Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are no ordinary states. These states are very important in the larger scheme of things for the BJP-RSS. In the last two decades, these states have seen several BJP governments – BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for 15 years. The RSS has ground-level presence in these states.
These states account for 65 seats in the Lok Sabha, out of which the BJP bagged 62 in 2014 – with all 25 seats in Rajasthan, 27 out of 29 in Madhya Pradesh, and 10 out of 11 in Chhattisgarh. Other than Uttar Pradesh, these three contiguous states played the most significant role in the elevation of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India.
After 55 months of reposing unquestioning faith in the leadership of Narendra Modi, the mood in these states is now not so upbeat for the BJP. This has been underlined by the election results in these states.
More importantly, these are predominantly Hindu states. According to the 2011 decadal census, these states have around 90 per cent Hindu population. Madhya Pradesh has 6.5 per cent, Rajasthan has 9 per cent and Chhattisgarh has 2 per cent Muslim population. With miniscule Muslim population, theoretically it would appear almost impossible to work on a Hindu-Muslim binary in these states. Still, the BJP drove a wedge successfully.
Much before Gujarat, these three states were the experimental laboratory for the RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS). In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh before the bifurcation of the state, school text books were altered reportedly at the behest of the RSS. Surya namaskar was introduced as a compulsory drill in the government schools. The SanghParivar has also tried to Hindu-ise the tribals, who have their own religious belief systems called Sarana. Thousands of units of VanavasiKalyan ashrams are still active in tribal areas. The Sangh has also tried to reconvert tribals with programmes like shuddhikaran and gharwapsi.
Even during these elections, the BJP tried its bit to communalise the political atmosphere in these states and kickstarted the Ramjanmabhoomi campaign. The top brass of the BJP and the RSS issued statements favouring construction of the Ram temple at the disputed site and even tried putting pressure on the Supreme Court to expedite the land dispute case. The SanghParivar tried to ignite the issue by organising a religious meeting in Ayodhya and mobilising workers from all over India.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, at an election rally in Madhya Pradesh, said, “Keep your Ali, we have Bajrang Bali”. On 3 December, mob violence over alleged cow carcasses found in Bulandshahr killed a UP police inspector.
Cow vigilantism and politicisation of lynching, like Pehlu Khan’s in Alwar last year, added fire to the communal pot and created an ecosystem for Hindutva politics.
The communal temperature was raised to a pitch ahead of the elections in these states.
Despite such a communally charged atmosphere, the BJP failed to win the heartland states where the electorate is predominantly Hindu. This will have serious political implications for the BJP because the Hindus in these states have defeated the BJP.
So, what went wrong for BJP?
These elections once again underline the fact that in Indian politics, there is no such thing as a monolith Hindu vote bank. Like any other religious group, Hindus also have multiple identities – a Thakur, a Bania, a Dalit, an OBC, a Brahmin, a farmer, a labourer, a small businesswoman, a big corporate, a lawyer, a government employee and so on. Her political behaviour can depend on any of these identities or affiliations. Two Hindus can have different and contrarian views depending on their ideology and knowledge base. It is widely held belief that Hindu votes get consolidated in a communally charged atmosphere.
The BJP is known to have always tried raising the communal temperature to consolidate Hindus into one voting bloc. Muslims are very important ingredient in the BJP’s politics of polarisation, without them the whole idea of Hindutva politics does not work.
Although in recent times, one may argue that Narendra Modi has overcome the legacy of Hindutva violence in Gujarat to adopt the political plank of development and anti-corruption.
There are limits to the communally charged politics of the BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP lost by-elections in the Lok Sabha constituencies of Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana, all represented by the BJP in 2014. Gorakhpur was represented by Yogi Adityanath and Phulpur by deputy CM KeshavPrasad Maurya. Kairana was communally charged because of the so-called exodus of Hindus. Still, voters rejected the BJP in all these constituencies. All three constituencies are Hindu-dominated.
What are the options for BJP?
After the defeat of the party in the state elections, in all probability, one section of the BJP will demand that the party should do away with the communal politics and focus on the agenda of development and governance.
But the dominant group of leaders, led by Yogi Adityanath, is likely to emphasise that the party should go back to its core Hindutva agenda and should do something substantial on the issue of building a Ram temple before 2019 elections. The RSS and the VHP may put their weight behind Yogi.
At this stage, we don’t know which political line will prevail in the BJP. But it’s certain that the conversations that take place in the party in the coming weeks will have serious implications for India and its people.