Politics is all about managing contradictions. Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh had once said he had to pay a political price because he failed to manage contradictions.
But sometimes, politics is also about creating contradictions, playing on the fault lines of India’s caste-ridden society, and giving shape to new binaries. Scratch the surface of the politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), look beneath the lofty claims of ‘integral humanism’, and we can easily find at least three distinct binaries on which the BJP has based its current politics – and its many permutations and combination across states.
Muslims still the mainstay of BJP’s politics
There is a marked pattern in the debates on the Assam NRC, the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the criminalisation of triple talaq, and the abrogation of Article 370 pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir.
– The National Register of Citizens, whose final list was released on 31 August to everyone’s disappointment, is all about identifying Bangladeshi Muslim refugees, who had entered Assam after 1971.
– The bill to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, which Home Minister Amit Shah once again vowed to reintroduce in Parliament, proposes to grant citizenship to refugees who have come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, provided they are Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists or Parsis – and not Muslims. As long as the refugees aren’t Muslims, they will be given the citizenship of India.
– The law criminalising triple talaq undoubtedly pertains to Muslims, and makes it almost impossible for Muslim couples with differences to arrive at reconciliation.
– The abrogation of Article 370 may not seem like it specifically targets a particular community but the whole purpose of taking away the former state’s special status was to ‘integrate’ Kashmir Valley – the region with 97 per cent Muslim population.
– The BJP government’s amendment to Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, was done to facilitate the Centre and the states to tag an individual as a terrorist if they “believe” the person to be so – without FIR, charge sheet or trial. If the issue of terrorism has been used to demonise any particular community in India, it’s Muslims.
Moving forward, the BJP will most likely rake up the issue of introducing a Uniform Civil Code even as the promise to construct a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya keeps surfacing around elections or in speeches of its second-rung leaders.
All this demonstrates how the BJP can never let go of the ‘Muslim factor’ – which has been the mainstay of the party’s politics. Whether it is in picking candidates in crucial states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Rajasthan, etc, in garlanding of mob lynching accused (even convicts) by senior BJP leaders and providing jobs to them – these are not unintentional acts, but a signal.
Working the caste divide
Another aspect of the BJP has been its ‘caste politics’. There is a clear pattern in how it appoints chief ministers for the states it wins. In Haryana, known as the land of Jats, the BJP-appointed chief minister is a Khatri (Manohar Lal Khattar). In Maharashtra, where nearly 30 per cent of the population is Maratha, the BJP appointed a non-Maratha Brahmin Devendra Fadnavis. In the land of Patels, Gujarat, the BJP chief minister, Vijay Rupani, is from the Jain community. In the tribal state of Jharkhand, it’s Raghubar Das, a non-tribal and an OBC, at the helm.
In these states, the BJP plays on the animosity against the dominant caste/castes, among other communities. For example, in Haryana, the BJP plays on the fear of the non-Jat communities, one that presupposes that if they do not vote for the party, a Chautala or a Hooda will rule the state and the Jats will create havoc.
Similarly, the BJP works on anti-Yadav and anti-Jatav sentiments to mobilise the lower OBCs and lower SCs in Uttar Pradesh. The party talks about bifurcating the Other Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes to harness the argument that Yadavs and Jatavs have usurped all the benefits of the quota regime. The idea that some or the other caste has taken all the benefits of quota is just a hearsay or an unsubstantiated hypothesis, and it is not backed by any data. But it serves the BJP’s politics for now.
Dalits as the new Muslims
Despite many cosmetic acts like Prime Minister Narendra Modi bowing in front of the statues of B.R Ambedkar, the government celebrating birthdays of Dalit icons, or making Ram Nath Kovind, a Kori leader, as the President of the Union, the BJP has not been able to make inroads into the ‘Dalit vote bank’. Although the party shows its winning of reserved seats as proof of “support” from the Dalit communities, the argument doesn’t hold because most of the voters in the reserved constituencies belong to the non-SC communities.
The popular sentiment among the Dalits for the BJP has only been one of anger. Whether it was over Rohith Vemula’s suicide, flogging of Dalits in Gujarat’s Una, denial of permission to protest in Saharanpur, the Bharat Bandh against the ‘dilution’ of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, or the more recent outrage over the demolition of Ravidas Gurughar in Delhi – the Dalit anger against the ruling dispensation has been loud and clear. So, any assertion that the BJP has been able to garner support among the Dalits is merely a claim no one bothers to challenge because of how preposterous it is.
All of BJP’s ‘masterstrokes’ and ‘brilliant strategies’ have roots in these binaries – and also in the two realities the party has come to accept and take in its stride. First, the BJP knows it’s more than difficult to mobilise a grand ‘Hindu unity’, in which the Dalits are also a part. The contradictions between the Dalits and the upper castes are non-reconcilable, at least at this point. Second, even without the support of the community that comprises 16 per cent of the country’s population, the BJP knows, and had shown, it can forge a social coalition large enough to win a majority.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.
This article has been updated to reflect a correction.