The last one week has seen a lot of hand-wringing in the online right wing, in which I would like to include myself. From what I can see, the real pain point among right-wingers is something like this: we voted for Modi. Then, what went wrong? Why won’t Modi sarkar act quickly and decisively in matters of Hindu interest?
Let me mention something very pertinent here. The BJP has a monopoly on the pro-Hindu vote, while the so-called secular parties have to constantly fight to keep their space. Like all monopolies, the BJP sometimes doesn’t do very well at delivering to its supporters, while the secular parties have to cater to the ever-increasing demands of their voters. On the other side, the customer really is king. On this side, well… not so much.
Political parties are instruments of the people to effect change. It is never about an individual. The first and foremost priority of any politician is to get re-elected. You can’t grudge them that, as long as they don’t indulge in corruption. It’s their career. They have poured their entire lives into it. In fact, politics is so demanding as an occupation that most notable politicians see no success until they reach their 50s, if ever at all. Most people look for professional security by age 30. How would we react if we were told that the first hint of professional success *might* come around age 55?
Modi knows what got him elected in 2014 cannot possibly get him re-elected in 2019. In the beginning of his term, he made several bold moves such as the Land Acquisition Bill. But he had to go back on those. The well of Indian politics has been poisoned far too much by socialist rhetoric. Modi realized that outside Gujarat, capitalism is still a dirty word.
So Modi went in for a complete repackaging, making the poor the central theme of this government. Secretly, several of the “welfare schemes” of Modi sarkar are nascent bits of right wing economics. Ujjwala Yojana gives free gas connections, but not free gas. Saubhagya Yojana gives free electricity connections, but no free electricity. Take the latest Ayushman Bharat, which marks the beginning of private sector competition in the mass market of Indian healthcare. By global standards, this is still far left economics. But in India, this is right wing, because you have to remember that explicit Communism is still the default for the Indian politician.
Don’t believe me? Speaking after the BJP’s big success in Jharkhand civic polls earlier this year, CM Raghubar Das gave credit to his government’s Karl Marx like attitude. Yes, he actually mentioned Karl Marx by name! Take that!
The crux of this is that politicians are molded by the political atmosphere they grow up in. Isn’t that the most natural thing? And in this atmosphere, they tend to imitate the most successful model.
And who has the most successful political model? Obviously, that’s almost always the ruling party. That’s why they are ruling! Because they succeeded.
So even though opposition parties claim to “oppose” the ruling government, they end up incorporating several elements of the ruling party within their fold.
Have you noticed that most Indian parties are family based? Why do you think this is? Because of Congress! Their super successful family based model was copied by others.
Same reason most Indian political parties are ‘secular.’ Even successful regional parties get copied. The “dominant Hindu caste + Muslim vote” formula has been copied in state after state.
This is a constant process. So far the BJP with its right wing Hindu voting base and sympathy for right wing politics, was treated as an aberration of some kind. When the BJP came to power in 1998 and 1999, remember that Congress still had the larger vote share, just fewer seats. It was still treated as an aberration. And when Vajpayee lost in 2004 and BJP went into 10 years of exile, people assumed that the time for BJP was over.
I still remember a senior in college tell me frankly after 2004: “BJP is over. In the next election you will see only a little bit of BJP, then only a trace of BJP in the election after … and then it will be over.” This was no leftist; I actually would say this was a center right person and I am pretty sure he himself voted for BJP in 2004.
But Indian political class was caught napping when it came to BJP. Under Modi/Shah, the BJP comprehensively proved every single one of their dearly held assumptions wrong. That BJP can’t win in the East, in the North East, in the South, nor get backward/Dalit votes.
It was at the end of 2017, after the BJP’s sweep in Uttar Pradesh, that the ecosystem finally took notice. This was the launch of “Shiv Bhakt Rahul Gandhi.” Today Akhilesh Yadav is promising a city of Vishnu. Suddenly, Siddaramaiah discovered that he is “Sidda Rama” (his exact words!). I recommend that everyone see the photo of Sitaram Yechury carrying a kalash on his head.
The obvious fact is that the successful BJP model is now being copied all across the political spectrum.
Does the BJP appear pale and unable to push Hindu interests?
What is happening is that others are catching on to the Hindu bandwagon and the BJP’s brand distinction is reducing.
You can hear this in the pain of Ghulam Nabi Azad who complained the other day that “Hindu brothers” no longer want him to campaign. Now, I do not rejoice if anybody feels marginalized because of his name/religion, but the fact is that we have entered an era where Indian politicians suddenly don’t want to be seen as minority appeasers. Today, you won’t hear Salman Khurshid telling voters in Uttar Pradesh about Sonia Gandhi’s tears on seeing the dead body of terrorists after Batla House encounter.
Just a decade ago, remember how they tried to blame the 26/11 attacks on Hindus! How they planted the term “Hindu terror” everywhere. Today, “Hindu terror” is a dirty word, the loudest anti-Hindu voices of that era such as Digvijay Singh have become hate figures on their own side! Every other day, we see Shashi Tharoor apologizing and clarifying for the slightest unflattering comment about Hindus.
The ground rules have changed. And who can doubt that it was the BJP’s success that ushered in this era?
On the “disillusioned right wing,” there is often talk … and a real yearning for a party that would aggressively push Hindu interests. This is very understandable and I will admit to the exact same fantasy from time to time.
Sadly, I also have to admit that such a party remains in the realm of fantasy. Think about the seventy years of organisation that went into shifting the paradigm of Indian politics just a little bit. Think about the vastness of our nation and the momentum it carries.
New party from scratch? I don’t think so. I wish it wasn’t so hard, but it is. And NOTA? Never! After all, BJP is the only party right now that can be expected to not demonise Hindus, to not brand us as terrorists. The only party that can perhaps be expected to deliver on Hindu causes should it come back to power in 2019. And the only party that will not jump with joy at the prospect of a bill like the Communal Violence Bill.
If BJP wins 2019, the Indian political system will have to reconfigure itself completely. And for the first time, taking note of Hindus who have been taken for granted for too long. A defeat for BJP in 2019 will mean that the political system will lick its lips, dismiss the Modi era as another aberration and go back to its default position of “Hindus=terrorists.”
Hindus have never had it better at any point in the last 1000 years. Disillusionment is not an option right now. Building on the opportunity is the only way forward.
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.