There are arguments that the anti-BJP parties would find difficult to win. Unless and until they a devise a robust counter to those, they are unlikely to threaten BJP’s hold on power any time soon. These counters have to do with ideology as well as emotion. The most important among these can be framed as a question: How are you a dependable option for Hindus? Linked to this is another critical one: How do you explain your nationalism contrasted with that of the Indian Right?
Through its long and bitter campaign for the 2019 general election, the saffron party conveyed its take on both questions emphatically. Not for a moment did BJP shy away from claiming that it’s a party of Hindus, the candidature of Sadhvi Pragya from Bhopal being the boldest assertion of it. It never stopped harping on nationalism either, raising direct queries on where the later stood on the subject. In the last mile of the campaign, the party was not even paying lip-service to its favourite topic, development. The opposition was caught on the wrong foot in both cases.
Their response was awkward to say the least. The Congress leaders, fumbling for a riposte, went about temple-hopping, seeking to prove that they were as good Hindus as their BJP counterparts. It came across as an act of desperation rather than one born out of conviction. BJP having announced itself unambiguously as the party of Hindus and making an emotional pitch out of it, the others had to play catch-up. As the cases of the Congress and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress suggest, they came hopelessly short.
The core to their confusion was the smart articulation of its stand by BJP. If you are a Hindu, then you have to take a clear position that you are anti-Muslim. The nuanced position of secularists that both were exclusive of each other, meaning one being pro-Hindu need not be anti-Muslim was not expected to cut ice with the masses fed with relentless demonisation of the community. In the process of balancing both, the secular parties risked ending up only on one side. And they did. They were seen as anti-Hindu. This explains Mamata Banerjee’s current predicament.
The linking of Hinduism to nationalism was an organic extension of BJP’s position. If you are a nationalist, then you have to differentiate between Hindus and Muslims. Your nationalism has to be Hindu-centric. It cannot be a delicate balancing act where you delink terrorist activities from Muslims or treat the Kashmir problem as only a matter of Kashmiriyat or an unfinished political task of the partition days. It has to be seen in the Hindu vs Muslim binary. Nationalism cannot be anything without the centricity of Hinduism. The big leaders eschewed making the point upfront, but it was evident the way nationalism was played up by the Right eco-system, particularly the loyal media.
Now that BJP has a winning formula, it is unlikely to let go of it. Expect the party to get more aggressive about Hindutva and nationalism in the coming days. Where does that leave the secularists? In the middle of nowhere. If they try to prove of being more Hindu than BJP, they end up as clones, thus losing all originality. If they stick to their nuanced position, they find no takers. They cannot defend Muslims anymore, even in genuine cases. They are damned if they take a stand and damned if they don’t. Hindu communal consciousness has travelled so deep that unless BJP scores a spectacular self-goal, it is unlikely to lose power and popular appeal.
Imagine the current dispensation declaring India a Hindu Rashtra, which could be a possibility given the numbers in both houses of Parliament and strength in the states. Considering the emotive sway of the idea, the opposition would lose all arguments to support the case of the secular India of the makers of the Constitution. Clearly, it is a no-win situation for them.
They have to find answers to the arguments of the Indian Right.
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