BJP’s Gujarat electoral victory: Polarizations to the fore

We had been a society where a joint celebration of festivals was part of our common culture. Now things have come to such a pass that provocative actions are planned to ensure a divisive trajectory in society.

Dr Ram Puniyani Dec 15, 2022
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BJP’s Gujarat electoral victory (Photo: Twitter)

In the recently held local elections in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and the Delhi municipality, the BJP won with a thumping majority in Gujarat, while losing badly in Delhi to the Aam Admi Party (AAP) and Himachal to the Congress. In Himachal, though there is a narrow difference in the voting percentage between the Congress and BJP, Congress won with a reasonable majority of 40. While BJP was a loser in Delhi and Himachal, its Gujarat victory is being hyper-projected by the party and the media. One purpose of this over-projection of Gujarat is also to hide its debacle in two other states which went to polls recently. 

In Gujarat it seems that Congress did not put in the necessary energy and the 'Patel factor' this time was with BJP, with the chief minister being from the influential Patel community. Along with this Hardik Patel’s return to the BJP gave a big fillip to the six-term ruling party which not only increased its seats but also its vote percentage to over 50 per cent. 

While the decline of Congress is also accompanied by a decline in its vote share, most of it has shifted to the AAP. There are reports that in the minority-dominated areas EVM machines were slow and there were many other irregularities, but were not taken seriously by the Election Commission. Incidentally, many Muslim candidates were propped up (by fringe parties like AIMIM) where the Congress Muslim candidates had good chances of winning.

Polarizing politics

Although the social dynamics of the Patel factor was very significant this time, more important was the BJP’s polarizing politics. The AAP, significantly, kept a studied silence on the remission of the sentences of the culprits of the notorious Bilkis Bano rape and murder case related to the 2002 riots. The BJP used every opportunity to spread its polarizing message. The very release of the culprits undergoing life imprisonment, and being garlanded and welcomed with flowers and sweets, was a matter of shame, but it was nothing but an affirmation of the party's majoritarian politics. The BJP further deepened the signal by giving a nomination to Chandrasinh Raulji, who was part of the committee which recommended the release of these guilty. Incidentally, the release was sanctioned by the Union Home Ministry, headed by Amit Shah.

Raulji further went on to justify the release by pouting salt into the wounds of victims and the marginalized community by saying that those who are being released as 'sanskaari' (cultured) Brahmins, and so deserve to be released. "They were Brahmins and Brahmins are known to have good sanskaar. It might have been someone's ill intention to corner and punish them…" To cap it all not only did he get the BJP ticket to him, he also won by a big margin!

The atmosphere of hate against the Muslim minority is intensifying all over the country and the likes of ruling party and Hindutva stalwarts Parvesh Varma, Anurag Thakur and the clones of Yati Naasinghanad are proliferating. Amit Shah rubbed it in by saying, “But after they were taught a lesson in 2002, these elements left that path. They refrained from indulging in violence from 2002 till 2022. BJP has established permanent peace in Gujarat by taking strict action against those who used to indulge in communal violence,” While what he means by ‘they’ is more than clear, the Election Commission let it pass as no particular community was named.

Second-class citizens

 As such the real culprits of violence, the likes of Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, undergoing life imprisonment, have been released. One also sees that the culprit of Naroda violence, Manoj Kukrani, who was put behind bars, is currently on parole. His daughter was given the ticket and won the election with a thumping majority.

While Amit Shah states that the guilty have been taught a lesson, the ground reality of Gujarat is that right-wing workers have become more aggressive and assertive. Most Muslims have been put in ghettoes, and the physical and emotional barriers between the two communities have become close to complete. The mixed culture and social life have been given a go by and most of the minority community has to live the life of second-class citizens bereft of social dignity and opportunities.

The recent case of public flogging of a Muslim youth who tried to participate in a garba dance in a Gujarat village by tying them to a pole was horrific. It took place in front of hundreds of Hindus in the village.  Muslim youth cannot participate in garba dances during the Navratri festival dance in honor of Goddess Durga. 

Divisive ideology

We had been a society where a joint celebration of festivals was part of our common culture. Now things have come to such a pass that provocative actions are planned to ensure a divisive trajectory in society.

The BJP victory in Gujarat may be an indicator of the type of politics which may follow in the future. While the Congress party's Bharat Jodo Yatra (march to unite the country) is trying to put a soothing balm on the strained intercommunity relations, the huge political and electoral machinery of associates of the ruling party have resorted to divisive politics all through. Emotive issues like the Ram Temple, cow protection, love jihad have been spread through diverse mechanisms. Hate speeches go on unchecked in spreading the divisive ideology.

Hinduism teaches us ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, or loving the whole world as one family. Here we are in a dark tunnel where ‘hate other’, and othering the people of other religions, becomes the central focus around which present-day politics is unleashed.

(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Center for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)   

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