Playing ‘cards’: Dalit, OBC, Hindutva, good governance

Playing ‘cards’: Dalit, OBC, Hindutva, good governance

In perspective

Modi is not a sure card in state polls. No matter that Modi personalised the Hindutva card and more. Credit: PTI Photo

Politics in India is becoming more like a rollercoaster ride for all political parties, including the all-powerful BJP. No one would have imagined that Narendra Modi, who took the party to dizzying heights on the Hindutva card in May 2014 and 2019 nationally, would fall much short in several states in the elections in the last two years. 

The moral of the story is simply that Modi is not a sure card in state polls. No matter that Modi personalised the Hindutva card and more. In a diverse country like India, a leader, however tall he may be projected as being, has to show more on the ground than just that image.  

That is why the BJP, which has been put on a permanent campaign mode by the prime minister, is still finetuning its Hindutva card. It has now whipped up the OBC card as a ‘sub-card’ of the Hindutva card ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections, to broad-base its appeal in the key state, where it has sensed that it is not on firm ground. 

Interestingly, the OBC card has been brought into play despite UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath being seen to be more proactive than Modi in promoting Hindutva through minority-bashing. His ‘abba jaan’ remark was only the latest to raise hackles. Added to this is the fact that some opinion polls show the saffron-robed CM as a “natural heir” to PM Modi, who celebrated his 71st birthday this month. 

The OBC card is being played out also to blunt the Muslim+Yadav card of Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, who was the chief minister before the 2017 polls when the BJP scored a landslide in the elections to the 403-member House, winning more than 300 seats. As part of the OBC card, the BJP has now bent over backwards to bring in smaller parties representing smaller backward castes. The name of the game is winning polls, by any means necessary. 

In New Delhi, almost every public toilet has placards depicting the progress made by Uttar Pradesh under the rule of Yogi Adityanath. The placards seek to project the ‘good governance card’, claiming that Adityanath has provided 4.5 lakh jobs in four years. For the detractors of the BJP, however, he is one of the worst CMs. 

But utilising the caste census issue, the OBC card is also being played by the detractors of the BJP, as also some of its allies. An all-party delegation from Bihar, led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, had met Prime Minister Modi last month. The meeting had taken place in the backdrop of mounting pressure on the Union government to accept the demand for a caste census ahead of elections in seven states next year.

In Gujarat, the home state of Modi and Shah, the BJP has sought to play the ‘good governance card’ to show the door to Vijay Rupani and his entire cabinet in the backdrop of growing complaints that Rupani’s government was found wanting in tackling the Covid pandemic. How the newly installed team led by Bhupendra Patel would do the job is to be seen, but the BJP’s attempt is to remove anti-incumbency when Assembly polls are a year away. 

After winning Delhi for the second successive time some two years ago, Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal is seeking to utilise the ‘good governance card’ to the hilt in his attempt to further the “Delhi model” of cheap electricity for the poor and good education to children from the downtrodden families. The AAP is attempting to make inroads in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Goa.

In Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress used the ‘local’ card as also the woman card to give more than a bloody nose in the recent Assembly polls to an aggressive BJP, which is still licking its wounds. Mamata successfully projected herself as ‘Bengal’s daughter’ who is up against the ‘outsider’ (BJP).

Now, the Congress has suddenly played, by accident or design, the Dalit card in poll-bound Punjab, giving the state a Dalit-Sikh as CM for the first time. In Uttarakhand, too, it is giving signals that it could opt for a Dalit CM if voted to power. The card played by Congress has apparently stumped the BJP, which does not have a Dalit CM anywhere, despite being in power in several states. Some BJP CMs are worried a lot about losing their job. 

BSP supremo Mayawati, who considers herself as the preeminent Dalit leader in the country, is rattled, too, by what the Congress has done. 

The politics of playing ‘cards’ is expected to get much more intense and interesting in the days and months to come, as we move closer to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, and any wrong move by any player is fraught with heavy penalties.

(The writers are Delhi-based journalists)

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