Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay | Will BJP's before' & after' 2017 line deliver UP 2022?

The central prong has been always to poke at pre-existing religios prejudice of Hindus against Muslims

By virtue of being a voter in Uttar Pradesh, a handbill was delivered along with the day’s newspapers. It was, from the BJP’s nominee, a sitting MLA who won with one of the largest vote margins in 2017. No rival has undertaken this exercise yet, indicating either that they have given up the fight, or presumed that our middle-class locality is unlikely to vote for them. Despite being the incumbent, the “marketing” flier with the BJP candidate’s gloat-filled and photo-shopped picture prioritised serving a reminder to voters of the “before 2017” era and not the “after 2017” section. It mirrored the incessant “before 2014” refrain of the BJP’s un-harmonic orchestra conducted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with teleprompters in front. The difference being that while the party’s national campaign stresses on the previous seven decades or so as being a period of zero or insignificant achievement, this BJP aspirant’s handout depicts the years before 2017 as when lawlessness was rampant and hooligans stealthily pounced on sisters-daughters, traders and anyone seeking their legal entitlements. The 15-point list of blemishes of the pre-BJP period, (essentially under the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party) is aimed at reminding people of the “horror shows” previously, while the post-March 2017 phase is depicted as an era of golden contrasts. Women and girls are “not scared now, but offenders are the ones looking for avenues to slink away”. While the idol of Ram Lalla was beneath a tent previously, a grand temple for the deity is coming up now. Previously, our district had a Haj House to enable the Haj-bound to stay while completing last-minute procedures before emplaning for Saudi Arabia. To be one up on them and to match such “appeasement”, the BJP government has constructed a lavish Kailash Mansarover Bhavan, despite the fact that the pilgrimage is unlikely this year too after the Covid-19 pandemic led to the yatra’s cancellation from 2020 onwards.

In the leaflet, of the listed “achievements”, most are in the sphere of religious (cultural) counter-balancing actions: floral showers on Kanwar Yatras in place of bans, Deepotsav in Ayodhya and the Maha Kumbh in Prayagraj as against the Saifai Mahotsav, official Navratri celebrations and not Iftar parties and finally bhajans over loudspeakers every morning and evening in place of the ban previously. The next largest cluster of the failures-successes juxtapositions are in the realm of crime, criminals and criminality, where the dog-whistle links them to Muslims and their associates — official protection for goondas replaced with a tenure when they were on the run and instead of cases against the criminals being withdrawn by the government, and their properties are being “bulldozed”.

The development spiel finds little mention in the pamphlet, but even the three “feats” listed are contentious. Like, for instance, the claim that potholed roads have been replaced by expressways, flyovers and elevated corridors. As a resident of UP, I can testify that the quality of roads, by and large, remain the same. Likewise, many flyovers and the 10 km-plus elevated corridor in the district were started during the “dark” days.

The BJP candidate did not seek votes on the basis of improving people’s livelihood and for efficient tackling of the health and economic crises triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The poll plank of the BJP candidate in our constituency has a continuing narrative in the party’s manifesto and epitomises the party’s thrust in trying to retain the state, that is considered by most as central to the Prime Minister’s campaign for the next Lok Sabha elections in 2024. From the time the party’s three major flag-bearers — Narendra Modi, Union home minister, Amit Shah and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath — blew the bugle in autumn last year, the emphasis was on reminding voters of the alleged criminals-Muslims-Yadavs-police nexus. Earlier too, several law-and-order measures, for instance the formation of “anti-Romeo squads” and calls for “thok do” (shoot) had a clear majoritarian orientation.

When the BJP made its political advent in Uttar Pradesh, in the 1980s and 1990s, the articulate leadership then coined the idea of reverse polarisation in seats where Muslims were present in large numbers. By claiming they were consolidating against the BJP, unabashedly presented as being committed to furthering Hindu interests, its leaders beseeched the community to line up behind the party en masse to demonstrate the might of “awakened” Hindus. Going one step forward, by juxtaposing the Haj House with Kailash Mansarovar Bhavan and Iftar parties with official Navratri celebrations, the BJP has graduated to reverse-appeasement.

From when the trishul or trident became the symbol of demonstrating Hindu assertiveness in the course of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, the BJP’s political campaign has been multi-pronged. However, the central prong has been always to poke at pre-existing religious prejudice of Hindus against Muslims, convert this into fear and eventually electorally harness this sentiment to the BJP’s favour. It is the consistent strategy of fostering hatred that has resulted in the dangerous situation of proverbially spawning a thousand Nathuram Godse-like characters.

Despite showcasing the state police force’s purported “efficiency”, the attack on AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi is a pointer to a grave threat to India’s internal security. The statements of the accused point to the emerging gun-culture with a majoritarian thrust in the country and the absence of widespread condemnation from the BJP leadership will only encourage more Sachin Sharmas and Shubhams to express their rage and fury at provocative statements by leaders like Mr Owaisi, not with words or action but by emptying a few rounds of bullets.

The absence of remorse from any senior BJP leaders, even before the hate speeches at the so-called Dharam Sansad faded from public memory, is a marker to the thin ice that we are all walking on.

That hate begets hate is a truism but the BJP leadership has consistently looked the other way. With the stakes high in UP for being part of the first round of polls after the ferocity of the Covid-19 pandemic and the collapse of governance during last year’s second wave and the incapacity of the Central and state governments to put the personal economies of devastated citizens back on track, the rest of the campaign will be indicative of the inter-community relationship in future. Going by the pamphlet that came along with the day’s news, the portents are not encouraging, but one hopes good sense prevails on the BJP leadership and they douse the raging flame they have stoked in millions of hearts.

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