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Elections 2009 Verdict: Whither Communalism?
By Ram Puniyani

The results of 2009 general elections have thrown up a verdict where by BJP has lost lots of ground on electoral arena, its voting percentage has declined and number of seats have come down. Its calculations of coming to power as the head of NDA withered away. In 2004 elections despite the predictions by pollsters, its power declined and it gave way to Congress led UPA alliance. While BJP is ruling in many states and in couple of them it seems to have entrenched itself firmly for the time being, an overall atmosphere that BJP is on the decline is very much there.

BJP built its political fortunes on the foundations laid by RSS work of decades and the contextual economic and social changes which culminated during the beginning of 1980s. These related to changes in global political chessboard due to decline of Soviet states, leading to US becoming the sole superpower in the world. This in turn changed the dynamics of globalization, making it more adverse to the large sections of population. The changes which occurred due to lop sided industrialization in the country led to the rise of affluent middle classes. In this backdrop, the interest of affluent sections seemed to be to support the politics of status quo, with the political agenda to wean away the deprived sections from the path of struggle, by promoting the identity based politics. This might not have been a conscious planning, but this is what happened in the course of political changes. And Ram temple issue came to grab the nation and it threw the struggle for social issues to the margins. The rights based movements did face uphill task to keep afloat in this atmosphere, atmosphere seeped in divisive religious, social identities and enhanced religiosity all around.

BJP at this stage, mid 1980s, shifted from its ploy of Gandhian Socialism to Hindutva, Hindu nationalism. With Mandal coming to the fore, opponents of Mandal crystallized around BJP in a big way. The ascendance of BJP was assisted by the work of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, wooing a section of Adivasis around BJP and Samajik Samrasta Manch co-opted section of Dalits around Hindutva politics. This ascendance was further assisted by opportunist forces, the ilk of George Fernendes, that earlier would not touch it even with a barge pole. With the assistance of these forces BJP controlled the levers of power for close to six years. It is during this period that the infiltration and impact of RSS ideology of Hindu nation, Hate minorities seeped much further. It is during this period that severe cultural and educational manipulations further intensified in the arena of education and social work.

BJPs’ ability to come to power thrice was due to a section of population opposed to the process of social transformation of caste and gender, added on by winning over a section of middle class, around aggressive nationalism, nuclear explosion, and threatening postures against Pakistan and at times bravado against the issue of terrorism. This section does not comprise the large masses. Affluent sections, those who benefit from ‘Shining India’ and some others did remain loyal to BJP, but remaining sections soon realized that the empty rhetoric of identity politics is not going to fill their empty stomachs and they voted against this Hindu Nationalist party during 2004 and later in 2009. Interestingly other political formations operating around other identities also faced a set back during 2009 elections.

Meanwhile BJP has tried to change its stripes and at times been talking Bijli Sadak Pani, and development agenda a la Modi. But can it hide the fact that it is the party whose break away factions beat up women; it is the party which inherently believes in what Varun Gandhi says. Its so called development talk is a mere electoral ploy. As they say you can’t fool all the people all the time, so BJP stands in its moment of truth, electoral vote share going down from the 22 odd percentages last time to nearly 18% now. At one level now the liberal space can be made stronger and those engaged in social movements can further strengthen their work.

So what happens to BJP in times to come? It is definite that it has brought in the polarization of sections of society through the ‘Hate other’ ideology. Its major faces symbolizing this divisive ideology have been Advani, Modi and Varun Gandhi in that sequence. This politics did lead to violence of mammoth proportions. It is not easy to write off BJP as it has already made its foundations around the ideology of Hindu Nation etc. And BJP is not a stand alone party. It is merely and electoral wing of RSS, the organization with hundreds of branches and offshoots, which will continue to work notwithstanding the defeat of BJP. Apart from these multiple organizations, RSS ideology and politics has also got entrenched in the educational, media and social channels of cooption. Social engineering and increased religiosity is another phenomenon strengthening communalism.

Communalism does not just mean the power of BJP in political arena. Divisiveness begins from propagation of the exclusivist ideologies of nationalism. The next layer is demonizing minorities through various layers of propaganda etc. This has been leading to sectarian violence and polarization of communities. Surely these processes are very much intact and thriving in the society. The ‘social common sense’, perceptions about minorities has been doctored to frightening proportions. The subtle, and word of mouth propaganda against father of the nation, against the values of Indian Constitution and a blind reverence to elite tradition has been pushed through broad and deep.

So as of now, the divisive politics is very much thriving, in the form of ideas, in the form of different organizations, which may be presented as ‘cultural’, ‘religious’, ‘social’ or what have you. Surely it is unlikely that Ram temple or any other emotive issues can now come to the fore powerfully. It is unlikely that they can repeat Gujarat or Kandhamal so easily, though one does not rule these cataclysms, as the land mines of such a politics have already been laid far and wide.

This type of politics knows that it can thrive through identity issues, through divisiveness, so those efforts may be intensified. RSS, BJPs’ political father, has already started telling BJP to go back to Hindutva, i.e. take up issues like temple, Ram Setu etc. There are studies which show that in the areas where communal violence takes place, rather is orchestrated, BJP becomes stronger. Same is the observation in current elections. Dominique Immanuel, a Human Rights worker and Communal harmony award winner, points out that despite an overall decline in BJP seats and voting percentage it has retained its hold where violence took place or divisive agenda was put forward. Mangalore, Udipi, Malegaon, Kandhamal, G. Udaigiri, Gujarat and Pilibhit are the areas in which saw the sectarian violence or propaganda or act of terror. In Kandhmal in the Loksabha segments where violence took place BJP candidate did very well. In many other places in the country, the constituencies where violence was orchestrated, BJP has romped home. What does this indicate?

RSS has already stated that BJP needs to come back to Hindutva agenda. A lot will depend on how RSS combine is able to whip up hysteria around that. A lot will also depend on how much secular forces can ensure the preservation of peace and amity all around. This is possible by restating the core idea of India, pluralism, values of freedom movement and values of syncretism. A lot will depend on how effectively the propaganda done by RSS combine can be effectively countered. Despite RSS instructions to BJP to ‘return to Hindutva’, Nation has to guard against such deviations and stick to the ethos of the country which thrive in diversity and inclusiveness.