If there was ever any ambiguity about it, the past few days have made Narendra Modi’s election pitch loud and clear. Development can wait. 2019 will be fought on Hindutva.
Rahul Gandhi met Muslim intellectuals last week to discuss various problems faced by the community. Urdu daily “Inquilab” published a story claiming he told the gathering that Congress is a Muslim party. Respected historian S. Irfan Habib, who was present in the meeting, disputed it. Veteran Urdu journalist Shahid Siddiqui shed more light on what Rahul Gandh said. ‘Congress Musalmanoki bhi party hai’ was the Congress president’s statement, not ‘Musalmanoki hi party hai.’
But that was never going to cut any ice, since the BJP has always had a great relationship with fake news. None other than the Defence Minister Nirmala Seetharaman held a press conference accusing Congress of instigating communal passions and warned that Congress would be responsible if riots take place in the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeated the same charge in his next public meeting.
‘Inquilab’ that printed this fake news is now run by the Jagran group, which is close to BJP. It is an open secret. During Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid agitation, this group was censured by the Press Council for publishing dangerous fake news.
Whether this story about Rahul Gandhi was part of a conspiracy or paid/planted news is yet to be investigated. But it was definitely not a ‘small’ mistake. There is always a method in this madness. Modi will have to conquer the anti-incumbency in the 2019 general elections. Five years ago, the Hindutva card had been on the back burner as Modi’s development plank seemed to resonate on the ground. The change in tactics today, is a tacit admission that BJP does not seem confident about the Modi government’s performance.
There is growing resentment in all sections of society, especially rural India. Muslims, Dalits are targeted everyday. Youth who voted for Modi is languishing due to lack of employment. Traders are suffering due to demonetisation and the implementation of GST. Price rise and slow economic growth is a matter of concern.
Modi-Shah would not want to repeat Vajpayee’s ‘Shining India’ blunder. For the duo, Hindutva is a safe bet on which they can bank on.
The Supreme Court hearing on Babri Masjid case is on. If the Sangh Parivar gets a favourable verdict before the general elections, the BJP will milk it. BJP President Amit Shah seems confident about it. While addressing BJP workers in Telangana, he said that in as many words. Later, it was denied by the BJP spokesperson because of legal repercussions.
The Congress or the united opposition doesn’t seem to have any strategy to counter BJP’s narrative to polarize society. By organizing a meeting especially for ‘Muslim intellectuals’, Rahul Gandhi fell straight into BJP’s trap. Irony is, BJP has also organised such meetings in the past and RSS initiates Rashtriya Muslim Manch regularly. But do we really need this kind of ‘appeasement’ of any community in today’s India? Does secular India need religion in its politics?
I am not against Rahul Gandhi, Modi or any leader visiting places of worship. But they can happily do it in their personal life and not show off during election rallies. The Indian voter is smart enough to understand the politics behind it. There are no indicators to prove Rahul Gandhi’s temple visits in Gujarat and Karnataka helped Congress win more votes. The Congress should not bring religion into politics, because that is what BJP wants.
The important question is: Why can’t the Congress or the opposition set their own agenda for 2019?
As mentioned above, the opposition has several points on which it can continue to harp on. Young India wants to know about jobs, education, health, social security and agrarian crisis. As Bill Clinton’s famous campaign slogan goes, “It is the economy, stupid.”
That doesn’t mean opposition has to ignore BJP’s communal agenda. It is important to counter hate propaganda without being defensive. On the other hand, while I agree with Shashi Tharoor’s Hindu Pakistan comment, it could also politically backfire, as it again plays into Modi’s hands.
In the 2014 elections, 31% voters voted for Modi. But how many voted him for his Hindutva agenda? People wanted a strong leader and non corrupt government. Recent Kairana bypoll is one of the examples of how the opposition could counter the communal polarization.
“Ganna defeated Jinnah” over there, because RLD’s Jayant Chowdhari did not sway from his economic agenda and kept harping on the plight of sugarcane farmers. He had proper strategy, man power and confidence. Congress and the entire opposition can take a leaf out of his book.
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