Kairana: How to manufacture faux communal outrage

Sangeet Som, BJP MLA from Sardhana
Kairana, a small town in the western UP district of Muzaffarnagar is in the news. If one had mentioned Kairana in a conversation till sometime back, it ran the risk of being mistaken for ‘kirana’ (a neighbourhood retail store selling groceries) and you could have expected people to groan about the rising prices of Dal. But the town is rather famous now -- to be fair, it was already famous as the home of the Kirana gharana, a school of Indian classical music) and there is nothing for the residents of this town to feel happy about.

This West UP town recently became the centre of the universe (i.e. social media) when the local BJP MP, Hukum Singh, alleged that Hindus had left the town in droves for the fear of persecution at the hands of the Muslims. Comparisons with the forced migration of Pandits from Kashmir were obviously made and we saw part two of #WhatAboutMalda in the form of #StopHinduExodus. Things did not play according to script thereafter, as a carelessly woven tale soon met that old enemy; facts. Reporters landed in the town and the list of people who were supposed to have migrated out of fear was found to be fraudulent. It included people who had migrated even 15 years ago, in search of opportunities. Hukum Singh recanted, BJP went back in its shell -- except Sangeet Som, who seemed to have received a different memo. What went wrong in Kairana? What are the lessons the BJP needs to learn from this faux-scandal?

The reason the ‘Kairana conspiracy’ got busted so quickly is because it is just 124 kms away from the national capital. Reporters were able to travel to and return from Kairana the same day. It also helped that the language was not a problem here. Remoteness can be a boon when spinning stories. Remember Malda? Tales like these require support from the media too, something the Modi government is able to often marshall quickly. But if facts become too uncomfortable, even friendly folks in the media may not be able to ignore them or bail out their favoured party. So, lesson number one is to choose your Kairana as far away from Delhi as possible.

Even distances, facts and media coverage may not matter, if the party sticks to its stand. What happened in Kairana was nothing short of a disaster. Except the honourable MLA from Sardhana, Shri Sangeet Som other leaders in the BJP did not stick to the script. The script required them to first raise the bogey of Hindu exodus and then drum home the point using agitations or caste/religious panchayats and create an atmosphere of fear.  At the first instance of facts contradicting the story, the BJP backed off. Its members either dropped the issue completely or -- horror of horrors -- acknowledged the error, like MP Hukum Singh did, calling it a mistake made by his office team and even beseeched “people” not to give it a communal colour. How can attempts to create communal polarisation work if you don’t stick to a story, however improbable it may be? Sangeet Som continued to keep the struggle going with the Nirbhay Padyatra to Kairana but it was stopped by the friendly folks in the UP government and then the state BJP chief, Keshav Prasad Maurya said the party had nothing to do with it. All that was left was some egg on the face.

Calendars suggest that the BJP has completed two years in power in the Centre and hence the ‘opposition act’ does not really work as well as it might have in 2013-14. The patient folks who inhabit our old and famous country may not readily believe your words about Hindus being in threat now, since you are in power at the Centre. What good are you if you can’t stop a Hindu exodus? If push comes to shove, you can easily dismiss the state government. If Hindus aren’t safe and if the state government is not making an effort to protect them, then the simplest thing would be to suggest to the President that the state government be dismissed (like you did in Uttarakhand remember!) and that would  be it. So, those patient voters expect you to govern and rule, rather than play the victim. Act the part.

The concoction served in the run-up to the elections in 2014 worked wonders for the BJP. Local flames of Hindu victimhood and a larger picture of development. Only Hindu victimhood may not work anymore  -- people also need those funny things called bread and butter you know -- so some developmental activities are essential. While Shri Som and other BJP leaders in West UP might be really capable when it comes to the first part of this concoction, the second part also needs some able guidance and support. So, what is the plan to fix this gap? Don’t ignore it. Or it may not work.

Keeping these four lessons in mind ought to serve the BJP well, in UP and beyond or the Kairana gharana may just strike a discordant note.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel