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  Opinion   Columnists  29 May 2024  Saeed Naqvi | Communalism not enough: It must be tied to nationalism for political results

Saeed Naqvi | Communalism not enough: It must be tied to nationalism for political results

The writer is a senior journalist and commentator based in New Delhi
Published : May 30, 2024, 12:00 am IST
Updated : May 30, 2024, 12:00 am IST

Communal tensions and political maneuvering shape Uttar Pradesh's election landscape amidst rising concerns and strategies

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses during a public meeting for Lok Sabha elections, in Bansgaon, Uttar Pradesh. (Image: PTI)
 Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses during a public meeting for Lok Sabha elections, in Bansgaon, Uttar Pradesh. (Image: PTI)
Not far from Prayagraj (Allahabad) are two contiguous villages of Dadupur and Sarangapur in Chhoka block, across the Yamuna. They are in Allahabad constituency (Prayagraj name isn’t being used in the polls). Phulpur next door was in the news as two stars were whisked away as unbelievably large crowds threatened a stampede. Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav had to be protected. Such massive crowds are indicators which way the electoral balance is tilting.
Dadupur is dominated by Shias and a sprinkling of Dalits. All Muslims, irrespective of sectarian divisions, are presumed to oppose Narendra Modi. An aggressive Shia cleric of Lucknow, Saiyyid Kalbe Jawwad, has created confusion. He went and tied an “Imamzamin” (amulet) on the arm Lucknow BJP candidate, defence minister Rajnath Singh. Was it a signal to Shia voters?
Voting there was on May 25. On May 22, three busloads of Shias left for Jogipura Dargah in Najibabad for the annual Urs, abandoning Congress candidate Ujjwal Raman Singh.
At Sarangapur, dominated by Brahmins, events took a different turn. Erstwhile pradhan Lakshmi Shankar Mishra got a call from the police station. When Mishra turned up, he was given an option: either cool your heels at the police station or go home and not be seen in public. Then at Karchchana police station, a worker Congress candidate Ujjwal Singh’s respected father, Rewati Raman Singh, was detained. When the veteran leader drove there to seek his loyalist’s release, not only did the police not release his friend, the officer issued a terse warning: you can’t step out of the thana. Word soon spread, and a crowd began to gather. Rewati Raman Singh was allowed to go home.
Going by the word of reliable journalists in Lucknow and others who travelled across UP, strong-arm police behaviour has been something of an epidemic. As I write this, I receive a call from Ambedkarnagar that the police scaled the walls of the Opposition candidate’s house to restrain his supporters from stirring out to exert influence.
Employing the police in any circumstance has become almost normal in Uttar Pradesh. However, excessive police action could also be a sign of nervousness as some reports from the field are not flattering.
In Hindutva circles, there is pronounced disappointment that building the Ram Mandir has not been much of an electoral draw. Building a temple does not stir emotions on the same scale as pulling down a mosque does. Standing with folded hands in front of Lord Ram’s image is a spiritual experience; breaking a mosque to build a temple is an angry emotional experience, translatable into political action.
If you want to go back over three decades and watch the photograph of Uma Bharti clambering onto Murli Manohar Joshi’s back watching the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, the expression on their faces is ecstatic, even orgasmic. They were really celebrating a violent victory over the Mughals. It was this kind of experience that the nation felt because of the Balakot airstrikes in 2019. It helped Narendra Modi to win the election.
Why has something like Balakot not happened this time? What is on trial, therefore, is pure, undiluted communalism, a sort of Muslim-hating not seen before as a means to mobilising crowds. The “mangalsutra” that Hindu women wear ritually will be snatched by the Muslims. They will also be handed all the reservations meant for the lower castes. All these anti-Hindu monstrosities (or so goes the allegation) will be the handiwork of the INDIA alliance, a band of Muslim lovers who will go to any lengths to please them. They will even do the “mujra” made famous by nautch girls to rouse the Muslims. All these wonderful nuggets are a part of Mr Modi’s speeches.
From this 24-carat communalism, observers have drawn different conclusions. One school of thought suggests that plunging headlong into mindless communalism is a sign of nervousness. In other words, the venom in his utterances is a rearguard action on his part because he is doing badly in the field. The second school believe that the outcome will not be determined by the ballot box, but by tricks and stratagems.
Careful attention must be given to what Jawed Laiq and Bharati Bhargava have to say after their ritual visit to the Sangam ghats. Covering the 1977 elections, Jawed turned up in Sangam: he found the boatmen and pilgrims from every part of the country a huge resource. That is how he got a world scoop: Indira Gandhi would lose the election. He has made the Sangam his regular hunting ground for election results. He has come up trumps most of the time.
This time he has returned with intelligence not available to others, after speaking to diverse Sangam pilgrims as devotees from the Northeast, tribals from Rajasthan and umpteen other places. Jawed and Bharati were surprised to discover what looked like a wave for Narendra Modi.
Jawed said that the excessive and stark communalism of Mr Modi’s election utterances were not a function of despair and nervousness. They were part of a well-crafted strategy: the more vicious his speech, the greater his popularity. Muslim-baiting pleases this lot, but I must insert a caveat: venom alone may not translate into electoral success. For this to happen, I have maintained a consistent theory -- that communalism has to be tied to nationalism to give political results.
By themselves, the “mangalsutra” or even the cow will not be enough. There has to be the menacing shadow of Pakistan lurking in the background to generate a post-Balakot-like election-changing mood. Let me abide by my theory until June 4, when the results come in.
Tags: uttar pradesh elections, 2024 lok sabha elections, communal tensions