Victorious Modi? Yes. Victorious Bharat? Not on your life

BJP’s strategy has been to break down caste allegiances and convert the members of all castes into Hindus and Muslims.

Updated 03 Jan, 2020 04:31pm

With 300 seats and a vote share that is higher than the Bharatiya Janata Party polled in 2014, Narendra Modi has every reason to feel satisfied with the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

More than anybody else, he knows how this result was produced. His extremely well funded campaign carefully avoided any reference to the promises of development he had made five years ago and relied instead on stoking fears about Muslims in the minds of Hindus and marketing himself as the only Indian leader capable of defeating terrorism.

Modi blatantly used the paramilitary victims of the Pulwama suicide bombing as an electoral prop, stooping so low as to canvass for votes in their name. It helped that the principal opposition party, the Congress, did not know how to counter this cynical strategy.

At Wardha, Modi openly sought votes on the basis of religion from Hindu voters by claiming their faith had been maligned by the prosecution of Pragya Singh Thakur for terrorist offences. He ridiculed Rahul Gandhi for fighting from the Wayanad seat, “where the minority is the majority”, as if Muslims are not equal citizens of India.

These polarising statements were shown live on television and amplified across the country by the BJP propaganda machinery, ensuring that the poison spread far and wide.

Editorial: With elections over, we hope Modi will rein in his anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan rhetoric

In Assam and West Bengal, this helped feed into the BJP’s toxic proposal to have religion-based citizenship for migrants from Bangladesh.

When the Election Commission made it clear that it was not interested in pulling him up for these blatant violations of India’s campaign laws, Modi and BJP president Amit Shah went one step further and fielded Pragya Singh Thakur as the party’s candidate from Bhopal.

Her candidature symbolised not just the valorisation of Hindu chauvinism but also of violence and terror against Muslims.

Her first public comment after being nominated was to endorse the November 2008 killing of the senior police officer Hemant Karkare because he had charged her with planting a bomb to kill Muslims.

Her subsequent praise for Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin proved embarrassing enough for Modi to try and distance himself from her.

Yet Modi carefully avoided making any criticism of the politics that Nathuram Godse represented. Like Pragya, he too has no time for Gandhi or his ideals; but his strategy is to co-opt and deploy Gandhi where possible, not try and justify his killing.

It would have been one thing for Modi to have won a clean fight, relying solely on his ‘accomplishments’, the public’s perception of them and their lack of faith in opposition leaders. That didn’t happen, perhaps because he knew it wouldn’t be enough and that some kind of nitro charge was needed.

How is it possible for anyone to call the BJP’s victory in the election ‘Vijayi Bharat’ — as Modi wants us to do — when that means accepting Pragya Singh Thakur’s win from Bhopal as the ‘victory of India’?

BJP apologists are now ‘predicting’ that Modi will disown her even more forcefully than he attempted to do just before the final phase of polling, but this makes no difference.

Thakur may be cast aside the way Pravin Togadia was in Gujarat, or she may even become a minister. Modi’s aim is to inject a virus into the country’s bloodstream; once that purpose is served, the fate of the individual vector is of no consequence.

Three other aspects of Modi’s spectacular win ought to worry us.

First, the use of money power on an unprecedented scale, lubricated by the new rules he himself wrote which prevent the public from learning the identity of the prime minister’s rich and powerful friends.

It is these corporates who bankrolled the BJP’s lavish election campaign and advertising budget, including a 24×7 TV propaganda channel that came and went mysteriously without the Election Commission doing anything to restrain it from breaking the law.

Since we don’t know who paid for the BJP’s campaign, it will be hard to pin down what the payback will be in terms of policies.

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Second, a major section of the media has been a willing accomplice in the marketing of the Modi cult and the over-selling of the government’s performance on its various ‘schemes’.

Disproportionate time was given to Modi and Amit Shah’s rallies by private television channels.

Beyond this, big media actively helped the BJP market its divisive and diversionary agendas pretty much throughout the past five years, vitiating the public sphere and helping to blunt critical assessment of the government’s failed policies.

This section of the media served as a conduit for both the Sangh parivar’s communal messaging over the years — from ‘love jihad’ to Ayodhya — and the BJP’s exaggerated claims on the national security front.

Blatant lies by ministers — such as Nirmala Sitharaman’s claim that there had been no terrorist incident during Modi’s tenure — were allowed to pass unchallenged.

No hard questions were asked about the security and intelligence failure at Pulwama, or about the government’s questionable response at Balakot — which led to the loss of an Indian MiG, the capture of a pilot and the killing of six air force personnel and a civilian when a helicopter was brought down by friendly fire.

Media which didn’t cooperate with the Modi government’s agenda found itself targeted with defamation suits, CBI or tax investigations and the like. Several journalists and editors lost their jobs.

The country’s cyberlaws were routinely and wrongly invoked by party activists and pliant policemen across the country to create a chilling effect on social media — a source of criticism that is otherwise difficult to contain.

Third, the Election Commission’s functioning has been the most partisan in recent memory.

Not only did the EC fail to act on blatant violations of the Representation of People Act and model code of conduct by Modi and the BJP but it also took various decisions that favoured the party — such as invoking Article 324 of the constitution to curtail the campaign in West Bengal on the grounds of urgent threat to law and order but then timing the curtailment to accommodate the prime minister’s rallies in the state.

Taken together, what does a victory of this kind mean for India?

To the extent to which it allows Modi and the BJP to claim everything they have done in the past five years has now been endorsed by the electorate, the stage could well be set for greater communalisation of the country, greater centralisation of decision-making, more capricious policymaking, greater leeway for big corporates and multinationals, greater hostility towards independent media and, of course, more intolerance towards dissidence.

Read more: BJP's rise has meant a shrinking number of Muslim lawmakers in India

During the campaign, for example, Union home minister Rajnath Singh promised more stringent laws on sedition.

It is also clear that the Modi government’s war on institutions will now be taken to the next level. Two fortresses remain somewhat unbreached despite Modi’s efforts these past five years — the higher judiciary, and Centre-state relations, and this is where his attention will turn next.

The economist Nitin Desai apprehends that Modi will use his renewed majority to try and give the Centre greater power to act as an ‘implementer’ at the state level, perhaps using the Finance Commission as a battering ram.

As for the judiciary, it is certain that the BJP will make inroads over the next five years by influencing appointments.

It will take more than the lacklustre campaign the opposition put on to fight back against this disastrous agenda.

The electoral machine Amit Shah has assembled cannot be fought at the tactical level with caste- or cohort-based alliances. The BJP’s strategy has been to break down the salience of caste allegiances and convert the members of all castes into ‘Hindus’.

The earlier Mandal politics countered this kamandal strategy with clever caste arithmetic but today this is no longer possible. If the BJP looks at voters as Hindus (and Muslims), perhaps the opposition has to appeal to the worker or woman or farmer or youth in them. But that is a debate for another day.

This piece was originally published on The and has been reproduced with permission.


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Siddharth Varadarajan is the founding editor of The Wire, an independent news and views website based in Delhi, India.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (37) Closed
May 24, 2019 04:24pm
It's good to have a different viewpoints on the new incoming govt in India. I think, with having cemented power in their grasp, this time round, there will be even more push for reforms, job and a bigger push to ensure defence is strengthened. Plus make in India. And, very key, we expect basis the victory speech by Modi yesterday, that there will be a huge push for inclusiveness and reduction or calming of minority negative rhetoric by his govt. It will be a roller coaster next five years, with a polarised political opposition out there , however with little heftvto oppose.
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desi dimag
May 24, 2019 04:32pm
Communists must accept there defeat and retreat peacefully.
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May 24, 2019 04:39pm
:The BJP’s strategy has been to break down the salience of caste allegiances and convert the members of all castes into ‘Hindus’." That is exactly what all Hindus (women, men, youth, worker, farmer) want, a caste less society. If BJP can give that, that's the party that should always be in power.
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May 24, 2019 05:21pm
Overcoming the poverty, population and religious hatred Modi can make India greater than before. Every beauty secret lays in harmony.
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Amiya Deka
May 24, 2019 05:30pm
What's wrong in asking for vote in the name of Hindu nationalism? Why some of our liberals want us to be apologetic about anything Hindu?
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May 24, 2019 05:43pm
A few pseudos are nothing before the hundreds millions of Indian voters.
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May 24, 2019 06:08pm
Excellent! Excellent! Excellent.
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May 24, 2019 06:12pm
Voting proves that what you have said is right. Now Congress cannot divide people on the basis of caste and come to power. You say Modi made all castes to vote as Hindus, but don't worry...In the next election he will appeal to Hindus and Muslims to vote as Indians
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May 24, 2019 06:15pm
"Three other aspects of Modi’s spectacular win ought to worry us." all three are equally true for other parties when they were in power. Corporate funding should be made transparent but I am sure all parties are opposed to this, else congress would have made laws on this long back.
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May 24, 2019 08:19pm
Muslim women have voted Modi.
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Darshan suri USA
May 24, 2019 09:20pm
It is time to shed negativity and work towards improving trades between two neighbors. Both the prime ministers understand poverty and sufferings of masses be minimized if not eliminated.
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May 24, 2019 10:39pm
Mr. Modi can't win so many seats just by getting votes from Hindus. Other religions must have voted for him and in the last 5 years I don't remember any of his action going against of any religion. Regarding campaigning in the name of Hindu nationalism, other parties campaign in the name of caste, religion, language, region etc in much more severe manner.
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Mohanty Babu - Puri
May 24, 2019 10:45pm
Complain as much as you can but the truth is Modi has been elected .
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Zak Salaria
May 24, 2019 11:51pm
900 million Indians are not as wise as you.
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Neutral Reader
May 25, 2019 12:01am
You are correct BJP used all the levers at its disposal to create hate and fear within India but not without some critical events helping them along the way. Pulwama at the begining and the Sri Lankan attack helped them just when the Congress was getting its message heard. Conspiracy theorists make what you can.
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May 25, 2019 12:56am
Excellent analysis by Siddharth. No question, Modi and the BJP will now drive a truck through this huge opening and claim that their mandate is carte blanche and the nation supports the Hindutva agenda. Unfortunately, India will have to wait for five years to find out what remains of the India conceived by Gandhi
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May 25, 2019 01:04am
Thanks Indians for giving Modi the majority he will make akhand baharat. Looking forward to it. Thumbs up from Pakistan
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May 25, 2019 03:28am
Petrodollars can generate amazing ideas
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May 25, 2019 03:47am
@Darshan suri USA , You Punjabis have lost sense.
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May 25, 2019 06:20am
Pakistanis can mind their business, we are way ahead of you.
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AbdulHaque Shaikh
May 25, 2019 07:08am
Hitler has won election based on Modi style hate mongering and pumping up false claims of Golden times of Bharat before Muslim rulers entered Bharat. Mahabharata war itself was an attempt by people of Ganges Plains to dominate other parts of Indus Valley Civilization. Mahabharata war failed to achieve any victory. On the contrary it plunged Bharat Itself into dark ages
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AbdulHaque Shaikh
May 25, 2019 07:15am, Hindutva idealogy is false glory of past of the Ganges Plains. Hindutva should learn from utter failures of Ramayana and Mahabharata wars. Shri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh are still there, different from Bharat and thriviing. These wars achieved nothing and still their heroes are celebrated in Ganges Plains. Probably Modi will be celebrated too. But ideology of hate will keep on shrinking and loosing land
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May 25, 2019 08:35am
@Rao, You are so right that Modi next time will exhort all to vote as Indians.He has given this hint in the victory speech on 23rd evening. He made a very significant statement which has escaped the ears of the Lutyen crowd. He said that he views Indians only as two categories i.e. those who are poor and those who can uplift the poor. Just watch, Modi could turn out to be the best PM India has had if he manages to dissolve caste and religious barriers in the next five years.
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May 25, 2019 09:53am
@Amiya Deka, it's against constitution, read it, of Muslims and Sikhs demand nation on basis of religion then will you support it
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May 25, 2019 10:15am
Have some respect for democracy and voters!!
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May 25, 2019 01:31pm
As a hindu i don't support modi
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Dr. Mizaa
May 25, 2019 01:32pm
@Zak Salaria, 900 are very wise that they VOTED for PM Modi and BJP..
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May 25, 2019 01:40pm
There are serious allegations of EVM manipulation by the hindu nationalist party to win the elections.
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May 25, 2019 02:29pm
@Dr. Mizaa, Yes Sir, they finally are
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May 25, 2019 06:05pm
Modi for 2029
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May 25, 2019 06:13pm
Well written
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May 25, 2019 06:31pm
@Rama, sure u can vote for mamta
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Mahesh Vyas
May 25, 2019 08:30pm
All Modi did is to move away from the politics of minority appeasement and treat everyone equal. He has already broken the caste barriers and in 2014 he will break the religious barriers too.
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May 25, 2019 08:44pm
@Axomiya , This is not Alice in Wonderland. Each location BJP looked into the requirements and selected the candidate. For example, against Akhilesh Yadav, the BJP candidate was Yadav. BJP had 30 odd small caste groups aligned to it. Painting a different picture will not solve the problem. India is still divided in caste, and real work in the ground is needed.
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May 25, 2019 08:52pm
@AbdulHaque Shaikh, Best comment here. 100% agreed.
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Ashpak Shaikh - Indore
May 25, 2019 09:04pm
@SATT, "Muslim women have voted Modi." That's a misconception that only Muslim women voted for Modi. All progressive educated people voted for him. In fact stats suggest that more Muslims voted for BJP than for Congress.
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May 25, 2019 09:38pm
@desi dimag, Freedom movements will get stronger.
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