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Mainstream, VOL LV No 9 New Delhi February 18, 2017

UP Elections 2017: BJP’s Divisive Agenda

Tuesday 21 February 2017

by Ram Puniyani

The forthcoming UP Assembly elections (2017) are regarded as very crucial for all the political parties and more so for the future of secularism and democracy in the country. The BJP’s rise on the national scene began at a higher pitch with the Ram temple agitation and the consequent rise in communal violence. Since then it has been adding more divisive issues and with greater vehemence to reap electoral benefits.

Even before the elections in UP were declared, many a BJP leader had been raising issues like the Ram temple, ‘love jihad’ and exodus of Hindus from Kairana. In Gujarat Modi, during the Gujarat carnage, used the infamous ‘action-reaction’ theory and the statement that refugee camps have become ‘child production centres’ and so should be closed down. In due course to give a neutral cover to the underlying communal agenda he did shift to the ‘development agenda’, which was more of an eyewash. Along with the media blitz and clever publicity he tried to sell his image of a ‘development man’ and took to policies to woo the corporate world. But the slip always kept showing. Even during the creation of euphoria of ‘acche din’ in the 2014 general elections, he kept on raising the issues of Pink revolution (relating to beef) and Bangladeshi immigrants in the context of saving the rhinos in Assam.

His associates did keep talking of issues related to the Hindutva agenda like the Ram temple, Triple Talaaq, Article 370 at the same time. The propaganda of development and communal message carried the day for the BJP during the 2014 elections as it managed to get a simple majority on its own in the Lok Sabha. Now the Election Commission has censured BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj for his remarks where he blames Muslims for the rise in population.

Currently in the UP elections, the attempt is on to sell ‘national pride’ in the form of the surgical strike on Pakistan and demonetisation as a measure to root out black money. It seems both of these have tarnished his public image as by now it is well known that the surgical strike was followed by the killings of Indian soldiers in large numbers. The pangs of demonetisation for the average people are too severe to make them forget their post-demonetisation suffering to be able to support the move. Sensing this the party has stepped up its divisive propaganda. The BJP manifesto delineates this in a very clever manner. It invokes Hindu pride; it talks of ushering in a ‘Sampooran Hindu samaj’ (Total Hindu society). The Ram temple issue finds its place. The critics say that the Ram temple issue is a permanent treasure for the BJP to consolidate its vote-bank as and when needed. Since the Babri demolition, this issue has been finding mention in all the BJP utterances, knowing full well that the matter is lying in the Supreme Court.

Now new dimensions have been added to the armamentarium by various leaders of the BJP. Clearly Modi will underplay the communal issues or present them in a subtle way while his colleagues down the line are more involved in these utterances in a direct and forthright manner. The issue of Hindu exodus from Kairana was raised by BJP MP Hukum Singh a while ago. Now another BJP MP, Yogi Adityanath, has made it more frightening by saying that the whole of Western UP is being converted into Kashmir, and Hindus are being terrorised and made to flee the area. As a matter of fact the issue is that post-Muzzafarnagar violence thousands of Muslims were forced to leave their villages. Hukum Singh’s assertion of Hindu exodus from Kairana was proved to be more of a make-believe as from his list of families supposed to leave the village, many of them were right there and some had left for social and economic reasons. Now the BJP manifesto is talking about a White Paper on the issue.

The Muzzafarnagar riots were instigated around the issue of ‘love jihad’, and now the BJP manifesto is talking of creating ‘Anti-Romeo squads’, which is a hidden message against inter-religious marriages, the ‘love jihad’ issue being projected in a newer language. Beef has been the major polarising point for the BJP; now after the Dadri incident they have reaped a rich crop of polarisation around this issue and the manifesto is promising to close down mechanised abattoirs. The BJP’s double-standards about gender justice are frighteningly obvious. While it is very concerned about the issue of Triple Talaq for Muslim women, it is quiet about the atrocities faced by Dalit, tribal and Hindu women. Clearly raising the issue of Triple Talaq has nothing to do with justice for the BJP; it is a stick to beat minorities with, notwithstanding the fact that Muslim women do require the abolition of practices like this which are retarding their social progress.

Sangeet Som, the BJP MLA, had recently circulated the video of his post-Dadri speech. An FIR was registered against him for violating the law and the code of conduct for the polls. Similarly another BJP MLA, Suresh Rana, has been booked on charges of inciting hatred after he said that curfew will be imposed in Kairana, Deoband and Moradabad if he is elected again in the Assembly polls next month. Yogi Adityanath has stated that the voters should remember the riots and rapes before casting their votes.

These are a few from the numerous incidents from the speeches of this outfit, whose core electoral strategy has been to polarise the public along religious lines. Through its machinations it has been adding issue after issue to the earlier existing issues like the Ram temple and Article 370. Today it has a large set of such issues which are spelt out by different leaders. Another aspect of this propaganda is that there is also a division of labour among these leaders. While some try to play the development card, some present the communal agenda in a concealed language, others are blunt and direct in rousing communal passions. The Supreme Court has opined that the electoral process should be a secular activity. We need to remind ourselves of that and the Election Commission needs to exercise restraint in a more effective way.


The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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