With the Bharatiya Janata Party improving its 2014 tally, Amit Shah’s words have come true. On the day when the campaign for the 2019 elections ended, he had told reporters that the BJP will get more than 300 seats alone and will not need the support of any party.
The saffron party projected the election as a referendum on Narendra Modi, and the Prime Minister indeed emerged vindicated.
With this victory, the saffron party has cemented its brand of identity politics.
In 2014, soon after Narendra Modi was declared the party’s prime ministerial candidate, the BJP ran a nationwide campaign to turn the idea of social justice and affirmative action into a model of selective development.
It attacked the Congress and regional parties – like the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Trinamool Congress – for being “Muslim-friendly” parties. It alleged that these parties worked only for Muslims and were only concerned about whether or not they have the support of the Muslim community.
Although the socio-economic condition of Muslims were abysmal across north India, as was demonstrated by the thoroughly-researched findings of the 2006 Sachar committee, the BJP narrative managed to thrust a political wedge among people along religious lines. The BJP successfully created an impression that while Muslims had enough bargaining power in politics – courtesy the “pseudo-secular” parties – the Hindus would remain the neglected lot.
This new styling of the old Hindutva narrative, directed against the Congress and other caste identity-driven political parties, worked for the BJP in 2014.
After 2014, the BJP worked hard to reach out to non-dominant caste groups of India. It realized that caste-based political parties have evolved to rely primarily on its core vote bank of one dominant caste group – Samajwadi Party on Yadavs, Bahujan Samaj Party on Jatavs, Rashtriya Lok Dal on the Jats of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana Congress on the state’s Jats and Maharashtra Congress on Marathas.
The beneficiaries of the BJP’s strategy were innumerable caste groups like Dhanuks, Mauryas, Sakhyas, Dhobis, Khatiks, Rajbhars, Pasis and so on, which were numerically smaller than the dominant OBC and Dalit caste groups but formed a majority when put together. Having found representation and, thus, a new bargaining power, they backed the BJP in whatever it said and did.
When the saffron party foregrounded national security, they were behind it. When it ran a “minority appeasement” campaign against the opposition, they supported it. The BJP just had to choose what it wanted to campaign on. Invariably, it picked classic Hindutva issues which polarised society further.
The Sangh parivar’s umbrella doesn’t just comprise of upper caste groups, but also many new communities. While the BJP did not change its politics, it definitely shared power with diverse groups. By denying tickets to minorities, it had an extra kitty of seats which it distributed among the hitherto poorly-represented caste groups.
Most commentators rightly criticised terror-accused Pragya Thakur for calling Nathruam Godse “a patriot”. However, what lay beneath it was Thakur’s visceral hate for Mahatma Gandhi – and for the last 50 years, the Sangh parivar has covertly demonised Gandhi on various counts. In informal conversations, it has propagated many falsehoods about Gandhi, the most recent being how Ambedkar was happy when Gandhi was killed by Godse.
With a base so large – as indicated by its almost 50% vote share – the valorisation of Godse may have actually worked in the BJP’s favour.
Such consolidation of Hindus can throw up interesting electoral results. A candidate like AAP’s Atishi, who campaigned on issues like education and health, came as a distant third in her east-Delhi constituency. Or student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, who took on the mantle to speak about the rights of the poor and civil liberties of Indian citizens, lost by a huge margin in Begusarai.