Divisive project

The BJP is advancing the politics of communal polarisation aggressively in various regions of the country through its many Hindutva factories, creating a situation that can have dangerous consequences beyond politics.

Published : Nov 13, 2013 12:30 IST

BJP legislators Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana being produced in a court in Muzaffarnagar on October 4 in connection with the recent riots in the district.

BJP legislators Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana being produced in a court in Muzaffarnagar on October 4 in connection with the recent riots in the district.

APPROXIMATELY a month before rioting began across Muzaffarnagar district in the last week of August, an assessment by the Uttar Pradesh Home Department had indicated that communal tensions were increasing in the State’s social and political spheres. It had identified over a dozen potential flashpoints in different parts of the State and underscored that the events of July 27 (the demolition of an under-construction mosque at Kadalpur village in Gautam Buddh Nagar district), which led to the suspension of the young Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Durga Shakthi Nagpal, had erupted from one such flashpoint ( Frontline , September 6). The assessment reflected a sense of foreboding that prevailed in the security machinery. And within a month, the worst fears of the senior officials came true in a most shocking manner in Muzaffarnagar. The widespread communal riots in the western Uttar Pradesh district resulted in a huge loss of life and property. The officials who had shared their concerns had also made it clear that the intervention of different forces, including political parties, was contributing to the creation of such a dangerous situation.

While the assessment had it that all political parties were adding to the communal tensions by adopting postures favouring or opposing some communities, it particularly noted that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was once again aggressively pushing its Hindutva agenda through various stratagems. The appointment of former Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah—known for the many communally sensitive controversies surrounding him, including the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat and his alleged involvement in several encounter killings, including that of 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan—as the national general secretary in charge of the State BJP was perceived as a development that spurred communal polarisation. “The very appointment of Shah seems to have aggravated the communal fervour of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar cadre,” a senior State police official told Frontline .

At that point of time, Narendra Modi, Shah’s mentor and Gujarat Chief Minister, had not yet been anointed as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014. Modi’s elevation to that position was announced by the BJP even as Muzaffarnagar was reeling under riots. According to senior officers in the State security machinery, polarisation on communal lines has been growing fast since then. But, it is not only the country’s most populous State that has been witnessing this alarming trend. Reports of intense communal polarisation have emerged from all regions of the country—from Assam in the east, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh in the north, Maharashtra in the west, and Karnataka and Kerala in the south.

In all these regions, the Sangh Parivar is holding up one pole of the communal tensions through its varied subsidiary organisations and affiliates. The minority Muslim community is the primary target of almost all the manoeuvres of the Hindutva brigade though the issues and ploys raised and employed are nuanced. The methods employed differ from region to region depending on their social and geographical characteristics. Accidents and terror attacks are also exploited to deepen the communal divide.

Of course, Islamist fundamentalist organisations advocating Wahhabism are active in many of these regions, ostensibly to counter the Hindutva offensive. Ultimately, these sectarian organisations, too, seek to intensify the calamitous divide, causing greater distress to the people at large and particularly the poor belonging to all communities (see story on page 20).

One of the most blatant manifestations of the Sangh Parivar’s communal politics post-Muzaffarnagar riots got unfolded in Bihar immediately after Modi’s rally in Patna. On the day of the rally, held on October 27, Patna was rocked by a series of bomb blasts, which left 10 people dead and many injured. Early investigations by security agencies gave rise to the assumption that the Indian Mujahideen, the so-called home-bred jehadist terrorist group, was responsible for the attacks. The BJP and Modi jumped at the opportunity that presented itself. Modi came back to Patna, professedly to visit the families of the bomb blast victims, but before he proceeded to offer his condolences, the State BJP launched a public procession (asthi kalas yatra) to parade the urns containing the ashes of the blast victims. Clearly, the objective was to evoke communal passions, much in the manner that the party did in Gujarat in 2002 after the Godhra train burning incident. The urns containing the ashes of the fire victims had been paraded in the State then, whipping up anger and causing widespread anti-Muslim rioting.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and other secular politicians have criticised the parading of ashes of victims as they feel such processions will worsen the already sensitive situation. But such warnings have had no effect on the Sangh Parivar’s agenda to aggravate communal feelings and make political capital out of it.

Modi’s own pursuit of the Patna blasts issue has clearly indicated this objective. Speaking at Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh in the first week of November, he held the Congress responsible for promoting the Indian Mujahideen, almost suggesting that the ruling party at the Centre was responsible for the Patna blasts. “Sometimes, they misuse the Central Bureau of Investigation [CBI] and sometimes give a free hand to the Indian Mujahideen. Those doing politics with bombs, guns and pistols should hear me, I am made of a different material,” Modi said at the Bahraich rally, reinforcing the communal rhetoric.

While the Patna parade and the supplementary statements on it formed part of a campaign on a specific volatile issue, the Sangh Parivar is advancing the politics of communal polarisation by raising other issues in other regions through its several Hindutva organisations. Thus, the minorities are targeted in the name of illegal immigration in Assam and Bihar, in the name of “love jehad” in Madhya Pradesh, and in the name of illicitly accrued economic clout in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. Here too, a number of recent sectarian enterprises launched by Muslim organisations, including ones that have historically adopted moderate policies, such as the Indian Union Muslim League, have strengthened the Hindutva brigade’s manoeuvres. Interestingly, the campaigns that have been exploited in one region for some time and later given up in the face of rejection by large sections of the population resurface as part of the Sangh Parivar agenda in other regions. Thus, the “love jehad” campaign, which was originally tried out in Kerala and in the districts of Udipi and Dakshina Kannada in Karnataka between 2010 and 2012 and given up as the fallacy of the campaign was established by government investigations, has resurfaced in Madhya Pradesh in the run-up to the State Assembly elections scheduled for November. The campaign is also being advanced vigorously in different parts of Uttar Pradesh.

The cumulative effect of all this is worrying committed security officials at the national level, too. A senior Union Home Ministry official told Frontline that the growing communal tension in different parts of the country was so alarming that there were apprehensions that there could be serious conflagrations in as many as eight States before the general elections in 2014. The officer said that four States—Maharashtra, Assam, Karnataka and Kerala—were going through an extremely sensitive period.

Hindutva component At the political level, the Sangh Parivar has always sought to deploy at the time of elections a mixture of the “development gains” of its political arm, the BJP, and Hindutva polarisation. But the composition of the mixture has been different from time to time. In the 2004 general elections, the Hindutva polarisation element was not prominent because the BJP thought it could win on the plank of development alone. It was this conviction that was reflected in its “India Shining” campaign. But the campaign boomeranged on it. Five years later, in 2009, the Hindutva component was strengthened through the blatantly communal speeches of Varun Gandhi and the professed moralistic but communal assaults of organisations such as the Sri Rama Sene of Karnataka. The results, again, proved that mixture was also not good enough for an electoral victory.

However, a large number of Sangh Parivar activists in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are convinced that in 2014 the Hindutva combine, the BJP in particular, will get its mixture right. “In the candidature of ‘development man’ Modi, in its combination with our Hindutva politics in different parts of the country, we are indeed close to working out a winning and potent political mixture. I can see that in so many signals,” said a senior Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader based in Lucknow. He and many of his associates pointed out that in all the elections held in the past 15 years four factors had combined to bring down the BJP. These were the depletion of its core vote base, especially upper-caste Brahmins and the backward-caste Lodhis; the consequent revival of popular support for the Congress in select pockets; the absence of favourable emotive issues and the diminishing appeal of the politics of Hindutva; and, finally, the intelligent and tactical voting behaviour of Muslim. “But this time around we have overcome the first three problems and the atmosphere of tensions should neutralise the last factor, too,” said the RSS leader.

The last time Hindu-Muslim communal polarisation held sway over Uttar Pradesh’s political scene was in the early 1990s when the BJP and other Sangh Parivar outfits aggressively carried out the Ayodhya Ram mandir agitation. The 1991 Lok Sabha elections, held eight months after the Sangh Parivar organised a kar seva in Ayodhya in 1990, presented tangible manifestations of this polarisation. The BJP won 51 of the 85 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh in that election. This polarisation persisted for a year and a half, a period that saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in December 1992.

The Patna-based political analyst Surendra Kishore perceives a larger danger, beyond politics, in the growing communal polarisation. “At the social level, the Sangh Parivar is promoting different forms of hatred against the minorities. The economic insecurity of the unemployed Hindu youth is also being channelled just as it was done in Gujarat. And just as it did away with the OBC [Other Backward Classes] empowerment and caste alliance politics in Gujarat, this campaign seems to be strengthening a pan-Hindu identity politics than never before. This could strike heavy blows that could even negate the empowerment that has accrued to marginalised communities because the Sangh Parivar’s primary ideology is dictated by the hegemony of the privileged upper classes,” Kishore pointed out.

The Lucknow-based RSS leader expressed similar views albeit with a different emphasis. He said the Sangh Parivar had always taken pride in making Gujarat a laboratory to successfully test its Hindutva politics and that the model was now sought to be replicated at the national level quite forcefully. He observed that Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal had stated in September 2002 itself that in Gujarat the Sangh Parivar had raised the level of consciousness within the Hindu community so high that one Godhra incident was enough to bring lakhs of Hindus out of their homes to protect the dharma. Whole villages were “emptied of Islam and whole communities of Muslims were dispatched to refugee camps”. “Singhalji had maintained that this was a victory for Hindu society. Given the present climate, we are gearing up to repeat this victory across India,” the RSS leader stated with contentment.

Evidently, the project is moving on, and over the next few months, many fears could become stark and devastating reality.

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