Can Hindutva fight the ‘poison of casteism’ that Modi talked about after Gujarat results?

On Monday, BJP supporters skipped a heartbeat between 9-10 AM as trends of Gujarat assembly election results started pouring in. At one point of time, Congress appeared set to get the majority and oust BJP from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state. Some premature obituary for BJP was written by some anti-BJP and anti-Modi commentators and journalists.

However, it was not just the anti-BJP crowd that was writing premature obituaries, even many BJP supporters and ‘right wingers’ were doing the same in that one hour. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were declared failures and the slogan of ‘Vikas’ was mocked mercilessly by many BJP supporters, who demanded that the party stick to Hindutva and ‘core’ issues.

Now one can discount them as ‘fake’ supporters, fickle minded, ‘living in parallel universe’, liability for the party, etc. but it is a manifestation of the ‘natural’ support base BJP enjoys, especially online. A fan or supporter becoming one of the most virulent and even vicious critic is a quintessential Indian trait. Haven’t we seen it innumerous times when cricket fans have shown their ugly side when Indian team doesn’t perform as per expectations? It was the same set of emotions at play.

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I digress already. The point of writing this article is not that BJP enjoys natural support of many, but about this Hindutva vs Vikas issue, which was debated passionately in that one hour, and still continues to be debated.

Actually, it’s not Hindutva vs Vikas – they are not exactly mutually exclusive ideas as Narendra Modi has argued and tried to demonstrate – the real question is Vikas and/or Hindutva vs Casteism.

The caste plus ‘soft Hindutva’ card that Congress played in Gujarat has been argued to have worked in its favor. The acknowledgment of the same came from none less than Narendra Modi himself, who talked about “poison of casteism” coming back in Gujarat during his victory speech later in the day.

Frankly you don’t need to be an Einstein to figure out that Casteism is the undoing of Hindutva. Hindus divided on caste lines are always going to help ‘secular’ politics. The agitated supporters were pointing at this fact and demanding that BJP stays true to Hindutva and not “delude” itself that vikas (development) can defeat casteism. Everyone also pointed to the 2004 general elections defeat when BJP is supposed to have forgotten core issues in favor of development (India Shining).

But is it so simple? Can Hindutva easily trump Casteism?

Technically it can, for Hindutva and Casteism are just the opposite. But the question that needs to be asked is why do the masses appear to easily and frequently rally behind caste issues than Hindutva?

A purely Hindutva movement translating into electoral success was Ram Janmbhoomi movement spearheaded by LK Advani, but it could help BJP form a government only for 13 days. Mandal (casteism) ruled the politics in coming years and BJP could not sustain the momentum that Ram Janmbhoomi had given it. So historically, it was Casteism that trumped Hindutva, not the other way round.

Later, BJP could get to power largely on the basis of a ‘moderate’ Vajpayee’s image (that helped in winning allies and forming the NDA), with Hindutva not being the biggest USP (NDA manifesto had put the three core issues of BJP on the backburner). One can actually argue that BJP gained power (in 1999) by diluting Hindutva, and not lost power (in 2004) due to this dilution.

I would recommend reading two short articles that my troll friend Gaurav had written in 2009, here he challenge this belief that dilution of Hindutva led to BJP’s defeat, only to – in his own words – confuse everyone. He writes about ‘Mirage of assertive Hindutva’ and ‘Center right tangle’.

Or you can choose not to read his blogs (I’m Gaurav’s troll friend too), as I’d summarize and build upon his arguments here in this article. Let me start with quoting one paragraph where he explains why Hindutva alone can’t win elections. He writes:

“Hindu identity has never been as overriding as Islamic identity and unless there is a sense of impending danger or great grievance Hindus tend to focus on more materialistic pursuits. The fact that Sangh Parivar never made any sincere attempt to articulate what it hopes to achieve with Hindutva or it was never in position to implement whatever agenda it had for Hindutva just ensured that after the heady days of Ram Mandir movement Hindutva stalled electorally.”

Now the above paragraph gives an answer to the question that I had put up earlier in this article – why do the masses appear to easily and frequently rally behind caste issues than Hindutva?

In other words – there are no distinct and direct socio-economic benefits associated with Hindutva as they are associated with caste based issues.

Let’s just see the kind of socio-economic benefits a caste based leader like Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mewani, or Alpesh Thakore can convey, and convey very easily to their target audiences:

  • Reservations – direct economic benefit as you get jobs and access to better education
  • ‘Justice’ – you feel ‘secured’ that you won’t get bullied by people with muscle power
  • Power – you can actually bully others, with the bonus that you won’t get labeled as fascist

Hindutva (and Hindutva alone) fails to guarantee any one of these, except the ‘justice’ part in areas with substantive Muslim presence, say, in Western Uttar Pradesh. The ‘liberal’ media ignores the hate crimes by Muslims in such areas, but the ground reality is different. This is why a ‘controversial’ leader like Sangeet Som is an asset for BJP, no matter how much a blind NDTV pans him for ‘hate speech’ and ‘divisive politics’.

One can find fault with BJP if it doesn’t push Hindutva in such areas, as many argue that the party fails to do in parts of West Bengal. Organizations like Hindu Samhati have grown in such areas due to this ‘abdicating of responsibility’ by the BJP. However, in terms of realpolitik, BJP doesn’t have much of an incentive to push Hindutva in other areas, unless it can guarantee some other socio-economic benefits to the voters.

The third aspect of providing ‘power with respectability’ is a long-term project that requires stranglehold on narrative. It is huge task as it requires destroying the Congress-left ecosystem built and nurtured for decades. BJP has done very little on this front. It has been a personal disappointment for me.

With point number two and three ruled out, let us look at point number one. There seems to be a strategy there. Vikas (development) promises distinct economic benefits to a person, and BJP, rather Modi, hopes that it will make up for Hindutva’s weakness on other two fronts.

One has to concede that this is a rather tenuous relationship and offering. There doesn’t appear to be any direct link between Hindutva and Vikas, the way this link exists between Casteism and Reservations.

The reason it is working is because the alternatives to Modi are horrible. No one really believes that Rahul Gandhi can bring in development and it will require a massive attempt from the ecosystem to re-brand him, and the ecosystem is trying. They have around 1.5 years to achieve this feat.

Leaders associated with ‘development’ agenda (in popular perception) are Nitish Kumar, Chandrababu Naidu, and Naveen Patnaik to an extent. Two of these are with Modi and the third doesn’t have pan India appeal. The ecosystem has tried to project other development guys from time to time, including even Akhilesh Yadav, who got unusual favorable coverage from Economic Times before the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, but Modi won (I know many of you might be itching to say ‘Yogi won’, but he was not the Chief Ministerial candidate).

Yogi Adityanath – who has Hindutva written all over him – was perhaps chosen by Modi to lead the government in Uttar Pradesh for this very reason – to make this rather tenuous relationship between Hindutva and Vikas appear a ‘natural’ relationship.

Basically, BJP is trying to make Hindutva as ‘appealing’ as caste based politics, which has some natural advantages of providing socio-economic benefits, by linking it to development. And all this is being done on macro level, at micro level, even BJP has to fall back upon some appeal of caste (Modi exploiting the ‘neech’ statement by Mani Shankar Aiyar, for example).

Is this the best strategy? No. However, this is what the strategy appears as of now and it appears to be working too. It doesn’t do a great service to the core concept of Hindutva, I grant that.

The passionate supporters want BJP to stick to Hindutva, but the problem is what Gaurav had noted in his blog after the 2009 debacle – lack of articulation about what Hindutva is and what it aims to achieve (preferably with distinct socio-political benefits to the voters, which caste based politics can seemingly offer).

All the definition of Hindutva ironically comes from the haters who caricature it as some Nazi agenda, or cleverly, a form of Casteism (for they must not allow Hindutva being perceived as antidote to Casteism). Their arguments can be destroyed – for example, they would argue if Hindutva is against Casteism why are almost all RSS chief Brahmins? Never mind that most of the communist party leaders are also from upper castes (incidentally Brahmins) and most ‘progressive’ journalists are also from upper castes. Left-leaning newspaper The Hindu had only Tamil Brahmins heading them with non-veg banned in their canteen, so let them first declare The Hindu casteist. Also, never mind that Hindutva has currently given a Dalit President and an OBC Prime Minister. Nonetheless, arguments with these elements is a waste of time. The issue here is articulation about Hindutva coming from those who espouse it.

So who articulates what is Hindutva and what is there for the common folks, especially in terms of socio-economic benefits? Ideally RSS and BJP should have done it, but perhaps they – especially Modi – found out that linking it with ‘Vikas’ was better and easier. We can find fault with the party for this, but this formula appears to be working for the party, which is why Modi gave the slogan of “jitega bhai jitega, vikas hi jitega” slogan yet again while acknowledging the challenges from Casteism.

One can hazard a guess as to why Modi – who surely is trusted by many to be a Hindutva adherent and icon – would settle for this strategy, which doesn’t have any apparent plan to push Hindutva across the country. Is the strategy just to keep Congress out of power (Congress Mukt Bharat) so that if Hindutva is not being spread, at least anti-Hindutva is also not getting stronger? I don’t know.

But outwardly, it appears that Modi will continue with his strategy of Hindutva being linked with Vikas, because an alternate ‘election winning definition’ – with distinct and direct socio-economic benefits for the supporters – of Hindutva unfortunately doesn’t appear to be available. Internally, I don’t know if the party has any plan. It should have.

But what should be that plan is the question. How do you really make Hindutva more appealing than Caste for an ordinary Hindu who might not be as invested as you in the ideology? Think beyond your social circle, especially social media circle.

A well known expert on nothing. Opinions totally personal. RTs, sometimes even my own tweets, not endorsement. #Sarcasm. As unbiased as any popular journalist.

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