Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan

The most important challenge for the BJP and RSS after the Lok Sabha election is their social project coming undone.

Published : Jul 08, 2024 09:29 IST - 7 MINS READ

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha on July 1.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha on July 1. | Photo Credit: SANSAD TV/ANI

The first session of the 18th Lok Sabha saw a resurgent opposition confronting an authoritarian figure who is determined to indicate that nothing has changed. One has to give it to the BJP for its commitment to Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan (or Bharat). Although the One Man/One Election vision must have evaporated as the party lost a simple majority in Parliament, ideological inclinations showed most egregiously in the manner in which Sansad TV, which belongs to Parliament and not the government per se, functioned in the first session of the 18th Lok Sabha. The two Sansad TV channels are mandated to show live proceedings of both Houses of Parliament, and so they did. But while Hindi speeches (such as those by Prime Minister Narendra Modi) were shown without a voice-over, speeches made in English were mutilated with a Hindi voice-over.

This means members were not given the option of being heard in the language of their choice. It is clearly discriminatory towards MPs from non-Hindi States. Some of the liveliest (and critical of the BJP/Modi) speeches were therefore mutilated by the Hindi voice-over in the Sansad TV broadcast.

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Next, we come to the question of Hindus that was so fiercely debated in the Lok Sabha after Leader of the Opposition (LoP) Rahul Gandhi held up an image of Siva and said that the BJP, the RSS, and Narendra Modi do not speak for all Hindus, but they do instigate violence and hatred. One consequence was that Modi accused Rahul Gandhi of insulting Hindus and also said that Hindu society must “reflect” as sinister conspiracies are afoot.

Ideologically, it was par for the course for the Prime Minister to say so besides the usual incantation of “appeasement” having destroyed India. This was also the core of many controversial election speeches made by him during the campaign; the basic psychological thought behind them was to suggest that Hindus were in danger (after a decade of Modi rule!).

The only extraordinary thing about Modi’s address to the Lok Sabha was its length, at nearly two and a half hours. There was also the fact that someone who expects to be treated like a demigod was throughout heckled and interrupted by opposition MPs raising slogans about Manipur. Other than that, there was nothing new that the Prime Minister said or offered as a vision. He did find original ways of lashing out at the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, however, as if they were the only members of the opposition contingent that had compelled him to sit and hear taunts and critiques for two days.

Part of the delusion is to suggest that it is Modi vs Congress/Rahul Gandhi and not Modi vs an alliance that delivered humbling routs, from West Bengal in the east to Maharashtra in the west and from Uttar Pradesh in the north to Tamil Nadu in the south. In the Rajya Sabha, the Prime Minister said that the government had 20 more years to go and that efforts were being made to black out the decision of the people of the country. He spoke as if he were still the “Absolute” ruler of Bharat/Hindustan.

A Supreme Leader who is not arithmetically supreme

The dilemma of the Supreme Leader who is not arithmetically supreme is something India has not dealt with in the past. From the BJP itself, Atal Bihari Vajpayee accepted defeat when his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) got fewer seats than the United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress in 2004. Indira Gandhi, being remembered these days by the BJP for the 1975 Emergency, accepted the mandate that followed in 1977 and returned to power with a big majority in 1980.

Modi is a figure who first dominated his own party and ideological family, then sought to be a parasite on traditional alliance partners of the BJP (many of whom, such as the undivided Shiv Sena, would leave). He is therefore not inclined to behave as if he is heading an alliance but prefers the delusion of “my way, all the way”. In maintaining continuity by retaining his top Ministers and the Speaker, and the refusal to have a Deputy Speaker, besides the allocation of insignificant portfolios to alliance partners, the Prime Minister has made it clear that he will give no quarter to anyone except those who live in his reflected shadow.

There is a media ecosystem with a client-patron relationship around Modi, and one of the arguments being offered now is that since he will always be called dictatorial, he may as well do things his way. Still, it is a sign of the changing times that almost all the pro-BJP/Modi news channels broadcast live Rahul Gandhi’s speech as LoP when he opened the opposition charge. This would not have happened before June 4.

The world has changed, though Modi has not

The world has therefore changed, although the Prime Minister has not. For all the amplification of the “Hindu in danger” line inside Parliament and outside by BJP protesters, the real churn that knocked the BJP/Modi off the perch came from caste mobilisation. Dalit voters increasingly believe that the BJP/RSS is surreptitiously reducing reserved jobs and subverting the idea of reservation through policies in States such as Uttar Pradesh. There is data to back this, and Akhilesh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief, whose party won 37 seats, smashing through Uttar Pradesh, said so in his speech in the Lok Sabha. Post result, Anupriya Patel, a member of the Modi regime, whose small Uttar Pradesh-based party has support among the OBC Kurmi caste, also flagged the issue of reserved category vacancies being filled by general category candidates. The BJP really has no answers.

Contrast the Uttar Pradesh result with that in Bihar, where the NDA won 30 of 40 seats. The BJP should be eternally grateful to OBC Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and partners representing the State’s Dalits: the Lok Janshakti Party, led by Chirag Paswan, which won five seats, and the Hindustani Awam Party (Secular), led by former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, which won one seat. Unlike Uttar Pradesh, the BJP by itself has never been at the helm in Bihar.

For all the pre-election and post-result shouting over Hindu identity, the real challenge before the BJP and the RSS, therefore, is the social project coming undone. Against this backdrop, one of the most substantive speeches in Parliament that captured the importance of caste assertion was made by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s A. Raja. So far, the BJP has been unable to show even symbolic change beyond shouting that the opposition lied that the party’s intention was to change the Constitution. It is possible that the BJP may be unable to self-correct on this front as it is strongly supported by dominant castes across India, and the social engineering story has faltered.

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Meanwhile, the opposition scored symbolic points: the candidate whom the Congress posited as Speaker, eight-term MP Kodikunnil Suresh, is a Dalit. As expected, he lost to the outgoing Speaker, Om Birla, in a voice vote, but it was a Dalit vs a Baniya/Vaishya contest as a Scheduled Caste MP saw it. The LoP in the Rajya Sabha is Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, a Dalit from Karnataka. There was a volatile exchange between him and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar, which Kharge interpreted as a caste putdown, and said so.

The very next day, Kharge tried to speak when the Prime Minister was making his reply in the Upper House to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address. He was not allowed to do so, eventually leading to the walkout of the entire opposition. Besides, the most important signalling by the opposition has been the pride of place given to Awadhesh Prasad, the Dalit SP MP who won from the general category seat of Faizabad that includes Ayodhya. Should the BJP agree to having a Deputy Speaker, he is the front-runner for it. The Modi establishment is unlikely to agree as the Faizabad MP represents the unravelling of their Hindutva project and the assertion of subaltern power.

To add to the loss of control over the narrative, the Modi regime is getting prickly about any critique of the Agnipath scheme as it has in the past gained from the national security card. But a poorly conceived scheme undermining the armed forces destroys that pitch even as there is loss of credibility with the young over the NEET fiasco and examination paper leaks and delays.

Saba Naqvi is a Delhi based journalist and author of four books who writes on politics and identity issues.

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