Muslim Anti-BJP Stance Is Repeatedly Coming A Cropper: Case For Rethink

by R Jagannathan - Mar 10, 2022 01:48 PM +05:30 IST
Muslim Anti-BJP Stance Is Repeatedly Coming A Cropper: Case For RethinkPrime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. (Rajesh Kumar/Hindustan Times via GettyImages) 
Snapshot
  • What the leaders of the Muslim community need to consider is whether the “secular” parties have merely used them as vote banks while doing nothing for them.

Several clear and stark messages are emerging from the election results of the five state assemblies coming in today (10 March). Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are the most important of the five. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has established its Hindutva Plus strategy, which is welfare plus a dose of Hindu caste consolidation, as a viable one. And in Punjab, the vote is for change with the electorate deciding to give an overwhelming mandate to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The mood clearly is to focus hope on the devil they do not know, rather than the two devils they put in power before (the Congress and the Akalis).

First, the stark message is for Muslims. Voting more out of emotion than reason, Muslims in most states have had their minds poisoned against India’s only Hindu-based party, the BJP. By now they ought to know that every time they consolidate behind some “secular” party or the other, they have ended up making the BJP stronger. This is what happened this time in western Uttar Pradesh, where the saffron party should have done poorly in the wake of the anti-farmer agitation, a split in the Jat vote and a Muslim consolidation behind the Samajwadi Party. But the BJP came out trumps.

What the leaders of the Muslim community need to consider is whether the “secular” parties have merely used them as vote banks while doing nothing for them. On the other hand, by positioning themselves as anti-BJP, they only appear to have given Hindus who ordinarily may not vote for the BJP a chance to counter-consolidate. The only way forward for Muslims is to join the national mainstream by abandoning their anti-Hindu role and focus on doing deals with whichever party will give them economic benefits instead of pandering to their religious identities. To ignore the huge benefits given by the BJP through various schemes and being blinded by saffron rhetoric, Muslims have ensured that they are politically sidelined.

One can argue that the BJP should equally have made overtures to Muslims, but this cannot happen unless the Muslim leadership itself stops thinking of its co-religionists as a separate and exclusive voter base, and not a part of the national or regional whole. Jinnah’s politics can only lead to separatism and Muslim isolation within India.

Muslims need to abandon their current green-tinted lenses to see how an overture to the BJP can benefit all and improve inter-community relations too. They cannot set themselves up as a mercenary army willing to vote for anyone who is anti-BJP.

Second, the Narendra Modi-Yogi Adityanath combination (“double-engine sarkar”) has clearly worked, but it would be foolhardy to tom-tom Yogi as an already established national leader. He has to achieve much more in his home state, and ensure that it becomes an economic power in the Indian firmament. UP needs good governance and the ability to attract more investments from the private sector so that it can securely establish itself as India’s second state by gross domestic product (GDP) after Maharashtra — and create lots of new jobs. Unlike 2014, 2017 and 2022, in 2024 the BJP will be judged on economic outcomes, and not just on welfarist policies and the under-current of community polarisation.

Let’s also be clear: Modi is the BJP’s trump card, and will remain so in 2024. Yogi’s focus must be to deliver on development and the resultant political advantage two years hence.

Third, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has clearly won on the basis of a double anti-incumbency — against both the Congress and the Akalis. But while this does make Arvind Kejriwal another contender in terms of national stature, a win in Punjab does not by itself put AAP in pole position to lead the opposition conglomerate against Modi. The Congress is still strong in many of the Hindi-speaking states outside UP and Bihar, and regional parties hold sway elsewhere. It is far from clear that AAP is going to get a walkover elsewhere the way it got in Punjab, which was an outlier in terms of politics.

Also, Punjab, as a sensitive border state, is vulnerable to radical Khalistani elements, some of whom may have found a home in AAP. Arvind Kejriwal’s mettle will be tested when these elements, and the farm lobby, start flexing their muscles over the next few years. He faces an opportunity and a threat. If he ends up appeasing anti-national elements, he will not be able to take AAP national anytime soon. But if he brings them to the national mainstream, his chances on the national stage will zoom.

AAP’s Delhi model is also not easily applied to Punjab, which has high debts and cannot hope for central subsidies to help. Delhi, a rich city-state (or rather half-state), has the resources to subsidise power and water, but Punjab cannot endlessly subsidise its slipping economic performance by freebies.

At any rate, it is too early to overhype AAP’s win in Punjab.

Fourth, the Congress has bigger problems than most others. It could have won Goa and Uttarakhand, and faced only an honourable loss in Punjab, if it had played its cards well. But it has a tendency to pull defeat from the jaws of victory. Moreover, by an over-estimation of its own political salience, it could not work with other regional parties (like the TMC in Goa), to ensure that the anti-BJP vote is not split.

The Rahul Gandhi-Priyanka Gandhi leadership is simply not upto the challenge of taking on the BJP, or, for that matter, even regional parties and AAP. Clearly, the Congress needs the dynasty, but the dynasty needs a new unique selling proposition in order to bring victory to the party. Since the dynasty is no longer a big vote winner, it could conceivably convert the Congress into a deeply federated party where the real powers are state leaders. The Gandhi scions can step in to settle internal disputes or cast a tipping vote when the party is deeply divided on any issue.

Congress clearly cannot avoid a real rethink on how it must structure itself, even assuming the Nehru-Gandhi family has to remain at the apex.

Fifth, the 2024 elections cannot be assumed to be in the bag for the BJP. This is probably why the BJP’s top leadership — Narendra Modi and Amit Shah — are rushing to Gujarat after retaining four states in the latest assembly elections. This is because they want to ensure that the 2022 assembly elections in Gujarat, due by December, is not the dicey affair it had become in 2017. It took herculean efforts by Modi and Shah to prevent the state from slipping into Congress hands. This time, they are probably taking no such chances. They need a good win in Gujarat to set the stage for the Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh elections in 2023, which will then lead to the general elections in 2024.

Unlike 2019, where non-economic factors like the Balakot and post-Uri surgical strikes helped firm up the BJP’s image, in 2024, the BJP has to deliver economic growth and jobs to convince the electorate that it is the best party to govern the country.

Sixth, all parties must woo the women’s vote. It is the women who have silently voted for the BJP in UP (and earlier the JD(U)-BJP alliance in Bihar), which is what explains the surging crowds at Akhilesh Yadav’s rallies (mostly men), and his inability to actually win the state in the final analysis. This is where Modi’s welfare schemes, from Ujjwala to Jal Jeevan Mission and the Covid relief package under Garib Kalyan Yojana, mostly targeted at women, seem to have delivered.

Women are players in most elections, and no party can afford to forget that.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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