BJP’s strategic relaunch of CAA unveils a relentless pursuit of majoritarian agenda  

The move underscores a calculated strategy to galvanise public support by blending religion and state ahead of the general election.

Published : Mar 16, 2024 16:27 IST - 6 MINS READ

The Centre announcing the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act has once again led to protests in many places. Here, one in Bengaluru on March 13.  

The Centre announcing the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act has once again led to protests in many places. Here, one in Bengaluru on March 13.   | Photo Credit: IDREES MOHAMMED/AFP

The Ram Mandir inauguration in Ayodhya on January 22 was seen as the pinnacle of Hindutva mobilisation, the moment when religion and state merged and the Prime Minister performed an elaborate ceremony that blurred boundaries between being a high priest and holding high office. It was then presumed that the BJP’s work on the Hindutva identity front—which can loosely translate to a vision that sees the nation for Hindus first—was done for the 2024 campaign.

But creating a majoritarian consciousness is a full-time task. It is a civilisational project that requires a never-ending supply of issues that draw from the wellspring of human hate and prejudice. The project also seeks a deliberate and constant distraction from issues that highlight economic woes and the role of big capital in underwriting the Narendra Modi-era BJP and the attendant Hindutva project.

And so it came to pass that as soon as the Supreme Court turned down State Bank of India’s request to delay making public the details of the electoral bonds, the regime pulled out an old issue and threw it into the mix for the 2024 campaign, just days before the schedule for the Lok Sabha election was to be announced.

The Home Ministry notified the rules for the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) that Parliament passed on December 11, 2019. The CAA is not a core ideological issue of the BJP, unlike other issues reiterated in every document since the party’s founding in 1980. These include the abolition of Article 370 (achieved), the construction of a Ram Mandir at Ayodhya (achieved), and the implementation of a uniform civil code (unfinished).

Among the significant changes the Modi regime at the Centre has brought about in its second term, the CAA was possibly the most resisted publicly. The change in the status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, was done under a blanket of secrecy, security, and a total communication shutdown. No one could resist even if they wanted to. The Ram temple issue was given a fresh lease of life by the unanimous verdict of a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court on November 9, 2019.

But the CAA was questioned from the day of its passage. It is indeed an odd law that fast-tracks citizenship requests from select countries—Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan—all of which happen to be Muslim majority. But it confers citizenship to only non-Muslims even if dissidents or members of certain Muslim sects are also persecuted in those nations. Therefore, being non-Muslim and persecuted seem to be the essential requirements. It is not just the issue of religion becoming a basis for granting citizenship in a purportedly secular republic that is constitutionally questionable. Even the choice of countries is.

The government argues that it is a benign law for people in our neighbourhood facing persecution, but then why is Sri Lanka not included given that the island nation has a history of persecution of Hindu Tamil-speaking people?

The law triggered protests in late 2019 in Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central university in Delhi, which had invited a brutal police crackdown. It was followed by protests in the Shaheen Bagh locality in Delhi, which eventually became a template for protests elsewhere in the capital and other parts of the country. These protests stopped only due to the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.

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Fast forward to 2024 and we are back to the CAA and an India where the state-owned broadcaster, Doordarshan, has announced that it will have a live telecast every day of the morning prayers at the Ram Mandir.

All of which brings us to the realisation that Hindutva issues are no longer calibrated, as they were in the era of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government. There is well-documented evidence that both Vajpayee and his Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, believed that after a point raising such issues became counterproductive. The political success of the Modi-era BJP/RSS however proves this to be incorrect.

Indeed, we must surmise that the current Prime Minister firmly believes that being visually and unapologetically Hindu works to his advantage. During a recent visit to the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi, for instance, he dressed for the part of a Shiv bhakt and raised a trishul to cries of “Har Har Mahadev”. Likewise, the political success of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, high priest of the Gorakhnath religious order, also suggests that mixing religion with politics does work in the Hindi belt.

Controversial names dropped

But the Hindutva templates also go hand in hand with breaking the back of opposition parties by raiding and/or splitting them after cornering all the political finance. There is also the bulldozer template of Uttar Pradesh, designed to instil fear among dissenters and minorities. There is also the vice-like grip over the broadcast media. It is, therefore, not a spiritual awakening but a macho religiosity mixed with politics. The dropping of three hardline BJP MPs from the Lok Sabha contest should, therefore, not be misconstrued as any ideological softening. South Delhi MP Ramesh Bidhuri, who abused fellow MP Kunwar Danish Ali with communal vitriol inside Parliament, Bhopal MP Pragya Singh Thakur, who called Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse a patriot; and West Delhi MP Parvesh Verma, who suggested a public boycott of Indian Muslims, have been dropped. But this happened because they embarrassed the national leadership with the controversies, not because the thrust of their thinking went against the ideology of the party and Parivar.

Indeed, the BJP campaigns get high-pitched about Muslim issues in States where it is not in power but hopes for a good performance to shore up Lok Sabha numbers. This is quite noticeable in West Bengal and Karnataka. In Trinamool Congress-ruled West Bengal in the 2019 contest, the BJP won 18 of the State’s 42 seats, and some of those wins came in constituencies with a large Muslim population but a division in community votes meant that chunks of Hindu votes went to the BJP.

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In Karnataka likewise, the BJP continues to accuse Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of Muslim appeasement on every possible occasion, arguably putting him on the back foot in the atmospherics leading up to the national contest.

There will soon be further occasion for the Hindutva stormtroopers to show their strength. Ram Navami falls on April 17 and Hanuman Jayanti on April 23. In the last few years, we have seen intense polarisation in many States following the saffron processions.

One detailed study of the April 2022 violence titled “Routes of Wrath: Weaponising Religious Processions” examines the processions in 11 States. These led to violence, most infamously in the Jahangirpuri locality of Delhi in 2022 while in 2023 we had clashes in Howrah in West Bengal. This time, the processions will be taken out while the Lok Sabha election process is under way. Will the Election Commission take note and ban them? Or, will they be passed off as religio-cultural activity delinked from politics? 

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

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