Five years ago, when I landed in Delhi on my transfer from Gujarat, my connection with the State that was home turf of the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, brought a lot of queries from my own fraternity trying to make a sense of the new dispensation. I remember responding to one such curiosity by saying something to the effect that it’s the beginning of a tug-of-war between a narrative and counter-narrative in politics, which would perhaps go on for the entire term of this government.
As it seeks a new mandate, from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) viewpoint, one such narrative was engagement of Indian politics with the majority religion – Hinduism. This is different from engagement with the minority religions – a turf preoccupied by the left-liberal Congress ecosystem. What impact the five years of BJP rule have had on this aspect of politics?
On April 13, senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh of the saffron-terror fame went for a very public Ram Navami prayers in a Muslim dominated neighbourhood of Bhopal and promised to donate land from the party’s office compound in the vicinity to the temple trust. Few days before that on April 9, speaking at a campaign rally in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief MK Stalin made a strong case of the Dravida party’s support to Hinduism. Stalin was responding to a social media campaign going viral in the State attacking DMK’s atheism. He underscored how the 2019 manifesto of his party talks of setting up crack teams to check idol theft from temples in Tamil Nadu.
Stalin did not stop there. Digging deeper, he went on to give a litany of pro-Hindu measures that DMK governments have taken over the last two decades, including maximum number of Kumbhabishekams taking place under them. Speaking of his father late M Karunanidhi, Stalin said that “he released books in praise of Lords Vinayaga, Murugan, Shiva, and Perumal and enabled worship in Tamil.” How more openly Hindu can someone named Stalin get?
A few months ago, when the Sabarimala protests were at its peak in Kerala and the ruling left-front government took an openly activist anti-Hindu position, guess who from the Congress party spoke against the line of his own party? Shashi Tharoor! In an online piece he wrote then, Tharoor outlined his dilemma thus: “abstract notions of constitutional principle also have to pass the test of societal acceptance – all the more so when they are applied to matters of faith,” seeking a review of the verdict by the Supreme Court and hoping it to be more accommodative of the sentiments.
And roughly around the same time, Congress’s Silchar MP Sushmita Dev took a position on the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) which was at variance with her party. While the Congress has categorically opposed the Bill that excludes foreign origin Muslims from citizenship in border states, Dev nuanced her position, even supporting the CAB at some events in her constituency. Silchar is in the Barak valley of Assam, a region which has been pro-CAB owing to a real threat to its demography from the Bangladeshi Muslims. It is believed that while the Congress party filibustered the Bill in Rajya Sabha, in the Lok Sabha it chose a walkout instead of open opposition, as a face saver to Dev.
If, for the BJP’s ideological mothership – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the avowed objective is a Hindu Rashtra – a Hindu Bharat, or at least a Bharat more confident of its Hindu-ness, can it get better than this for a 5-year term? Hence, I wager, this an election for the RSS to lose. Even without the Ram temple.