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Hindutva persists, only its degree is reduced

Hindutva persists, only its degree is reduced

While the BJP’s failure in governance concerns a cross-section of voters, the Congress’ case is not helped by parroting OBC-centric talking points of a handful of regional parties.

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Last Updated : 11 June 2024, 05:40 IST
Last Updated : 11 June 2024, 05:40 IST
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The Opposition’s impressive tally of 234 seats in India’s 18th Lok Sabha, clinched against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s stranglehold on key institutions and the media, its disproportionate capital, and a sorry conduct of the Election Commission of India (ECI), is undoubtedly a moral defeat of the mighty Narendra Modi regime.

It is also a rejection of the contemporary nationalism Modi represents, with its focus on eliminating independent thought by constantly mobilising emotion, eliminating debate, and deliberation by creating public consciousness that tends to criminalise them, and precluding assessment of the State by fixating people with an idealised past.

With his BJP now below the majority mark of 272, it is hoped that in Modi’s third term in office Indian polity’s rapid transition into an electoral autocracy, marked by uncloaked hostility for the Muslim minorities, will halt. Modi’s simmering green raiment, which he wore a day after the poll results were announced, signals that his approach towards Muslims will be restrained if not reconciliatory. Allies Nitish Kumar and N Chandrababu Naidu are unlikely to let him pioneer divisive agendas such as the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the NRC.

But to boast that the BJP’s slide into 240 seats from 303 in 2019 is the Indian masses’ repudiation of its hate politics is far from a dispassionate reading of the election outcome, which also tempts us to take the challenges ahead casually. The BJP was in for a rude shock in its Hindutva playfield of Uttar Pradesh, where its numbers fell from 62 (in 2019) to 33, but as unpalatable as it is to underline, caste and not the Opposition’s plea against hate is behind it.

This is why in much of the Hindi heartland, wherever the Opposition’s caste mobilisations were clumsily done, there was no dent in the BJP’s hegemonic presence. In Madhya Pradesh, it won all 29 seats, up from 28 in 2019. In Chhattisgarh, which has seen systematic expulsion of Christian tribals, provoked by the Right-wing’s discourse against religious conversion, it improved its tally to 10 from nine.

A less ecstatic take on the election outcome will be to note that Hindutva persists, but its degree is reduced. Two things follow: There will be more and more scrutiny of the government; and the interplay between caste identity and the BJP’s construction of a Hindu monolith identity will be fierce.

The Congress-Samajwadi Party’s attempts to assemble a coalition of the picchda (OBC), Dalit (Scheduled Castes) and alpsankhyak (minorities) — PDA — will continue to be arduous and accident-prone in future, despite the exploits in Uttar Pradesh.

The Opposition’s warning that the ‘Constitution will be altered’ precipitated the Dalits’ steady trickle into the Congress-SP fold in UP. But there were other nuances embedded in this defection: The primary Dalit leadership in UP, which is Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), is now a wreck, and headliner crimes directed against Dalit individuals, such as the one in Hathras, festered under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s watch.

In adjacent Bihar, where the BJP-led National Democratic Front (NDA) had formidable backward caste figureheads in Kumar and Chirag Paswan, the alarm bell on the Constitution didn’t work.

‘PDA’ is an inorganic alliance. The OBCs and the Dalits have had a competing identity, and historically it's been easier to assemble a coalition between the forward castes and those at the bottom-rung (that is Dalits) than between the medium castes (OBCs) and the Dalits which Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav are attempting. In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, for instance, the Congress’ focus on the OBCs is distancing it from the tribals who are switching allegiance to the BJP.

If the grand old party must translate public anger into a unanimous backlash for the BJP and inch to the 150-mark as its more fervid legion of supporters had hoped, it has to offer a more optimistic, forward-looking vision rather than fulminate over existing economic woes. It successfully exploited Jat anger in Haryana and Rajput anger in western UP and partly in Rajasthan, but, wherever the BJP wasn’t embroiled in social wrangling with a dominant caste (such as in MP, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Jharkhand) it fared poorly. The Congress’ vote share only marginally increased from 19.49 per cent in 2019 to 21.19 per cent. The BJP maintained its vote share of roughly 37 per cent.

This underscores that while the BJP’s failure in governance concerns a cross-section of voters, the Congress’ case is not helped by parroting OBC-centric talking points of a handful of regional parties. If anything, it hinders its ability to reckon with diverse demographics. Its far-Left positions on several economic matters also do not resonate with an increasingly aspirational class, who tend to read it as ‘anti-growth’.

The task ahead for the Congress is to persuade voters about its pre-eminence within the I.N.D.I.A. bloc, its vision to spur economic growth, and its ability to herald India’s lofty global role. There is no time to while away as Modi 3.0 starts what may be a bumpy ride.

(Anando Bhakto is a New Delhi-based journalist reporting on Hindi heartland politics.)

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

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