The game plan

The Sangh Parivar’s devious pattern of political moves ahead of elections, marked by divisive propaganda aimed at communal polarisation, comes to the fore once again, this time in Jammu and Kashmir.

Published : Jul 04, 2018 12:30 IST

 The BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir in charge, Ram Madhav (right), and Deputy Chief Minister in the alliance government, Kavinder Gupta, addressing a press conference in New Delhi on June 19, where the decision to pull out of the coalition with the Peoples Democratic Party was announced.

The BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir in charge, Ram Madhav (right), and Deputy Chief Minister in the alliance government, Kavinder Gupta, addressing a press conference in New Delhi on June 19, where the decision to pull out of the coalition with the Peoples Democratic Party was announced.

Subterranean manoeuvres are an important component of all the major political operations carried out by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its associates in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar. A striking manifestation of their underhand operations was evident in December 1992 in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya even as the BJP leadership, including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, assured the Supreme Court and the National Integration Council (NIC) that the structure would be protected. This strategy has continued apace since then through different political and organisational exercises. The cases in point include the incitement of anti-Muslim sentiments and riots and communal polarisation in northern India, especially in western Uttar Pradesh, in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election and the propagation of slogans imposing a Muslim identity on opposition leaders ranging from Congress president Rahul Gandhi to Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani during the Gujarat Assembly election campaign in 2017. Both these divisive operations were advanced even as the BJP claimed that its primary agenda in the two elections was ensuring sab ka saath, sab ka vikas (development for everybody).

This devious political pattern has once again come to the fore forcefully in the sequence of events engineered by the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir in June 2018. Outwardly, the claim is that the ruling party at the Centre was compelled to bring down the three-and-a-half-year-old coalition government in the State on account of the repeated failure of the coalition partners, the BJP and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to agree on a common course to curb jehadi terrorism.

Topmost leaders of the BJP, including party president Amit Shah and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, have been advancing this line right after the collapse of the alliance and the fall of the Mehbooba Mufti government. But there are not many takers for this as a large number of independent political observers as well as activists belonging to different parties have steadfastly brought out the massive subterfuge embedded in this argument. The exposure by analysts and political leaders shows how both the State and Central governments were equally guilty of worsening the security situation in the trouble-torn State. More importantly, these analyses have highlighted how the BJP and its associate outfits in the Sangh Parivar have methodically raised the communal polarisation campaign in the context of the spilt between the BJP and the PDP, both during the run-up to it and in the days following it.

Act of betrayal

Talking to Frontline shortly after the split, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah played vile politics with the important national issue of fighting terror. He said what the BJP and the PDP did while in power under the nomenclature of the Agenda for Alliance (AoA) was, in retrospect, an act of betrayal. He said, “The AoA had promised ‘reconciliation and confidence building within and across the Line of Control [LoC] in Jammu and Kashmir thereby ensuring peace in the State’. Just the opposite has happened. Apart from the forms of terrorism being bred and encouraged from across the border, its domestic seeding is a reality today. Kashmiris in the Valley are increasingly alienated as the State is in perpetual turmoil. Contrary to promises made in the AoA, the ambit of democracy has not widened. On the contrary, the BJP has been actively fomenting trouble in the regions where it has strength, such as Jammu, by victimising the Bakherwals, a nomadic Muslim community. Such incidents have involved senior leaders who were Ministers. The BJP propaganda on similar communal lines after the collapse of the alliance and the fall of the government is worsening the situation.”

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a four-time MLA representing Kulgam in the State Assembly, pointed out how the machinations during the BJP-PDP regime had thrown the State into a period of political uncertainty marked by stark communal polarisation, leading to sectarianism between the Jammu and Kashmir regions. Tarigami said the current ploys of the BJP, leading to the split, the fall of the government and the creation of a political vacuum, was merely part of its manoeuvres for larger electoral gains in the general election to be held next year (interview with Tarigami on page 17).

Some of the perspectives shared by opposition leaders, particularly Tarigami’s opinion on the larger implications of the current manoeuvres, find reflection even among activists of the BJP and other Sangh Parivar outfits, albeit sotto voce . These voices from within the Sangh Parivar have little doubt that the Kashmir manoeuvres are going to unfold essentially as part of advancing a Hindutva electoral plank. However, like many independent observers, these Sangh Parivar activists too espy some new tactical and strategic shifts in the current operations and the prospective dimensions these would have in the future. To sum up these perspectives, what is bound to be projected in the days to come is a new polarising game with a narrative pitting “Hindu India driven by the forces of Hindutva against Muslim Kashmir, which is in collusion with the enemy country Pakistan”. The narrative naturally reasons that the “only possible denouement of this situation would be in establishing the absolute supremacy of Hindutva forces over the political establishment of India, consequently resulting in the total subjugation of Muslim and Pakistan-aided Kashmir.” Of course, the argument would be that this objective will be met only with the return of a Narendra Modi-led BJP government to power at the Centre.

Social media campaigns

While the public posturing on Kashmir-related issues by the BJP leadership is with the affectation of civility and responsibility, the contours of the real divisive propaganda with the blatant anti-Kashmir thrust are clearly visible in many of the social media campaigns unleashed by the Hindutva combine’s cyber warrior groups following the BJP-PDP split. This is in keeping with the general trend in the advancement of the subterranean manoeuvres right from mid 2013, when the communal polarisation games for the 2014 Lok Sabha election started moving into high gear with the rampant anti-Muslim propaganda and consequent riots in western Uttar Pradesh. During that period, social media, especially fake WhatsApp, messages were manufactured in large quantum on selected issues, especially pertaining to Muslim youths wooing Hindu girls in a targeted manner (love jehad) or Muslim groups planning to attack a particular temple or a prominent Hindu household in particular areas. Such concocted news spread through social media and generated tension, which in turn was converted into communal clashes to cause polarisation. Hundreds of villages across Uttar Pradesh witnessed such propaganda by “under-cover” Hindutva social media cyber warriors producing predictable social and political outcomes.

Barely four years later, Hindutva social media subterfuge managers once again came into play in the Gujarat Assembly elections in 2017 when a visit by Rahul Gandhi to the Somnath temple was converted into a controversial event through the campaign that the Congress president had registered himself as a non-Hindu in the temple’s entry register. Hashtags #Rahul_Ka_Dharm_ Kya (what’s Rahul’s religion) and #SomnathTemple soon flooded social media spaces and became top trends. Even as this campaign raged, a parallel WhatsApp message propaganda using the very same Hindutva cyber warrior handles came up with the following poser: “RAM (Rupani, Amit, Modi). HAJ (Hardik, Alpesh, Jignesh). RAM versus HAJ. Who should win? Vote wisely.” (The reference was to Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Amit Shah and Modi, and the young Gujarat leaders Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani.) The list of contributors to Mevani’s election campaign was also sought to be made into a controversy with accusations that jehadi outfits had donated to it.

The use of fake news and the ploy of “branding and othering” individual political opponents as well as whole communities as alien to prevalent social norms and culture was widespread in these campaigns. What has emerged in social media platforms controlled by the Hindutva combine’s social media managers after the BJP-PDP split also follows this pattern. A clutch of social media messages have come up prominently in the current campaigns. One of them begins with the call to boycott Kashmir as a tourist destination. It goes on to list the reasons: stone-throwing at the Army, the sufferings of the security forces in difficult climatic and geographical situations, the challenges they face amidst jehadi militancy, and the financial and administrative help accorded to the State by the Centre, among them. The reasoning concludes by branding the entire Kashmiri people as ungrateful and gives a call to isolate them by strengthening the hands of the forces who have decided to teach these betrayers a lesson. This message is immediately followed by a shorter one showing a picture of Modi shaking hands with the Army chief, General Bipin Rawat. The text accompanying the picture has Modi asking Gen. Rawat when terrorism will be wiped out in Jammu and Kashmir. The General responds by saying: “Now that you have relieved us of the burden of traitors masquerading as local politicians the end of terrorism will be seen soon.”

Kashmir-centric campaign

Highlighting the themes of some other Kashmir-centric campaign messages, a Sangh Parivar cyber warrior of western Uttar Pradesh told Frontline that top outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal had given directions to make the situation in Kashmir as well as the larger security threats to the country the main theme of social media engagements for the next four months. “You will see a lot more efforts to prop up national pride and highlight the threats to the country, especially from jehadi terrorism and the community that supports them here. We have been told that the government will also make a stellar contribution to this through its own initiatives.”

A day after the Sangh Parivar activist said this, the Centre released the video footage of the “surgical strike across the Line of Control (LoC) by the Indian armed forces”, which reportedly took place on September 29, 2016. Evidently, the information that the Sangh Parivar cyber warrior had got from the higher-ups was on the dot, as there was no earthly reason why the Army should have released the footage nearly two years after the operation.

Scores of Sangh Parivar activists with whom Frontline interacted following the collapse of the BJP-PDP ministry were of the view that the recent spiking of the security machinery around the Prime Minister on the grounds of aggravated security threats also needed to be seen in the new political context.

A large majority of these activists were certain that there would be fresher and more aggressive additions to these campaign manoeuvres, the details of which, they felt, would unfold over the next two months or so. “There is little doubt that one of the catch slogans of the next general election will be ‘unshackled, all-out fight against all anti-nationals to heighten national glory’,” said a senior RSS activist based in Lucknow. He was sure that Kashmir would be one of the cornerstones of the themes in this campaign. Parallelly, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is expected to make some tangible moves for the construction of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. One meeting has already taken place at Ayodhya where Ram Vilas Vedanti, one of the main players in the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid, announced that the temple would be built without waiting for clearance from courts. The activists expected a series of moves on this front, too. In the ultimate analysis, they felt, that national security as represented by Kashmir and the Ram Mandir would be the two thematic pillars of the Hindutva-oriented campaign for the 2019 election.

Some of the activists Frontline interacted with had a penchant for frank discussions. Their overwhelming sentiment betrayed an element of uncertainty as to whether the current manoeuvres would be as effective as the ones employed in 2013-14. “We had everything going for us then. People were fed up with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Narendra Modi ji represented development of Gujarat and promised to replicate it at the national level. The Hindutva pride also worked because of the happenings in western Uttar Pradesh. Now, it is not the same, because four years down the line Modi ji is being perceived as somebody who promises big but cannot deliver at the national level.”

Asked whether this perception has led to some thinking about changing the leader in 2019 and bringing Rajnath Singh or Nitin Gadkari as prime ministerial candidates, the activists resolutely denied it. According to them, what was manifest at the moment was some open and unprecedented expressions of dissatisfaction at the functioning of the government from Sangh Parivar activists. But even they were targeting some leaders and Ministers other than Modi. However, these activists agreed that Modi and his team would have to deliver sooner than later. All of them expected that Kashmir could provide an aggressive beginning to the process of fulfilment of their hopes. The senior activist from Lucknow added that they were all watching the Kashmir page even as they carried out their respective campaign tasks in relation to the issue. As is normal in Sangh Parivar speak, here was a statement that was pithy and seemingly concise but vague all the same, filled with diverse portents.

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