Allies on the inside, Hindutva forces outside — Modi on delicate ground

Allies on the inside, Hindutva forces outside — Modi on delicate ground

The Modi-Amit Shah duo has not been sufficiently weakened for challengers within the party to speak out against them.

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Last Updated : 14 June 2024, 05:57 IST

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is projecting an image of continuity and business as usual by keeping his key team members intact, some things have changed irrevocably for him and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Modi must know that he has become vulnerable. With his personal margin of victory having fallen from 480,000 in 2019 to 150,000 in 2024 in Varanasi, he cannot be unaware that his public acceptability has suffered. Comparing Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government with just 182 seats against Modi with 240 in the Lok Sabha today is just the wrong sort of conclusion to draw. Under Vajpayee, the BJP was ascendant. Not for nothing do Hindus worship the rising sun and not the setting sun.

Modi must deal with public anger both in the long term, if he is unable to resolve livelihood issues, and in the short term, as despite voting against him people may be appalled to see him continue in power. Kangana Ranaut’s ‘Slapgate’ is just one indication of public anger at the arrogance of the powerful. The policewoman concerned must have been well aware that assaulting an MP would have legal consequences. It is this ‘abnormal’ mood of the public that the BJP must come to terms with.

Given the farmers’ simmering anger against his government, the BJP scored a zero in Punjab as its candidates were boycotted in the villages. Modi has not dared to visit the ethnically and politically strife-torn state of Manipur since May 2023. In Jammu and Kashmir, terrorist incidents have gone up following Modi’s swearing-in. In Baramulla, the election of a maverick politician currently in jail, Engineer Sheikh Abdul Rashid, who is not a separatist but stands opposed to New Delhi’s policies, indicates how angry the people are with the Modi government’s Kashmir policy.

Uncharacteristically anxious about projecting himself, Modi has asked supporters to remove the ‘Modi Ka Parivar’ suffix from their social media handles. Ministers also no longer talk of ‘Modi sarkar’ but of a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

Critical voices have emerged from unexpected quarters. Eknath Shinde, who owes his position in Maharashtra to the BJP, has criticised the ‘400 paar (400 plus)’ slogan given by Modi: “The 400-paar slogan created misconceptions and raised apprehensions in the minds of people that in future it will create issues.”

The Modi government will probably tweak its existing policies substantially if it wants to continue them. Its welfare schemes may have to cover more beneficiaries. The controversial Agnipath scheme which drew the ire of unemployed youth during the general elections, is already under review. Apparently, the armed forces, after conducting a survey, want to increase the retention percentage of the three-year-contract-soldiers, dubbed Agniveers, from the current 25 per cent to 60-70 per cent for regular troops and nearly 75 per cent for those in technical and specialist forces. No army conducts a survey about the acceptability of a government policy on its own initiative.

The intractable problem, however, may be in continuing the previous government’s promotion of Hindutva. No one will buy the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) as a measure of social reform. Within hours of Minister of State for Law and Justice Arjun Ram Meghwal stating that implementation of the UCC was very much on the government’s agenda, he was contradicted by the BJP’s NDA alliance partners. Janata Dal (United) national general secretary K C Tyagi said, “The UCC must be seen as a measure of reform… not a political instrumentality”.

Tyagi reminded Meghwal of JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar’s letter to the Law Commission in 2017 saying that “India was a nation based on a delicate balance in respect of laws and governing principles for different religions and ethnic groups’ and an attempt to impose the UCC by fiat could lead to ‘social friction and erosion of faith in the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion’. The other important NDA ally, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) clarified that issues like the UCC had to be discussed among the NDA allies for a consensus to evolve.

Toning down the Hindutva agenda under coalition compulsions may be necessary for Modi to retain power, but pressure from its majoritarian rank and file will persist. There is no scope for a mild line on Hindutva for the BJP cadre. Their demands may not be limited to claiming Kashi and Mathura, and perhaps other religious sites. The long-term project for a complete overhaul of the educational system — from schools to universities — including textbooks, remains incomplete.

Cadre mobilisation needs such expectations to be met if the BJP must win elections in the future. They may also surface through other Hindutva organisations like the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which may get a new lease of life as Modi is bogged down by coalition compulsions.

The lesson that the BJP cadre draws from the electoral defeat in Ayodhya, is not that livelihood issues are more important for the electorate, but that people are not Hindu enough. Already some supporters of Hindutva are asking for an economic boycott of Ayodhya for the BJP’s humiliating defeat.

In this two-front battle with allies inside and with Hindutva forces outside, Modi will be on delicate ground.

The Modi-Amit Shah duo has not been sufficiently weakened for challengers within the party to speak out against them. But the duos space for manoeuvre is restricted. It was thought that Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, a potential challenger, might be marginalised after the elections. He will, however, live to fight another day as Adityanath’s brand remains strong with the voters, and is necessary for reviving the BJP in the state.

But the duo may try to bounce back. After the Speaker’s election and the swearing-in of new MPs, operations to increase the BJP’s numbers in the Lok Sabha will begin. Retro-engineering the electoral mandate through defections will not be an easy task given the mood of the country. However, the advantage of controlling the levers of government and being able to bring policies in line with public expectations must not be underestimated.

(Bharat Bhushan is a Delhi-based journalist. X handle: @Bharatitis)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.


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