New Delhi: Laws against conversion and ‘love jihad’, temple restoration, and a check on communal exclusion — these are some of the common themes that define the promises made by the BJP in its manifestos for the upcoming assembly elections in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Promises to check cow slaughter and/or smuggling find a mention in the manifesto for West Bengal, Assam and Tamil Nadu, but not in the one for Kerala, where beef is widely consumed.
The coming assembly elections are crucial for the BJP as they will decide the success or failure of the party’s expansion plans in the south, where it has so far only tasted power in one state (Karnataka).
While the BJP is looking to retain power in Assam, where it formed its first government in 2016, West Bengal is being seen as its prime focus. The party has made giant strides in the state in recent years, trumping the Left and the Congress to emerge as the ruling Trinamool Congress’ main rival in the coming election.
Results for the elections will be announced on 2 May.
The West Bengal elections will be held in eight phases, beginning 27 March and ending 29 April. In the state, the party has promised to constitute separate ‘task forces’ to curb alleged land grabbing, cattle smuggling and communal violence.
According to the manifesto, while the ‘Niratonko Task Force’ will seek to “investigate and curb communal and terror incidents, and take strict action” against the perpetrators, the ‘Go Surokkha Task Force’ is meant to to “check the sale and illegal smuggling of cows across the border”.
The manifesto also promises a Rs 100 crore “temple restoration fund” to renovate and repair temples across the state.
Temples also find a mention in the manifesto for Tamil Nadu, which will hold elections in a single phase on 6 April. The BJP is contesting 20 seats in the state, in alliance with the ruling AIADMK.
Termed the ‘Tholainokku Pathram’, the manifesto says the BJP will ensure the administration of Hindu temples is handed over to “a separate board comprising Hindu scholars and saints”. Temple administration is currently controlled by the state government.
It promises special courts for speedy resolution of long-pending murder cases related to communal violence, with daily hearings — as it has done in West Bengal — and quotes the maxim “justice delayed is justice denied”.
At the same time, it has promised “strict anti-conversion laws” to criminalise religious conversion by force or allurement. “Freedom of Religion Act-Right to freedom of religion is not the same as forcible religious conversion. Strict anti-conversion laws will be enacted in the state to criminalise religious conversion by force or allurement,” it states.
The manifesto says recommendations made in the report of the Justice Venugopal Commission, formed to look into the Kanyakumari riots of 1982, will be implemented to prevent communal violence in the state.
Under the head “cow protection”, the party has promised an “anti-cow slaughter act” in Tamil Nadu, in accordance with the Indian Constitution.
“Total ban will be imposed on smuggling of cows to Kerala and other states for beef and meat. Gaushalas will be established in various temples to shelter and upkeep cows seized from cattle smugglers (sic),” it states.
‘Love jihad, land jihad’
In Assam, where elections will be held in three phases on 27 March, 1 April and 6 April, the party has promised “appropriate laws and policies to tackle and end the menace of love jihad and land jihad”.
A special task force is on offer to end the “menace of cattle smuggling in Assam”, as is a de-radicalisation policy “to identify and strictly quash organisations and individuals from fanning the flames of communal exclusion and separatism”.
As part of its temple restoration push, it has promised to improve road connectivity and upgrade critical amenities — power supply to hotels, public transport, restrooms — around important temples, including the Maa Kamakhya Shakti Peeth, Navagraha Temple, and Shivadol, to attract visitors.
If voted to office, the BJP will also stop illegal encroachments near religious places, the manifesto states. “We will stop illegal encroachments from Namghars (prayer houses) and help them with Rs 2.5 lakh each for proper reconstruction,” the party says.
In Kerala, where the party is trying to make inroads and has fielded ‘Metro man’ E, Sreedharan, the BJP has promised that temple administration will be freed from political control and entrusted to devotees.
It has also promised a legislation for the “protection of traditions and practices of Sabarimala temple”, apparently in light of the controversy surrounding the entry of girls and women of the menstruating age group into the temple.
Other promises include: “Legislation for an independent, non-political and devotee-controlled temple administration as recommended by K.P. Sankaran Nair commission. Urgent steps to reacquire the encroached land of temples. Facilities to be instituted in temples for the study of Sanatana Dharma. Project to revive and renovate temples which are in a dilapidated condition.”
In addition, the party has vowed a legislation against “love jihad” and a ban on forcible religious conversion. The only mention of “cow” in the manifesto is with reference to a promise to expand and modernise “the elephant yard and cow shed at Guruvayoor”.
Kerala will have a single-phase election on 6 April.
Weighing in on the BJP manifestos, political experts say the party is known for showcasing its ideological issues in its election promises, whether national or in states.
“Manifestos are important for political parties even when they are not read or discussed by the public at large. First, they work as a signal for the party’s own cadre to get talking points to mobilise voters. Second, they serve as a template for leaders when they are in power,” said Rahul Verma, a political scientist and fellow at the think tank Centre for Policy Research.
“In the recent past, the BJP has been much clearer than other parties in its positioning on ideological issues as far as party manifesto is concerned. This is being reflected in its state manifestos too,” he added.
Edited by Sunanda Ranjan