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As elections are over, here are the difficult conversations we need to have if Dharma has to prevail for the next 10 years

It is time to listen to genuine nationalists, not the pseudo, newly minted pens and voices for hire. It is It is time to have difficult conversations with all stakeholders from the Dharmic spectrum. It is time to open your heart and mind to those who you may not particularly agree with, or even like, because they rock the boat too much. It is time to focus on genuinely Hindutvavadis, not those who have slid over to this side simply because it was politically convenient. It is time for Dharma to prevail.

On the 4th of June, BJP supporters were stunned. While they expected a resounding victory with NDA crossing 400, the results threw a spanner. BJP won 240 with NDA falling short of the 300 mark – settling at 293 seats. What is perhaps far more worrying for most supporters is that the 293 mark stays stable only if the fickle Nitish Kumar does not switch sides for a sweeter deal. Chandrababu Naidu, who won resounding numbers in Andhra Pradesh says he is firmly with the NDA at the time of writing this article.

While the BJP on its own saw a massive dip in their numbers, Congress saw an uptick. The party won 99 seats with INDI Alliance clinching 232 seats.

The BJP alone, essentially, got far more seats than the entire INDI Alliance combined. While BJP’s numbers saw a dip, Congress celebrating its ‘loss’ is far divorced from reality – as Congress generally is. For a leader, vilified by the international media and elements at home, to get a resounding third term is a feat that no world leader could have pulled off.

The despondency, however, comes from the fact that the expectations the party’s supporters had was a resounding victory – legitimately so, after all, it was the BJP which said NDA would touch 400 seats. It is also worthy to remember that a large chunk of the BJP support base remembers the effect of a coalition govt. The supporters remember how the Atal Bihar Vajpayeee government fell because of fickle coalition partners and therefore, the prospect of a coalition government is certainly one they had not prepared themselves for. The despondency is, therefore, understandable even though BJP pulled off a minor miracle by coming back for a third term.

There are several theories afloat on social media attempting to analyse what could have led to these deminished numbers for the BJP. What is glorious is that despite a victory, the “bhakts” are analysing problem areas while Congress, despite their loss, are in a celebratory mode. One can’t really fault them, given that they seem to have come back from the ashes.

One of the loudest factors being discussed by BJP’s supporters is the consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of the INDI alliance. The SC votes which earlier went to BSP too seem to have substantially shifted to the INDI Alliance, especially in Uttar Pradesh, with the alliance managing to fan caste faultlines. The other is local leaders depending too much on the Modi factor instead of truly connecting with their electorate. Others are mistakes in ticket distribution, a prolonged election season amid a heatwave, too many imports in the party and ignoring the core voter base.

What has perhaps also hurt BJP numbers are localised factors which are often beyond the purview of social media scrutiny. While Lok Sabha Elections are generally fought on national issues, this time, it would certainly seem (from a peripheral view) that local factors played an extremely important role in how the electorate voted.

While everyone is entitled to an opinion, personally, I believe I am in no position to analyse the nuances of electoral politics. Firstly, there is not enough data available right now to make any informed conclusion about vote consolidation or assembly segment wise analysis. Secondly, I don’t think any organisation in the world has the kind of electoral mechanism that BJP has. I believe BJP is in the best position to get ground feedback and analyse what could have led to their reduced numbers.

However, while the party analyses what went wrong electorally, and the reasons could potentially be something none of us have thought about or considered, this is also an opportunity for the party to truly evaluate and address the grievances and complaints that their own supporters have been voicing for a while now. I personally believe that it is only when something is deconstructed, can it be built back up in a meaningful manner. While the party is in introspection mode, it is important to articulate the silent rumblings of its supporter base. These issues that I would speak of may have not affected the electoral outcome at all. I certainly have no data to claim that they did. However, in such hotly contested elections with so many variables at play, I believe every issue – small or big – has a compounding effect on how a political party is viewed.

Imports from other parties – the ‘washing machine’ grouse

According to several reports, BJP gave over 100 tickets to imports from other parties. These included several problematic elements as well. Former Congress leader Kripa Shankar, for example. Kripa Shankar was not only accused of scams to the tune of Rs 230 crores when he was the Mumbai Congress Chief in 2012, he was also one of the people along with Digvijay Singh, Mahesh Bhatt etc, who released the book blaming RSS for the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. It was in 2021 that he joined BJP even as the corruption cases remained open. There were several other tainted leaders, those accused in scams and others who had displayed terrible Hinduphobia in the past, who jumped ship and joined BJP. Kripa Shankar fought on a BJP ticket in 2024 Lok Sabha Elections from Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh and lost with a margin of almost 1 lakh votes to SP. In 2019, BSP candidate had won from this constituency and the SC votes clearly transferred straight from BSP to SP.

When BJP won in 2014, there were three planks that made BJP appealing to the electorate – development, action against the corrupt and Hindutva.

With imports who are corrupt and/or anti-Hindu, one cannot be oblivious to the hit the image of the party takes overall. If the corrupt leaders of other parties and those anti-Hindu elements join BJP, one would be forced to ask what differentiates BJP from Congress or SP – leading to disillusionment among those voters and supporters who truly believed that BJP stands for these values. The local cadre disenchantment that it leads to is also a factor that BJP would have to address. Yes, taking such imports into the party have been justified with grand arguments of political compulsions and expediency. There were supporters of the party on social media who also said that that the corrupt and the anti-Hindu have been inducted to the party keeping national interest in mind – given that electoral victory is of paramount importance. I don’t disagree that BJP needs to stay in power instead of the ‘khatakat’ gang, however, when political expediency trumps core values, the silent dissent of the support base is a given. FM Nirmala Sitharamaan responding to these rumblings by saying that everyone was free to join BJP, essentially dismissing the concerns of supporters did not bode well for a party that claims to be connected to its support base like no other.

I have not done an analysis of all the imports into BJP and whether they helped the party or not, however, their image of being anti-corruption and pro-Hindutva certainly took a massive beating.

Misplaced statements

Politics is as much about what is said as it is about what is done. In fact, some cynics (in which I include myself) may say that in politics, what is said matters far more than what is done. Given this fact, there were several statements by BJP stalwarts which betrayed its support base.

JP Nadda said in an interview to the Indian Express in March 2024 that the party has no plans to build temples in Kashi and Mathura.

“The BJP does not have any such idea, plan or desire. There are no discussions either. Our system works in a way in which the party’s thought process is set by the discussions in the Parliamentary board, then it goes to the national council which endorses it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said, has decided that the party’s focus will be the poor, the exploited, Dalits, women, youth, farmers and the marginalised sections of the society. “These sections should be mainstreamed and empowered. We have to strengthen them,” he said.

On being asked about the statements of Yogi Adityanath and Himanta Biswa Sarma about building temples, JP Nadda said, “There is no ambiguity. The BJP had incorporated the demand for the Ram temple in its Palampur resolution (of June 1989). The temple became a reality after a long struggle. That was on our agenda. Some people become emotional or get excited and talk about other issues. Our party is a big party and every leader has a style of talking.”

In the same interview, he also said that BJP had become self sufficient and did not need RSS for its functioning. He did say that there was immense respect between the two organisations, Nadda said that the RSS was a cultural organisation while the BJP was political. “Everyone has got their own work. In the beginning we would have been less capable, smaller and needed the RSS. Today, we have grown and we are capable. The BJP runs itself. That’s the difference”.

These were stunning statements coming from the President of the party – a party which was seen as pro-hindutva.

Of course, Nadda is not the only one. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat himself asked people not to look for Shivling in every mosque, right when the issue of Kashi Vishwanath and Baba Vishwanath was at its peak. Of course, there was clarification later where Indresh Kumar said that Bhagwat only means that there is no need to search for the truth which is right in front of everyone’s eyes, but truly, nobody bought that explanation. All of these statements coupled with the constant Pasmanda outreach does the party no favours with its core support base.

BJP likes to believe that it is only development which ensures that their flock stays together, but social media commentary by political supporters often reach decibels which drown out real voices of well-wishers. This happens often and over several issues – this one being one of them. Development is important, yes. But BJP’s image is sure to take a hit if it abandons its Hindutva plank. These statements were indication that BJP is abandoning its Hindutva plank and simply saying that it is the party under whom the Ram Mandir was built is not enough to wash these taints because the disillusioned would say that it was not the BJP which bought an ordinance but the Supreme Court which passed the order. Of course, this argument can go on and on with arguments and counter-arguments, however, the narrative and perception among the faithful is set – to the grave detriment of the party.

Not standing by its own supporters and workers

Let us go back to 2022. Horrifying images of the murder of Praveen Nettaru flooded social media. He was struck multiple times, hacked to death mercilessly by Jihadis of PFI. The murder and the sheer brutality of it flooded Hindus with ire. What transpired in Karnataka thereafter was almost unprecedented from BJP’s perspective. BJP cadre from Karnataka poured on to the streets, protesting against BJP doing very little to protect its own cadre. Nalin Kumar Kateel, the state chief of the party along with other leaders and MLAs were heckled by the cadre. The protestors were then lathicharged.

While the party vowed to punish the culprits, the protest itself was a tectonic event. Has the investigation in the Praveen Nettaru murder progressed? Yes. Was the PFI eventually banned? Yes. But why did the cadre feel the need to protest against its own party for their failure to protect their own?

It is true that BJP workers and Hindutva leaders have increasingly come under attack, with the BJP very little to protect their own people. At least publicly so. The menace of Jihadi violence and the Left becoming increasingly brazen has been an issue summarily pushed under the rug by the BJP. While the Jihadi beheads, the Left gives it cover fire. While the Jihadi attacks, the Left puts a target on the back of Hindus who need to be attacked. BJP has mostly been comatose. It has perhaps been so busy trying to prove that they are not fascists that their complacency itself has become a kind of neutered fascism for their supporters.

Right before the Praveen Nattaru murder, the Bengal post poll violence marred the 2021 Assembly Elections. During and after the violence, BJP was truly and genuinely nowhere to be seen. Its local leaders abandoned their cadre and after women were raped, men murdered, BJP cited the Constitutional morality in an attempt to explain why they were letting their cadre get slaughtered. Anyone who raised these issues were branded as those who had no faith in the leadership of the party – which was not necessarily true.

Thereafter, the Nupur Sharma case only made it worse for the party. I believe there is no point getting into the details of the case, because anyone who reads me would know what had happened. But Nupur’s suspension from the party only signalled that the party was willing to throw its own people under the bus – the reasons truly did not matter. They ended up legitimising the very forces which murdered Praveen Nattaru and were threatening to murder Nupur. To this date, Nupur has not been brought back into the party. Is the government providing her with security and ensuring she is kept safe? Absolutely. Is that enough? Not really. Nupur Sharma is a symbol of how the party functions with respect to those who are hounded by the Islamist and Leftists.

There are several such cases, for example, the statement of Devendra Fadnavis after the Twitter handle TrueIndology evaluated the history of Phule. The party has increasingly signalled that they don’t particularly need supporters and therefore, when they fall into trouble, their life is cheaper than the party’s electoral interest. Did this translate into loss of votes for BJP in 2024? I am not sure. Maybe, we would never know. However, did this dent the image of the party and the faith people placed in it? Absolutely. Anyone who says it did not is certainly not a well-wisher.

Party willing to bend to street power

In its rise to power, BJP was seen as a party who was not afraid to enforce the writ of the state. That image took a serious beating because of the several instances where they took a knee to violent street veto. When the Khalistanis ripped apart the Indian flag and murdered people at the protest site, the expectation was that good laws, meant to benefit crores of farmers, would not be rolled back. Instead, supporters expected the government to come down like a ton of bricks on anti-national elements. That did not happen. The police were beaten mercilessly by these ‘protestors’ and were hardly allowed to retaliate. Thereafter, the farm bills were taken back, in a terrible display of surrender.

The Delhi Riots were no better. When the Shaheen Bagh protests were taking place, with clear Jihadi undertones, the government did nothing. Thereafter, when there was daily violence against Hindus, the government did nothing. Thereafter still, when the Delhi anti-Hindu violence happened, while the government swooped in with alacrity and curbed the violence in 3 days, the police was hardly allowed to use force.

The delay in the implementation of CAA only furthered the image that the government was scared of the mobs taking to the streets again. We were repeatedly told that the delay is owing to COVID, however, again, nobody was buying that narrative.

Several such micro level aggressions have gone unnoticed and/or unaddressed. A party that boasted being run by strongmen, several such instances dented that image almost beyond redemption. There could be several arguments proffered, and I am sure many of them would be valid – for example – I have also explained several times that the police could not forcefully clear Shaheen Bagh because women were used as the front. However, repeated such instances becomes a pattern and the pattern indicated that the BJP was a party that would talk about enforcing the writ of the law but would develop cold feet when the mobs took to the streets.

Hindu issues ignored – only to be used as a Hail Mary pass

As I said earlier, it has become rather popular to claim that it was only the development plank which got BJP to power. However, electoral politics aside, claiming that the Hindutva ideology played no part would be extremely detrimental. Again, we would never know the percentage of votes that BJP gets for its development plank and the percentage it gets for Hindutva issues – but it is one of the central appeals of BJP.

Let me make something clear though. BJP/RSS and a large swath of their supporters have to admit that there is a strange phenomenon at play here. Perhaps one of its kind in the entire world – where BJP/RSS could have attracted a horde of supporters because of the image of them that the Left peddled for decades. Essentially, the Left has pushed for decades an image of BJP/RSS, which is considered a ‘vice’ by the Left propagandist, but a virtue by the Hindus. Hindus then ended up supporting BJP/RSS not necessarily for what they believe in historically, but what the Left thought they believed in. These supporters (including myself) are now the stars of a tragicomedy – where they are beginning to realise that these ‘vritues’ are not present in BJP/RSS – not in the way we thought they were – but now, our expectations are tuned to that image of the BJP/RSS that the Left wanted us to believe and subsequently what we came to understand as a valid response to the Left propaganda and attacks.

Regardless of this, the image certainly is that BJP and RSS are rock solid when it comes to Hindutva issues and Hindus.

In its 10 years, the first itch about its Hindutva image came in 2016, when Prime Minister Modi made a statement saying some people are posing as Gaurakshaks and committing crimes. “Misdeeds of some, posing as Gau Rakshaks are doing a great disservice to the noble deed of Gau Seva, as practiced by Bapu & Vinoba Bhave”, he had tweeted.

At that time, most of his supporters were upset and angry, however, it was mostly not criticised as much because it was believed that BJP is a deep shade of Hindutva and such statements are only being made due to political expediency. It is indeed true that while the PM commented on Gaurakshaks, statements regarding attacks against Hindus never came. By 2019, after his victory, there was a spate of violence against Hindus. From the Hauz Qazi incident to fake Jai Shree Ram crimes, attacks against Temples and religious processions, the Kamlesh Tiwari murder and the Delhi anti-CAA violence – all of it – targeted against Hindus.

Everyone expected the top echelons of the party to speak up – they were after all the pro-Hindutva/Hindu party. No comments really came from the top echelon. The Nupur Sharma incident led to the murder of Kanhaiya Lal and for two years, nobody really spoke about it from the top echelon of the party. The statement on him only came during an election rally prior to Rajasthan elections. For many, this resonated as cynical politics, using the death of Hindus as a political tool.

Apart from the silence over violence against Hindus, statements by RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat on beef eating, JP Nadda on Temples and BJP not being a saffron party certainly did not help. The treatment of the disagreement with Shankaracharya during the Ram Mandir consecration was shoddy show that could have been avoided. One may disagree with the Shankaracharyas, but the high seat of Dharma must be given its due respect.

While reaching out to Pasmanda Muslim, the plight of Hindus seemed to be summarily ignored. The usual argument to counter this is that BJP made the Ram Mandir – yes – the Ram Mandir was indeed built during the tenure of the BJP, but that cannot be a card to compensate against other shortcomings on Hindus issues. Another rhetorical shut down is how supporters can claim to care more about Hindus compared to the top echelons of the party – this is again a strawman argument. Demeaning supporters from being concerned about the lack of interest in important Hindu issues certainly is not a marker against the loyalty of the supporters or the ideology of the leaders. But questioning leaders is a right of a voter that cannot be alienated, especially, when the people questioning are supporters and well-wishers – not blind haters.

Caste, caste, caste – Annihilate or mutual respect?

This subject perhaps deserves an entire article of its own but touching upon it is important as far as this article is concerned. The Supreme Court in 2019 had diluted the provisions of arrest under the SC/ST act – essentially putting in place a safeguard against malicious cases and arrest. In August 2018, the Modi government passed a bill overturning the judgement of the Supreme Court, making the act far more stringent. It is a fact that several cases filed under the SC/ST act are found to be false and malicious and the stringent arrest provisions under the attack are hardwired to persecute the innocent. The slide of the BJP on its road of potentially demonising the general castes started from this point.

While the upliftment of the marginalised is important, politics of pandering to Ambedkarites and by extension, demonising general castes, is a slide that negatively impact several voters and supporters. While the BJP took a turn towards this slide, some of the pop-intellectuals co-opted by the BJP started spewing extremely toxic takes against General Castes. Some called them “Bastards”. Others insisted that anyone who did not want their caste-identity annihilated was a casteist. Other severely anti-Hindu Neo-Hindutva posers were co-opted by the very ecosystem espoused by the BJP and made overnight Hindutva stars.

Caste identities are reality of India. While caste discrimination must be eliminated, wishing to annihilate caste identities is attempting to homogenise Hindus – a failed project. Caste identity is not divorced from religiosity and we need respect for each caste, INCLUDING General Castes. Hindu unity won’t come from homogeneity but from upholding unique identities. That is a fact that many feel and several talk about it. Those who do, are hounded as casteists and forced to retreat. There is much more to be said on the issue, but safe to say that demonising those who belong to the general castes seem to be a political project to many supporters and it dented the BJP’s image as the party meant for all Hindus – the Rupala incident, I believe, was only a manifestation of this malaise.

Pushback by political voices against criticism

It is often said that the problem with most in power is that they rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. And that seems to be an issue that has afflicted not just the party, but its loyal political supporters as well. When any of the issues discussed above have been brought up by genuine well-wishers, the push back against those voices have been severe – not by the party directly – but by their loyal supporters and workers. Let me honest here – I don’t particularly blame these supporters. The fear that BJP might go out of power because of the dissent, paving the way for sinister Congress is real and certainly not misplaced. However, Hindus can no longer afford to be cats who close their eyes when danger looms, hoping, that the darkness drowns the danger itself. The pushback has often been brutal, vilifying the voices who dare to speak and branding them as the enemy – simply for flagging important issues and sentiments that the party in power might be missing.

It is entirely possible that these are actions by over-zealous party workers who have no official sanction. It is possible that the party in power is not driving this narrative to silence dissenting well-wishers. But to an average individual being vilified simply for talking about the obvious, it would certainly appear as though the campaign is condoned by the party, at the very least, if not sanctioned.

While these supporters vilify genuine well-wishers, they often co-opt extremely problematic individuals who have historically been anti-Hindu, anti-Modi and anti-India because in that moment, they may be saying somethings that the party or the leaders wish to hear.

Prime Minister Modi once said that he invites criticism, for it is criticism that drives democracy. The PM, of course, goes too far with it. I don’t think he or anyone in the BJP needs to take the motivated, asinine criticism from the Leftists seriously. They need to be brushed aside as the ramblings of the deranged. However, difficult conversations must be had within the Dharmic ecosystem. Political supporters impending these discussions only hurt the party and the Prime Minister – not help them.

In my opinion, it is time that the party engages with those from within the Dharmic spectrum who might not agree with them fully. I am not saying that the ‘core’ supporter would always be right. Some could be myopic, some could be merely misinformed, some could indeed want to have the power of ‘backseat driving’, but all these conclusions have to be reached post conversation and analysis.

What I am sure about is this – BJP cannot succeed in its plans to expand its genuine support base while removing one constituent or the other from the core, because that’s by definition what makes an entity unstable.

It is time to listen to genuine nationalists, not the pseudo, newly minted pens and voices for hire. It is It is time to have difficult conversations with all stakeholders from the Dharmic spectrum. It is time to open your heart and mind to those who you may not particularly agree with, or even like, because they rock the boat too much. It is time to focus on genuinely Hindutvavadis, not those who have slid over to this side simply because it was politically convenient, given the one-sided political dominance of BJP. It is time to shun the yes-men. It is time to not give up on the ‘core’ while chasing the periphery.

Dharma, in itself, is rather difficult to articulate in English since no parallel word or phrase exists to capture its essence. It is a concept inimitable to Sanatan Dharma and the English vocabulary simply falls short. I would therefore depend on greater minds and their wisdom in an attempt to article what it stands for. 

“Like the English word ‘law’, the word ‘dharma’ has taken on different connotations. Its original wider meaning is ‘law’. The dharma of any object upholds its existence and regulates its behaviour. It is in this sense that we refer to the dharma of nature, the dharma of water, the dharma of fire and so on…This wider meaning led to the use of the term while describing the laws governing other-worldly objects, irrespective of whether these laws were verifiable or not! The term ‘dharma’ gradually encompassed the mutual relation between Heaven, hell, reincarnation, god, individual (soul), creation and the like. In fact, the word ‘dharma’ soon came to be almost exclusively used in its other-worldly connotation.… The actions of human beings in this world were thought to affect his existence in the hereafter. So ‘dharma’ came to also mean that which upheld his life in the hereafter. In the past, the rules that governed worldly relations between individuals and nations were also termed ‘dharma’. This is clear from terms such as dharma of war (yuddhadharma), dharma of governance (rajdharma), dharma of conduct (vyavahaardharma) and the like”, wrote Veer Savarkar (1934, Vidnyannishtha nibandha or pro-science essays, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.309-310). 

From what Veer Savarkar wrote, it is evident that Dharma is a “duty” that is to be performed, to uphold the purpose of existence. It is the law which governs the conduct of that entity in the fulfilment of his existential duty and the path one must follow to attain Moksha. Dharma, therefore, is not religion, however, it is a part of wider religious tenets. 

Dharma, the eternal duty, certainly cannot be limited to political expediency but in doing what is right. What is just. Upholding the truth and the Dharmic, moral fabric of a society. It is time to have these difficult conversations now so Dharma can prevail.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Nupur J Sharma
Nupur J Sharma
Editor-in-Chief, OpIndia.

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