Why the defeat in Delhi will not put brakes on BJP's Hindutva push

Topics Delhi Assembly Elections | BJP | NRC

Delhi’s election results do not represent the denouement of Union Home Minister Amit Shah or of Hindutva ideology. The tortuous final chapter for both is yet to be written.

Amit Shah, chief campaigner for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Delhi assembly elections, admitted in a question-answer session organised by a TV channel, that slogans like “goli maro” (shoot them) should not have been used. This expression of regret comes at a time when Amit Shah’s stock as the Chanakya to Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s Chandragupta Maurya has taken a serious knock. Although he campaigned from door-to-door, distributing leaflets for party candidates – a first for a Home Minister of India -- Amit Shah’s picture was noticeably absent from party hoardings and campaign posters.

With only Prime Minister Modi’s image on posters it was evident that the power Shah enjoys is entirely derivative. Clearly there is only room at the top for one Supreme Leader in the present dispensation and there is no chance of a dual leadership of the sort shared between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani during the former’s premiership emerging. Successive state elections – “six lost and one bought”, as a wag put it – have shown that Amit Shah’s Chanakya image is also just media hype. Despite such setbacks it is unlikely that Amit Shah regrets the divisive campaign he led in Delhi or wants a serious makeover.

Shah has not apologised for his own provocative statements and maintained that despite giving electoral victory to Aam Adami Party (AAP), Delhi’s electorate had not rejected the party’s ideology. Analysts too cite the 6 per cent increase in the BJP’s vote share, the fall in the victory margins of the AAP candidates and the refusal of Arvind Kejriwal to question Hindutva ideology head-on, to conclude that political discourse has moved definitively towards the Hindutva-end of the ideological spectrum.

How critical the BJP is about its incendiary rhetoric will be tested by whether it de-escalates its Hindutva agenda. Given the almost continuous electoral cycle in India, it will be very difficult for the party to give-up its stock-in-trade of hate-speech and fear-mongering to seek votes. It will also take heart from the fact that Kejriwal’s victory in Delhi was based on delivery of governance that its opponents will not find easy to replicate in less cosmopolitan states, with large geographies and deeply riven by identity politics. Territorially, Delhi is an overgrown municipality in which improvement in delivery of local services is much easier to project than in, say, Bihar or West Bengal where elections to the legislative assemblies are scheduled soon.

So the lesson that the BJP and its chief electoral strategist might well take away from the Delhi elections is that they should remain true to their ideologically-driven agenda to move India incrementally towards a Hindu ethnic democracy. This may be the reason why both Shah and his “saheb” have dug in their heels on the Citizenship Amendment Act. It is the first chapter in refashioning and reimagining India as a Hindu homeland, a narrative that will develop with the implementation of the National Citizenship Register (NCR). The replies of both the Prime Minister and Amit Shah on the future of the NCR do not suggest that there is any serious reconsideration of the measure in the light of nationwide protest.

Asked whether the government had retreated on preparing a nationwide NRC, Shah replied, “Jab karenge tab thodi na chhipa rahega? Jab karenge tab maaloom padega (When we implement it, will it remain a secret? When we carry it out, it  will be publicly known).”

It would be safe to predict that that the Modi government could revive its nationwide plans for the NRC on the eve of the West Bengal assembly elections due in April-May 2021. In order to emerge as a significant contender in West Bengal against Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress it will have to recreate the bipolar polity that it was able to churn up in Delhi.

The CAA and the NRC (even if its building blocks are embedded in the National Population Register) are not the only weapons in the BJP’s arsenal to communalise the body politic. If anything, the Delhi election will embolden the Modi government to proceed towards legislative measures like the Triple Talaq Bill  which would target the minority community while seeming reasonable and unexceptionable to the normal eye. It may not be possible for it to push through the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill through Parliament because even after the biennial elections for the seats falling vacant in April, the BJP’s position will not improve in the Upper House.

However the Modi government could usher in the UCC in bits and pieces. The ban on triple-talaq was one step towards that process. There is speculation now that the Modi government could push for a ban on Muslim polygamy. While polygamy was made illegal for Indian citizens in 1956, an exception was allowed for Muslims because of a religious interpretation of personal law. To remove the exception for Muslims, the Modi government may rely on a ruling made by the Supreme Court in February 2015, that polygamy was not an integral or fundamental part of Muslim religion and that monogamy is a reform within the power of the state under Article 25. Should the Modi government decide to exercise this power, no Opposition party will be able to criticise the move. It will be difficult to mobilise popular and genuinely broad-based protests like those against the CAA and NRC, in favour of Muslim polygamy. This will be a “clear signal” to the BJP’s Hindutva constituency that the “threat” of being run over by India’s Muslims is being firmly tackled.

Despite the Delhi defeat then, it seems that the BJP’s Hindutva discourse may continue to gather momentum.

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