OPINION | For the BJP, polarisation is policy

Many more Indians are beginning to see that communal divisiveness and polarisation is BJP social policy

BJP's promises of ‘Vikas’ have given way to openly polarising rhetoric.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Twitter handle recently posted Amit Shah’s statement, “We will ensure implementation of NRC in the entire country.  We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha (sic), Hindus and Sikhs.” It caused a furore, not because it is an open communal threat, but because it is an open communal threat that many more people are inclined to believe after five bruising years of the BJP government.
Cynical political animals tend to dismiss campaign rhetoric as a strategic ploy tailored to the audience, and not representative of expected policy or governance. This is often true, but the test of knowing your politics is being able to tell insubstantial balloons floated for votes, from cannon balls that mean business. 
The black joke that Narendra Modi played upon India in 2014 was to convince enough non-Hindutva supporters that the communal rhetoric underlying the BJP’s ‘Vikas’ election campaign was just such a strategic balloon. 
In the 2014 campaign, the Prime Minister made references to the ‘pink revolution’, Amit Shah urged people to “take revenge” against parties who stood up for Muslims displaced by the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, the party pledged to build the Ram Temple and to establish ‘Ram Rajya’; and even thought these shrill calls to Hindutva arms were muted compared to the BJP’s grand vision of ‘Vikas’ and its attacks on the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, they were heard by all. 
Many voters were in denial of the seriousness of this talk, failing to recognise that it is entirely of a piece with the RSS-BJP’s oldest, most fervent, most consistent, and entirely open agenda—to create a Hindu supremacist state with Hindutva politics. This state is to be a strong and prosperous world leader, yes, but also purified of such pollutants as Muslims, Communists, rationalists, ‘traitors’, and Western mindsets.
As the BJP’s power peaked, in the aftermath of several state elections that gave most of India into its hands, it needed less and less to string voters along with promises of ‘Vikas’, and has taken ever more to blunt, thuggish rhetoric, ranging from misogyny to jingoism, to incitement to violent vigilantism. Now that it is struggling with public disapproval of its economic failures, it is mining its core competence—communal divisiveness—at full throttle. 
With top leadership from the Prime Minister to Amit Shah to Arun Jaitley using language like ‘tukde tukde gang’ and ‘urban naxals’, the party has gradually closed the public distance between ‘the fringe’ and ‘the mainstream’—a distance that was always entirely cosmetic. 
There is closer scrutiny of rhetoric during election campaigns because of the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct rules, but the rhetorical direction has not suddenly changed. For five years, dissenters have been told to go to Pakistan; lynchings have been met with complicit—read encouraging—silence; Muslims and Kashmiris have been conflated with Pakistanis and terrorists; Muslim immigrants to India have been called ‘termites’;  Muslim livelihoods have been decimated; the Prime Minister has said that it is good that people are fearful. 
Amit Shah’s statement does not say anything shockingly new, it is simply the most recently planted flag. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that this kind of cannon ball rhetoric has been part and parcel of BJP policy, and in that sense Amit Shah is merely the honest face of this government.
But for five years the media has reported outrageous events and comments by ministers and government officials as if they are outlying, isolated incidents, without joining the dots, and insisted on focusing on the weeds of ‘economic policy’ and the like, without clearly articulating that communal divisiveness and polarisation is BJP social policy. When the Prime Minister appointed the overtly communal Ajay Bisht, or ‘Yogi Adityanath’ as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, media voices unctuously declared that we should ‘give him a chance’.
There should certainly be a furore over Amit Shah’s recent comments. But until the electorate recognises that a furore is exceedingly belated, we will be panting after whatever few non-communal crumbs the BJP tosses us by way of promises of ‘development’ and ‘prosperity’. The BJP leopard has not suddenly changed its spots; it’s just that the scales have fallen from many more Indian eyes.
(Mitali Saran is a freelance writer based in Delhi, and a columnist for Business Standard)

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OPINION | For the BJP, polarisation is policy


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