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Fighting BJP's tsunami

S Nihal Singh
[ March 26, 2017 ]

There is a sub-text to the surprise elevation of the hardline Hindutva icon, Yogi Adityanath, to the post of Chief Minister of UP after the BJP's sweep in the assembly election. The RSS, the party's mentor, is spreading its wings in the country on the strength of it providing the sinews in the shape of foot soldiers in the mechanics of winning elections.

So far, it has planted RSS men first in Haryana and now in Uttarakhand and UP in chief ministerial posts. If PM Narendra Modi seeks to follow pragmatic policies in achieving his objectives, he has had to accept defeat. Of course, we must not forget that the Union Cabinet is full of RSS men and Mr Modi himself was baptised in the RSS. The difference between him and the Sangh is the pace at which the country is to be Hinduised. The verdict thus far is what he could achieve by sidelining the RSS in Gujarat he cannot repeat at the national level. What is clear beyond doubt is that the BJP will fight the 2019 general election by playing the Hindu card in the country's most populous state in 2019, as elsewhere in the country. If Mr Modi had planned to Hinduise and saffronise the country at a slower pace, he has been overruled by the RSS leadership. It must however be said for the record that the PM made his contribution to keep the communal pot boiling by references to providing a place for Hindu death rituals as well as graveyards for Muslims and asking for adequate electricity supplies for Diwali as for Ramzan. Whatever the veracity of his claims, he was at the same time hitting at the alleged pro-Muslim bias of the state's ruling Samajwadi Party. How the BJP won UP is now for psephologists and historians to decipher. The important point is how it will determine Mr Modi's rule in the remaining two years of his present term and the stresses and travails of governing a country of great diversity and substantial minorities. His administration can gain a few brownie points in taking up the case of two Muslim clerics gone missing in Pakistan with the authorities there, but Muslims in particular are living nervously as they await new assaults on their religious-affiliated lives. Assuming that Mr Modi has lost out if he thought differently about the pace of Hinduising the country, where does he draw the line to convince the RSS to slow down its zeal for saffronisation? There are good grounds for pragmatism in setting aside RSS myths for governance. Is the PM gathering his forces to live to fight another day because it is not in his nature to accept defeat early? There is one factor helping the rightward swing in India combined with religious fervour: the turmoil in the West exemplified by the rise of populism in Europe and the election of Mr Donald Trump as US President. In Europe, prosperity having given way to recession for a time, there is widespread attack on multiculturalism with an overlay of Islamophobia and in the US Mr Trump is seeking to abandon its post-World War II role as the protector of liberal values to emphasising "America First". Mr Modi cannot get rid of the country's Muslim population, the second largest in the world, even if he would want to, but he must find comfort in Mr Trump's Muslim-bashing philosophy because to a certain extent the two are sailing in the same boat. The RSS has warned him that he cannot repeat the Gujarat tactic at the national level because the stakes are simply too high and the RSS leadership feels that creating the India of its dreams is suddenly within its grasp. The RSS has been laying the groundwork for some time, in particular since the BJP's 2014 general election victory. It has placed key men in historical and research organisations because the organisation sets much store on its version of history and therefore feels the compulsion to rewrite history, a habit even adopted by the PM in his early days in office. The ridicule his flights of fancy invited forced him to take down a portion of a speech he gave in opening a hospital wing in Mumbai and he has refrained from repeating the RSS version of history since then. So what can we expect from Mr Modi and his government in the next two years? There will be much talk of development with shades of Hindutva, continuation of pro-poor programmes taking the mantra of Indira Gandhi in new and varied forms. The Hindu motif will be dominant with its symbols and although Mr Modi will on occasion give solace to Muslims, the RSS will continue to hold the key. The Opposition parties are still trying to figure out how to respond to the BJP tsunami. The former External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid must be complimented for making a brave attempt to put a gloss on his leader Rajiv Gandhi's humiliating UP defeat, but apart from Punjab, Goa and Manipur, the Congress is a minor player in national politics and it would be up to other parties to take the baton. The Opposition, of course, is not in the pink of health. Tamil Nadu is still embroiled in succession politics after the death of Jayalalithaa. Ms Mamata Banerjee is vociferously fighting from her corner but lacks national appeal and Bihar's Nitish Kumar has lost some of his sheen in the state's present coalition arrangement. Uttar Pradesh's Akhilesh Yadav has youth and dynamism on his side but remains handicapped by a difficult father and an ambitious uncle in the party's less than salutary clan politics. The Opposition will to an extent go along with seeking Hindu votes but must evolve an appealing version of secularism for young voters. Clearly, the RSS goal is to bury Nehru's secularism. The young do not know what it really was. It is the Opposition's task to make it come alive.

------------(Courtesy………… The views expressed by the author are his own but not of “Kashmir Horizon”)