The rousing reception Prime Minister Narendra Modi got on his return from New York was indicative of how the ruling party is expected to approach the next round of state assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana – by playing up India’s perceived diplomatic successes at the United Nations and in his very political engagement with the Indian diaspora in Houston in the presence of US President Donald Trump
By Amulya Ganguli OCT 4, 2019
The rousing reception Prime Minister Narendra Modi got on his return from New York was indicative of how the ruling party is expected to approach the next round of state assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana – by playing up India’s perceived diplomatic successes at the United Nations and in his very political engagement with the Indian diaspora in Houston in the presence of US President Donald Trump. Notwithstanding the success of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to forge an alliance in Maharashtra, it is unlikely that they will pose a major challenge to the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine, not least because of the embarrassing exodus of leaders from the two parties to the BJP, underlining a calculation among the deserters about who will be the winner.
But even as the BJP tightens its grip on the electoral scene across the country, Home Minister and party president Amit Shah’s next two goals are said to be West Bengal and Kerala. Once these two states are in the BJP’s bag, the party will be seen to have extended its political sway virtually all over the country, barring a few outposts like Tamil Nadu in the south and Punjab in the north.
But elections are not the only subject on the BJP’s mind. It is also engaged in ensuring that its widening political footprint is accompanied by the attainment of ideological objectives. Among these is a concerted effort to weed out the illegal Muslim immigrants, once described as “termites” by Amit Shah, who are believed by the BJP to have covertly established themselves in nearly all the states.
The exercise of ferreting them out has already been undertaken in Assam, where a detention centre is reportedly being built to house the 1.9 million “aliens” who have failed to make it the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Now, Amit Shah wants the register to be prepared in every state. Considering the difficulties which thousands experienced in Assam in proving their citizenship, it is understandable that a countrywide exercise of this nature will be hugely disruptive.
But the BJP is probably less bothered about the damaging impact of differentiating between citizens on the basis of religion on the social fabric than in reaffirming the party’s nationalistic and anti-Muslim credentials, both among its dedicated supporters and the new converts who believe that the party is engaged in cleansing the country of potential terrorists.
If a nationwide NRC is intended to strengthen the BJP’s base, the same objective is sought to be achieved by Amit Shah when he speaks of unifying the country via one language – Hindi – a proposal which is in keeping with the BJP’s longstanding “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan” motto.
However, the vociferous protests against the “one nation, one language” formula, mainly in Tamil Nadu, which saw anti-Hindi riots in the 1960s, has made the BJP back off, perhaps for the first time since it began to ride roughshod over its opponents over issues such as the NRC or the suggestion that multi-party democracy has failed in India. Was this an advocacy in favour of “one nation, one party”?
But even as the BJP remains a force which appears at the moment to be even more dominant than what the Congress was in the immediate post-independence period, probably because of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo’s highly assertive ways, Kashmir remains the elephant in the room. As long as the state – it will become a union territory on October 31 – remains in lockdown with no internet and no mobile telephones and 4,000-odd local politicians, big and small, in detention, the BJP will remain under pressure in the international arena on the grounds of violating human rights.
What is more, a continuation of the patently untenable situation in Kashmir carries the danger of Pakistan ratcheting up its jihadi offensive, for which the world may blame India, too, for allowing a dangerous deterioration in a region which was already prone to militancy and violence.
Kashmir, however, is not the only problem area. The economy is yet to look up despite the government’s various efforts to breathe life into it. Moreover, it is in the nature of the “dismal science” to take its time to change from being bearish to bullish. If the economy is in the doldrums and Kashmir remains peaceful but “not normal”, as the state’s director-general of police, Dilbag Singh, has said, then the BJP’s India story will be far from being a success.
(The writer is a commentator on current affairs)