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What is behind Modi’s campaign doublespeak?

What is behind Modi’s campaign doublespeak?

Narendra Modi’s communally provocative statements are important in spreading an anti-Muslim animus among the electorate, especially among Dalits whom the BJP fears might vote along with the minorities against the BJP

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Last Updated : 17 May 2024, 05:00 IST
Last Updated : 17 May 2024, 05:00 IST
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In his Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a reporter “the day I do Hindu-Muslim, I will be unworthy of public life” and it was his “resolve” that he “will not do Hindu-Muslim”. The very next day, electioneering in Nashik, the shrill communal rhetoric was back.

On May 15, Modi told an election rally in Nashik that the Congress had drawn up a plan to reserve 15 per cent of the Union Budget for Muslims. He claimed that the Manmohan Singh regime could not implement it because of the opposition by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “But now they (the Congress) are bent on reintroducing their agenda. … If the Congress is elected they will make two budgets to be divided between a ‘Hindu Budget’ and a ‘Muslim Budget’. I will not allow quotas based on religion,” he said.

One must remember that such opportunist doublespeak is the trademark of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). A different speech for every outreach. One day RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat seeks a review of reservations in jobs (September 2015) and at another moment Bhagwat claims that they have always supported reservations (April 2024).

Modi’s party predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee also made such a volte face in 2002. Initially, he was critical of the 2002 Gujarat riots taking place under Modi’s watch as chief minister. He famously admonished him to follow “raj dharma” (referring to the ruler’s duty to protect all citizens) at a press conference in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Yet, having failed to secure Modi’s resignation at the BJP’s national executive in Goa on April 12, 2002, Vajpayee changed his tune. Rationalising the communal riots in a public rally immediately after the meeting, Vajpayee said: “What happened in Gujarat? If a conspiracy had not been hatched to burn alive the innocent passengers of the Sabarmati Express, then the subsequent tragedy in Gujarat could have been averted. …we should not forget how the tragedy of Gujarat started. The subsequent developments were no doubt condemnable, but who lit the fire? How did the fire spread?”

He went on to condemn Muslims as a community: “Wherever Muslims live, they don’t like to live in co-existence with others, they don’t like to mingle with others; and instead of propagating their ideas in a peaceful manner, they want to spread their faith by resorting to terror and threats. The world has become alert to this danger.”

Modi’s is the same genre of doublespeak. His communally provocative statements are important in spreading an anti-Muslim animus among the electorate, especially among Dalits whom the BJP fears might vote along with the minorities against the BJP. The hostility can also usefully be extended to the Congress, his only real opponent, to project it as a party biased towards Muslims.

Despite its 52 seats out of 543 in the 2019 general elections, the Congress is the BJP’s biggest fear. In the last general elections, about 120 million voters chose the Congress nationally — 19.5 per cent of the voters. This is about half the votes received by the BJP — 230 million or 37.3 per cent of the votes leading to 303 seats in the Lok Sabha. The first-past-post system led the BJP to a clear victory. It is the 120 million Congress voters that Modi is targeting, although they may be unevenly distributed across India.

The Congress is also the first choice of Muslims where it has a viable candidate or provides a credible alternative.

The BJP is not afraid of the regional parties. There is hardly any regional party of consequence that has not allied with the BJP, or taken its support to form a government. Even Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad needed the support of the BJP’s 39 MLAs to win the trust vote when he became the Janata Dal chief minister of Bihar for the first time in 1990. Mamata Banerjee was a minister in Vajpayee’s government. The late Mulayam Singh Yadav was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from 1989 to 1991 with the BJP’s support.

The antecedents and opportunism of the regional parties are well-understood by Muslims. They vote for the regional parties because the Congress is weak both in the states and nationally. This is why Modi’s bile against Muslims is also directed against the Congress. It is their only stable, and natural political adversary.

Then, why did Modi make conciliatory remarks at Varanasi at the end of the fourth phase of polling? Does he think the community will get taken in by him promising to never do ‘Hindu-Muslim’? He needs to say such things on record to refute claims later that he was communal and for the consumption of the international community.

He also makes such statements perhaps because the BJP still has hopes of support from the Shia Muslims, a sect whom the party has assiduously wooed. They form 15 per cent of the total 14 per cent Muslim minority in India’s population. They have supported the BJP from the days of the Jan Sangh, coming to fruition under Vajpayee’s prime ministership and successive BJP chief ministers in UP from Kalyan Singh to Rajnath Singh.

Could it be that the 10-year contract signed by India with Iran to manage one of the two deep sea ports at Chabahar aims to assuage Shias? The Chabahar agreement, in defiance of possible United States sanctions, was signed on May 13, on the day of the fourth phase of polling in the general elections.  

An outgoing government normally would not go for a long-term agreement like this in the middle of the elections. It could well be that Iran, which has a considerable religious influence on Shias in India, is being cultivated to shepherd the Shia vote in Uttar Pradesh where the Shia population is sizeable, especially in the central and eastern UP constituencies which go to the polls in the fifth to seventh phase of polling.

(Bharat Bhushan is a Delhi-based journalist.)

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

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