Within less than 48 hours of the announcement of the state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the state's chief minister Yogi Adityanath claimed that the electoral contest will be "80 per cent vs 20 per cent". This statement was made at an event live-telecast after the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) was already in force.
According to the 2011 Census, the population of Hindus in UP is 79.73 per cent, and that of Muslims is 19.26 per cent. Although Adityanath has not taken the name of any religious community, the dog-whistling is clear. Retired civil servant Sanjeev Gupta, formerly secretary to the Inter-State Council, pointed this out on Twitter: "Brazen! The very first point of the Model Code of Conduct of @ECISVEEP is being flagrantly flouted. I've dealt with quite a few violations of MCC during my career, but this one is appalling beyond words. I'm also shocked by equally weird responses. https://eci.gov.in/mcc/." The first guideline of the Model Code of Conduct says: "No party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic."
Yet surprisingly, none of the Opposition parties has taken Adityanath to the Election Commission of India (ECI) nor reacted aggressively to his statements. While Congress leader Digvijaya Singh urged the ECI to "wake up and show some spine", Priyanka Gandhi appealed to the youth of UP to ignore the "80 vs 20" remark of Adityanath, which she said was a fraudulent way of diverting attention from issues like youth unemployment and education. The Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Aam Adami Party (AAP) have also remained silent on Adityanath's statement.
What does this say about the campaign of the non-BJP parties? One take would be that the non-BJP parties have gone soft in opposing communalism. They also did not object to the stereotyping of Muslims as criminals in election posters released by the BJP, where rioters were depicted wearing the chequered kafiyeh scarf considered synonymous with Islamic identity. No mainstream parties criticised the lynching of a man accused of 'sacrilege' by a crowd of Sikh devotees in Punjab.
The Ram Temple at Ayodhya has become something of a test case for authenticating one's Hindu beliefs. Akhilesh Yadav of SP visited the shrine claiming that "Ram belongs to SP as much as anyone else" and pointed out that it was his party's government that had planted Parijat trees (Night Jasmine) along the Ayodhya Parikrama. AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal built a replica of the temple for his government's Diwali celebrations in Delhi, then visited Ayodhya and added it to the itinerary of the Delhi chief minister's Free Pilgrimage Programme. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi of the Congress also hailed Lord Ram in their tweets on the day of the temple's groundbreaking ceremony. Rahul Gandhi's sermons on Hindu versus Hindutva also, in effect, lay claim to Hinduism.
However, it may simply be that, like the coronavirus, Hindutva has mutated and is on its way to becoming endemic in India's political discourse. If this is what has happened, then in the medium to the long run, the communal advantage of the BJP might erode.
However, right now, Yogi Adityanath seeking reelection in UP needs communal rhetoric to dominate the campaign discourse. UP has been ranked the worst governed big state of India on several indices. Although Adityanath's campaign is projecting UP as Uttam Pradesh, the Public Affairs Index has ranked it the worst big state in terms of equity and rates its performance near the bottom on meeting sustainable development goals (SDGs) on gender equality, good health and well-being, and reducing inequality. The state ranks last in terms of dowry deaths, ten times the national average (2,410 in UP as compared to the national average of 240 per 10 lakh population in 2019), the rate of crime against Scheduled Castes and Tribes is 63.6 per cent, infant mortality is 64 per cent, stunting of children is at 46.3 per cent, wasting in children at 17.9 per cent and nearly 40 per cent children under five years of age are underweight. In addition, UP is in the top 10-most-dangerous states for women, with rape cases doubling in the state from 2009 to 2019 based on official statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau. Reinforcing the appalling images from the second wave of the Covid pandemic, the Niti Aayog's Health Index confirms UP as the worst performing state of India.
The communal campaign, however, highlights other 'achievements' such as building the Ram Temple at Ayodhya, inaugurating the Kashi temple corridor, bulldozing properties (mostly) of Muslim mafia dons, and the state police's record of killing criminals (predominantly from the minority community) in 'encounters'.
The Opposition parties would gain little by complaining to the ECI, which, if its record is anything to go by, is unlikely to provide any relief to them. They seem to have realised that there is no easy way of campaigning against communalism per se. Perhaps they have decided to tactically side-step the communal propaganda and refuse to campaign on the BJP's terms. Ignoring the communal rhetoric can deny the BJP the advantage it seeks to hijack the election campaign. Perhaps this is what Priyanka Gandhi wants to do by urging the youth to focus on public issues like employment and education instead of the communal divide. It might be an intelligent way of dealing with the UP election.
(The writer is a journalist based in Delhi)
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.
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