in Jammu and Kashmir. The outcome of the civic elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka has also underlined the BJP’s continuing influence.

Although the party appears to be well-entrenched, there is at least a section of its non-traditional supporters who may have become uneasy about some aspects of the government’s policies.

To be fair, such disillusionment is normal in any democracy where no ruling party can boast of cent per cent support. Even then, there are bound to be some in the party’s 12 per cent ‘extra’ supporters who are currently engaged in mental balancing acts between the government’s positive and negative features.

While they will be hoping that it will pursue the promised economic reforms, they will also wonder whether an increasingly prosperous India will not also harbour intolerant sectarian elements.

What is more, these may not be driven by anti-Muslim sentiments alone as at the time of the BJP’s emergence from the margins of politics to centre-stage in the 1990s, but by attitudes involving minorities other than the Muslims which can also open up a divide between sections of the Hindus themselves, such as between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

It is not surprising that Mumbai, with its cosmopolitan mix of communities, should be a focal point of such competitive parochialism and varying dietary preferences with the compulsively vegetarian Jains being sought to be placated with a ban on the consumption of meat during one of their festivals and a counter move by the Shiv Sena and Navnirman Sena to oppose the prohibition.

The controversy has been largely defused by a judicial directive allowing the sale of meat. But what the uproar has shown is how the BJP’s record can be hit by the various divisive impulses which are coming to the fore.

Mercifully, the apprehensions of communal acrimony have subsided because the government has apparently compelled the saffron hotheads to cool down. The attacks on churches have stopped though not the killing of rationalists.

But other issues which should have been allowed to remain very much in the background have raised their heads. Vegetarianism is one of them and the promotion of Hindi another. An RSS mouthpiece, Panchjanya, has argued that English should be ‘chased away’ and Hindi encouraged ‘to become an organ of Bharat’s self-respect, progress and pride’.

Although the Panchjanya remembers the anti-Hindi agitation of the 1960s in Tamil Nadu, which made Jawaharlal Nehru say English will remain one of the official languages as long as the non-Hindi speakers want it, the magazine tries to circumvent the episode by saying that ‘conspiracies were hatched to organize other Indian languages against Hindi’ without advancing any credible evidence of such sinister plots.

Probably, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will ask the newly-appointed saffron apparatchiki in the Indian Council of Historical Research to unearth such proof. As a member of the Hindutva lobby has noted in the context of the saying that history is written by victors, ‘the so-called Hindu Right is the victor and a history will get a new coat of paint and varnish and also numerous designer alterations’.

If such observations are regarded as not representative of official views, this cannot be said of union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma’s statements on imposing a ban on the sale of meat during the nine-day Navratri festival, making Hindi compulsory in schools and including Ramayana and Mahabharata in the school curriculum, but not the Bible and Quran since these do not reflect India’s ‘soul’.
His most quotable quote, however, was the observation that the former president, APJ Abdul Kalam, was a nationalist “despite being a Muslim”.

Carrying on from where the culture minister had left off, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has ordered that all files should be signed in Hindi.

It is yet to be seen whether these diktats are floaters intended to test the public mood. But the non-saffron supporters of Modi cannot but be concerned about the articulations of important people in the government which contravene the country’s pluralist norms.

(Amulya Ganguli, IANS )

 

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India Begins Its Election Season With Five States

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh.

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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses the gathering during the 'Global Mobility Summit' in New Delhi, India, VOA

India began on Monday the first of five state elections to be held in coming weeks, important tests for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he plots a course that he hopes will ensure him victory in a general election due by May.

Voters in the central state of Chhattisgarh went to the polls on Monday to elect representatives for 18 of the state assembly’s 90 seats in a staggered poll complicated by logistical problems and left-wing guerrillas.

The state of about 26 million people has been ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2003, and he will be hoping to hold on to power.

India, elections
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Continues To Stay Mum On The #MeToo Movement. Wikimedia Commons

“Some unholy people have handed guns to children who should have pens in their hands,” Modi told a rally in the state on Friday, referring to the rag-tag guerrillas battling government forces from forest hideouts. “They’ve finished the lives of our tribal children.”

Hundreds of election workers had to be flown in to remote polling stations by helicopter because of the danger posed by the rebels.

Modi called for voters to back his BJP and its vision of “development for all.”

The final phase of voting in Chhattisgarh, which is known for its coal, iron ore and bauxite reserves, will be on Nov. 20.

India,India, elections
India’s Congress party President Rahul Gandhi displays documents as he accuses Narendra Modi’s government of buying 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault at a highly inflated price, in New Delhi, India. VOA

The BJP was the preference of about 43 percent of voters in Chhattisgarh, 7 percentage points ahead of the main opposition Congress party, according to a survey released last week by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Modi’s other big tests will be in the neighboring central state of Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is slightly ahead of Congress, according to polls, and in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, where Congress is expected to emerge victorious.

A good performance by the BJP in the elections would help it deflect growing criticism over unemployment and a crisis in the countryside over falling farm prices and wages.

India, elections
Modi Appeals For A Regional Front Against Terrorism, flickr

Elections will also be held for assemblies in Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh, including Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest and the BJP chief minister in Uttar Pradesh state.

Also Read: PM Narendra Modi Announces Easier Access to Credit

Adityanath has been appealing to the BJP’s Hindu-nationalist base and on Sunday accused the opposition of blocking construction of a temple for Hindu god Ram on a disputed site in Uttar Pradesh.

The destruction of a mosque on the site by a Hindu mob in 1992 sparked deadly riots across the country. (VOA)