Dhruvikaran jab paschim se hoti hai, tab lehar door tak jaati hai(when polarisation begins from the west, the wave travels far).
This assertion by a senior BJP leader a couple of months ago explains why the party is once again harping on the same themes it did in 2014 to bag 73 of the 80 parliamentary seats at stake in Uttar Pradesh.
Close on the heels of state chief minister and not-yet official mascot of the Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav, launching his Vikas Rath Yatra; the BJP too got into the act.
As part of its strategy to touch base in each of the 403 Assembly constituencies, the BJP launched two parivartan yatras over the weekend and is scheduled to inaugurate two more campaign cavalcades on November 8 from Sonbhadra, and November 9 from Balia.
The first of the yatras was kickstarted from Saharanpur, on November 5, where Modi declared some months ago that he was a UP-wallah now. The reason why Modi chose this city to celebrate Vikas Parv, to mark the second anniversary of his government, was because of its strategic location and demographic character – it is in one extremity of western UP and, according to the 2011 Census, around 51 per cent of the population is Hindu and 46 per cent is Muslim.
The Islamic seminary, Darul Uloom, is located in this district and despite its nationalistic tradition, is often painted as a breeding ground of Islamic bigotry by Hindutvawadi forces. Kairana, the town which was unsuccessfully used to raise the bogey of Hindu exodus, is part of the adjacent Shamli district and one of the sensitive towns in the region that witnessed massive communal conflagration in 2013, enabling the BJP to polarise the state to its benefit.
In his public meeting in Saharanpur in May, Modi did not sound the poll bugle but Rajnath Singh, also at the rally, left no ambivalence when he declared the party’s 14-year-old vanvaas (referring to the gap from 2002 when Singh was the last BJP chief minister) had ended.
Modi backed this by seeking blessings from the people by virtue of being an elected representative from the state. BJP chief Amit Shah too sought divine endorsement for the BJP campaign from Ma Shakumbri Devi, a local deity, and a form of Shakti and bestowed by mythology with power so great that she killed a demon king, Maha Datiya, also referred as Mahisasur.
A day before Shah’s public meeting, state president Keshav Prasad Maurya visited the temple, almost 40 km from Saharanpur. He joined prayers, sang bhajan and sought blessings for the rath before driving it down to the ground where the public meeting was held.
That use of religious symbols will be inherent in BJP’s campaign in UP became clear in early October when Modi started his speech on Dussehra in Lucknow by chanting Jai, Jai Shri Ram. This was followed by Mahesh Sharma, the culture minister, visiting Ayodhya and announcing a Ramayana Museum.
Decoding Shah’s speeches in Saharanpur and Jhansi (on November 6) make it clear the party is banking on a mix of social polarisation, nationalistic jingoism which is thereafter topped with a few strands of the development yarn.
Shah began at both places by a fair dose of parivartan rapid fire. But soon it became transparent that this is just a disguise for the actual thrust of the campaign. He understandably attacked the BJP’s principal rivals, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party.
Shah launched his tirade against the two by listing corruption and law and order as the biggest failings. He made a preposterous claim in Jhansi: “Every person in Budlelkhand region can get a Maruti car from the money that has been siphoned off by SP leaders in the mining scam.”
Yet, he did not appear as believing his own words. Mayawati, after all, was attacked ad nauseam during the 2012 election campaign for her megalomaniacal constructions of parks and statues. This has now been put in the past and is unlikely to weaken the BSP leader as she is painstakingly consolidating support among numerically significant Dalits and Muslims, to whom law and order mainly means majority oppression.
In his meetings Shah claimed goondaism had become rampant under SP rule and added that BSP was no different. Specifically he mentioned in Saharanpur that “if there is Ateeq, Azam, Afzal and Mukhtar here (meaning SP), we have Nasimuddin (Siddiqui) there (indicating BSP). Where will you escape to? It’s a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
The BJP president unabashedly equated Muslims with goondaism in an attempt to polarise voters on communal lines and consolidate Hindus in support of his party. He ignores the fact that the primary identity of criminals is not religion. Yet, Shah named and shamed only Muslims among them.
In contrast to SP and BSP’s open patronage to criminals (Muslims), Shah referred to the Kalyan Singh government (not the regime under Rajnath Singh intriguingly) when they were either “jail ke andar” or “zameen ke andar”. The last bit drew maximum applause because of its obvious connotation.
The issue of alleged forced “exodus” from Kairana is not dead despite the hoax being called and featured prominently in Shah’s speech. Shah promised he would not allow exodus of Hindus but would ensure that those who make such attempts will be evicted.
Shah also raised the issue of triple talaq to underscore that it will be a clear election issue and suddenly the BJP is shedding crocodile tears for Muslim women.
The laboured efforts of Shah and other BJP leaders to raise the communal pitch demonstrate the party’s desperation. The party is particularly hamstrung by the absence of a chief ministerial face. As a result Shah and Modi will have to shoulder greater responsibility.
But going by the feeble response to Shah’s exhortations at the two meetings, the BJP campaign is yet to display signs of picking up significant momentum.
This article was Originally published on DailyO