By Rahul Shivshankar
June 7, 2019
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hour of triumph has been described by some as prolonging a ‘nightmare’, by others as an electoral demise of secular India, that the Hindu mind has been ‘seduced’ by ‘envy and hate’. This seems to suggest that Hindu voters were only waiting for an alchemist to bring to boil, the reservoir of bigotry that allegedly rests deep within them. That somehow, Modi learnt the dark arts that even eluded his mentor LK Advani, who as BJP president in the late 1980s quickly realised that there were electoral limits to a political strategy entirely based on hard Hindutva.
A deeper analysis of the electoral result, however, confirms that it would be a mistake to brand Modi’s return as a harking back to saffron fundamentalism. Modi cast his spell, not by promising a Hindu Rashtra – a Hindu Pakistan as it were – which challenges the overarching framework of the Constitution.
Had Modi been so radically inclined, he would have attempted to deliver to Hindus the Ram Temple through executive fiat. Indeed, for most ‘Hindu nationalists’, the construction of the Ram Temple is not just an assertion of Hindu pride, it is the first flagstone on the road to a Hindu state. Under Modi, there has been no widespread communal rioting either, fuelled by the rhetoric of Ram-Rath borne Hindu supremacists. While there is no denying the pressure from Hindu hardliners to dismantle India’s Muslim past, in most cases it is being resisted. In fact, an ambitious tourism policy designed to unlock the riches of Muslim heritage comes from no other than the controversial UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. This policy re-imagines the Golden Triangle – with the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri at its heart – to create five lakh jobs and raise Rs 5,000 crore in investment per year.
Of course, sceptics will point out that, apart from selecting the saffron-cloaked Adityanath to run Uttar Pradesh, BJP has played to the saffron gallery even in the run up to the general election. Why else was the controversial ‘Sadhvi’ Pragya Singh Thakur handed a free pass to enter the Parliament? Though an optically jarring move, Modi and BJP have insisted this had more to do with punishing a politically self-serving attempt by the opposition at linking the Hindu faith with terror, rather than sending a message to Muslims.
In their hurry to label BJP, what some have chosen to overlook is that it is Hindus who have been at the receiving end over the last five years. Ever since the rise of Modi, virtually from the first day he assumed office, a group – daresay a lobby – has droned on about his allegedly corrosive impact on the secular fabric of the nation. Its rasping denunciation of Modi’s RSS background and lazy linking of it with a mean-spirited Hindu chauvinism meant that all his supporters too were branded bigots: The vanguard of a new kind of “bhakti” movement. The difference being that this avatar is not unifying, but divisive.
Some others have gone so far as to liken Modi supporters to the Ku Klux Klan; they are hooded, apparently, by blinding hatred towards Muslims, Dalits, LGBTQI, liberals, democrats and anything that stands in the way of a Hindu Rashtra. But just like every liberal is not an urban Naxal, not every Modi supporter is a prejudiced sicko. On the contrary, most Modi supporters have been anguished when BJP has given a podium to Muslim baiters, they have felt their stomachs churn when horrid crimes were visited upon Muslims in the name of Gau Raksha; they have been disappointed when he has been reticent to publicly endorse progressive social legislation.
It is true; Modi’s phenomenal success has a lot to do with his ability to tap into this latent Hindu hurt at being stigmatised. There are some who suggest that Modi has convinced a vast number of Hindus that the version of secularism championed by the opposition today has come to represent a contempt of Hinduism. But instead of giving bruised Hindus shelter under the rock of a hardline Hindutva, Modi has emphasised ‘Hinduness’.
It is Hinduness that has drawn the multitudes – beyond upper castes – to BJP. In its purest form, Hinduness is a dharma different from religion. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had, in his September 2018 lecture series in Delhi, emphasised that all those who live in ‘Bharat’, irrespective of their caste or creed, subscribe to Hinduness or the ‘Hindu view of life’, which is incapable of seeing diversity as difference. Modi’s ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ is, as he has time and again reminded us, his new dharma for inclusive governance. Hinduness doesn’t deny minorities a stake in society, but seeks to empower all on merit, and delink social justice from identity.
Speaking in Parliament in the first flush of victory, Modi has expanded his slogan ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ to include ‘Sabka Vishwas’. The new slogan is meant to signal to Muslims that their future is not in peril, and that Modi government will work hard to win their trust.
If the results of the Lok Sabha elections tell us something, it is this: Modi supporters don’t want to be divided by self-serving politics, but want to be united by hope. The hope that they too will someday, wear without guilt a ‘suit-boot’ accessorised by perhaps even a ‘tilak’. The hope that they won’t have to flash their caste certificate to apply for the next job or scheme. The hope that saying ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ would not be construed as an indignity, but as a privilege available to anyone who decides to delight in the celebration of patriotism.
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author's own.