If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were to look for a new election symbol today, chances are the bulldozer may race ahead of any and all other alternatives. The heavy machine has come to symbolise almost everything ideological and political that defines the BJP under the current Modi-Shah leadership.
Recent visuals from Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone, where the local administration bulldozed homes of alleged arsonists and stone-pelters accused of attacking a Ram Navami procession, speak volumes about what a bulldozer stands for in the BJP’s vocabulary.
It is a symbol of the party’s brute force both within and outside Parliament. While the numerical majority has given the saffron party a license to ride roughshod over established democratic processes, fringe groups and mobs under its patronage give it the muscle power outside Parliament. Just as it manages to bulldoze every iota of criticism, the bulldozer, too, crushes past everything.
The bulldozer is also symbolic of the imbalance of power both in our society and politics. It is a symbol of the excesses, insults, and punishment that a marginalised and vilified community can be subjected to. The message is loud and clear—bow down to our whims and fancies, or suffer. Just as a helpless community watched its homes being razed to the ground, a weak and spiritless opposition is watching the BJP cruising towards a ‘Opposition-mukt Bharat’.
The bulldozer is also representative of the generational change within the BJP. The innocuous lotus perhaps stood for a BJP anchored in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s moderate Hindutva. Although a Hindu nationalist, Vajpayee would always distance himself and make his displeasure known each time the BJP showed signs of embracing a more radical and muscular Hindu nationalism. His disapproval of Advani’s Rath Yatra in the late ’80s and the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 under then-chief minister Modi’s watch spoke of a BJP yet to feel confident enough to wear its Hindu nationalism on its sleeve. Coalition dharma meant that the BJP had to operate within the ‘Nehruvian consensus’ and bide its time.
The BJP under the Modi-Shah duo, however, is a different beast. Armed with the biggest electoral majority in the last three decades, it is representative of an electoral force that wears the dictum, ‘Garv se kaho hum Hindu hai‘ (Proudly acknowledge that you are a Hindu) on its sleeve. The prime minister is already a saviour of the Hindus for his legion of followers and for many, he is a demigod. He, in turn, leaves no opportunity to buttress his Hindu credentials whether by donning a saint’s look or by putting his religion over the position he holds. His participation in laying the foundation of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and the inauguration of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor in Varanasi speak as much. Perhaps there is a realisation that the BJP’s time has arrived and that a significant chunk of Hindus is ready to embrace hardcore Hindutva.
More than anything else, it is the sheer power and the helplessness of those it is used against, that makes the bulldozer so lucrative a symbol for the BJP. The minor ‘irritants’ in the pursuit of Hindutva— the Constitution and its promise of liberty and equality—can be taken for a ride. The bulldozer thus is the political equivalent of the modern-day ‘buy now, pay later’ scheme politically rebranded as ‘punish now, deal with the law later’. And so the powers that be routinely assume the role of the complainant, prosecutor, and the judge at the same time. The result is disproportionate suffering for a community. The wheels of justice may eventually catch up but the message has been sent and the damage has already been done.
So here’s a suggestion for the BJP—come 2024, it should seriously consider replacing the lotus with the bulldozer. That will be more in sync with the party’s words and actions, and imagery of a new India.
The author is a student at University of Calcutta, Kolkata. Views are personal