On 13 February, Union Minister Kiren Rijiju mischievously tweeted about the decline of the Hindu population (note that this is the same gentleman who contumaciously defied his party's hardliners on the beef ban). A fulminating BJP President Amit Shah boasted about setting up "anti-Romeo squads" (likely a euphemism for "love jihad" politics) in the BJP manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh elections. On TV channels, a BJP spokesperson sporting a familiar self-righteous countenance indignantly trashed the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, even as Suresh Rana spewed vitriol with immaculate consistency.
Ghar wapsi, triple talaq, Ram Mandir, Kairana exodus are the fissiparous agendas that drive the BJP's mammoth electoral juggernaut. PM Narendra Modi, sticking to conventional strategy, ridicules opponents while making post-truth promises on imaginary development goals. Post-demonetisation, he receives a muted, lukewarm reception. His chummy compatriots such as Yogi Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj, Sangeet Som and Sanjeev Baliyan indulge in inflammatory outbursts, providing acerbic sound-bites to satiate their Hindutva constituency. Hate sells. For the BJP, the Muzaffarnagar experiment in 2013 was a political windfall that resulted in a hurricane-swept 73 seats in the Lok Sabha. The Communal Project is right now being assiduously executed in the plains of India's most populous state.
UP is home to about 37 million Muslims, and yet the BJP has not found one suitable Muslim candidate. This can be expressed as "absolute majoritarianism."
Based on its 200 million inhabitants, UP could qualify as the fifth most populous country in the world. It is home to about 37 million Muslims (19% of its citizens) residing in it—more than in Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Morocco. And yet the BJP has not found one Muslim candidate suitable for a Vidhan Sabha ticket amongst the 403 seats that it is individually contesting. This can be expressed as "absolute majoritarianism." Is it any different from US President Donald Trump's unilateral blanket ban on potential immigrants from certain Islamic nations? Does the BJP believe in a multi-cultural, secular society where political formations need to ensure broad-based representation?
Psephologists conjecture that Muslims can significantly impact results in 130 of the 403 assembly constituencies. After all, they comprise 20% of the electorate in about 70 seats. In some others (roughly 30 seats) that percentage rises to a staggering 30-45%. Admittedly, in 2014, the brilliantly engineered Modi avalanche dismantled traditional voting projections, giving BJP an astounding 43% vote share and a lead in a whopping 328 assembly constituencies. Is ignoring Muslim representation therefore, political hubris or is it an unambiguous message of the BJP's bigoted predilections? Given the BJP's communal Hindutva brand of politics (dictated with solemn fiats from Nagpur), is the party now completely abandoning India's vulnerable minorities?
The BJP is becoming increasingly orthodox, obscurantist, adhering to the international trend of rising right-wing conservative leaders playing the ultra-nationalism card cloaked in the lingo of economic autarky. Modi masterfully deceived India with his Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas shibboleth; the hidden objective was to make RSS philosophy into a regular breakfast staple. Modi symbolises the aggressive authoritarian imagery that plays on pop patriotism. It is hardly surprising that after three years of both disastrous economic management and foreign policy bloopers, his only sales pitch is the surgical strikes done by the Indian army. He disingenuously conceals the several terror attacks since then, and the resultant record number of Indian civil and military casualties. Cross-border terrorism cannot be obliterated overnight. But Modi has played dangerous games by politicising military success for electoral benefits. It is disconcerting and can have long-term ramifications.
Given the BJP's communal Hindutva brand of politics, is the party now completely abandoning India's vulnerable minorities?
It is important to remember that in 1992, the Babri Masjid demolition was an orchestrated act of crude hooliganism done by religious fanatics, diligently masterminded by the Sangh Parivar. The then UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh had no compunctions about misleading the Supreme Court despite a written affidavit. The Communal Project disregards official sanctity and constitutional propriety. It seeks to break free from institutional obligations that prohibit polarisation. It has a single-minded pursuit of the proclamation of religious suzerainty.
Twenty-five years later, the BJP is dropping even synthetic tokenism, evident in its not having even one Muslim candidate in UP elections. Narendra Modi remains unrepentant, remorseless and unsympathetic towards the Muslim minority despite his commanding negligence over a brutal pogrom under his own surveillance in 2002. The BJP has outright rejected the Sachar Committee and Ranganath Mishra Commission reports that suggested increased investment in social and economic capital to ameliorate the gargantuan inequalities that persist among Muslims and minorities. Economic backwardness can only exacerbate identity politics. It suits the BJP to perpetuate it.
In any society, minorities and the marginalised sections need a big push through state intervention, economic impetus and the criminal justice system. Under Modi, the fear of ghettoisation rises as does psychological isolation. The ordinary people of Azamgarh see themselves as perpetually suspect, carrying the onerous burden of a social stigma. Electoral representation can diminish fears, assuage apprehensions. But when a political party views welfare expenditure on Muslims as minority appeasement, and condescendingly rubbishes opponents of its communal motivations as "pseudo-secular", then we know there is a long, long road ahead. The dusty terrain of Uttar Pradesh is just a beginning.