Rahul Gandhi, who was on a hunt for a safe seat after Union Minister Smriti Irani laid siege to the Nehru-Gandhi Parivar bastion of Amethi, has decided to contest from Wayanad in Kerala as his second seat.
Despite what some would have you believe, the truth of the matter is that Wayanad is a Hindu minority constituency which is believed to be a safe bet for the Congress President due to its demography even by Congress leaders.
Prime Minister Modi, too, remarked on it in his speech at Wardha. He said that the Congress party branded the Hindu community as terrorist which has accepted the entire world as its family. Narendra Modi, who is making his bid to become the first non-Congress politician to complete two successive terms as Prime Minister, then proceeded to assert that it’s because of this that the Congress President had to run away from a ‘majority’ seat and take shelter at a ‘minority’ seat.
With this, the tone of the elections appears to have been set. Narendra Modi, in his campaign, will not focus only on ‘Vikas’ alone but also on the civilizational narrative. The Prime Minister’s comments on Rahul Gandhi’s constituency is the biggest attempt to lend a civilizational narrative to the Battle for 2019 after BJP President Amit Shah compared it to the Third Battle of Panipat.
During his first term as Prime Minister, although the NDA government has been unable to assuage too many ‘core’ concerns, a credible effort has been made towards emphasizing on India’s Hindu identity.
The biggest legislative push towards addressing Hindu concerns came not on the Ram Mandir issue but on guaranteeing citizenship to Hindus and other minorities from neighbouring countries where they face great oppression. A crackdown has been conducted also on foreign-funded NGOs that seek to undermine India’s territorial integrity and culture.
Narendra Modi’s own constituency, Varanasi, is one of the most sacred cities for Hindus. Although Modi himself is unlikely to emphasize the contrast between the constituencies he and Rahul Gandhi will contest from, the symbolism of it will not be lost on those who pay close attention to details.
It was also during the tenure of Narendra Modi that the sacred Kumbh Mela was conducted in the most efficient manner. The administration was hailed widely for its conduct and the visuals from it only augmented the already enchanting aura of the Hindu festival.
The appointment of Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh itself was perhaps the greatest shift of the Overton Window in India. It is hard to imagine any other era in independent India when a saffron-clad Mahant of a sacred Hindu Temple with an unapologetic commitment towards preserving the Hindu identity of India could be appointed as the Chief Minister of a state. It was also a subtle hint towards Hindus that their concerns are heard and their sentiments respected.
In his personal capacity, Narendra Modi has never shied away from celebrating his Hindu identity. His visit to the Kumbh merely a couple of days before the airstrikes at Balakot, his visit to auspicious Hindu Temples with world leaders, making Yoga an international phenomenon, the revival of Ayodhya and the grand celebration of Diwali there under his able lieutenant Yogi Adityanath all points towards his commitment towards his Hindu identity.
As we get closer to the elections, Prime Minister Modi is likely to emphasize the distinction between the two parties in their commitment towards the Hindu community. Narendra Modi is an astute politician and he realizes that the BJP’s thumping victory in 2014 ought to be credited to the United Spectrum of Hindu Votes (USHV) that his party succeeded in knitting together, although he may not say it in public. If the BJP is to repeat the magic of 2014, then it has to repeat its earlier feat, which has been made considerably more difficult with the alliance of caste-based political parties in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.
Rahul Gandhi’s candidature from a constituency where Hindus are in the minority is likely to have repercussions elsewhere and the BJP will look to hone in on the message. Moreover, the state unit of Kerala is particularly infamous for anti-Hindu acts it has committed in the past. Members of their Youth Congress slaughtered a calf in the middle of the street and ate its flesh, an MLA from Kerala posted a video of himself consuming beef to express solidarity with cow slaughter. It is unlikely that the BJP or the Prime Minister will forget to mention these transgressions combined with Rahul Gandhi’s candidature from a Hindu minority constituency.
Wayanad has also been battling Islamic radicalization as there are many youths who have joined ISIS. There have been multiple cases of youths joining the Islamic terrorist organization to realize its ambition of establishing an Islamic caliphate around the world. Habeen Rehman, from Kalpeta which falls under Wayanad Parliamentary Constituency, was arrested by the NIA in connection to the Kasargod module case. On the whole, Kerala has seen great radicalization among its youth and a great many have left India to join the Islamic State. Therefore, the respective constituencies that Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi would represent are fundamentally different by their very nature. One is a flourishing site of the Hindu Civilization while the other is battling the menace of Islamic radicalization.
‘Vikas’ is important but so is identity, especially when one has to navigate through the minefield of caste-based alliances. Moreover, at various junctures during his tenure, as illustrated above, Prime Minister Modi has given subtle hints that he is aware of India’s position in the world and respects his Hindu identity. Therefore, going into 2019, the Trump Card for the BJP again will be evoking the Civilizational consciousness Narendra Modi has carefully nurtured during his first term as Prime Minister.