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Falling back on Hindutva

Print edition : Jan 04, 2008 T+T-
Narendra Modi at an election rally in Ahmedabad.-PTI

Narendra Modi at an election rally in Ahmedabad.-PTI

On failing to sell his governments achievements to Gujarats voters, Narendra Modi pumps up Hindutva chauvinism in his speeches.

Narendra Modi at

WHAT should be done to a man who stored illegal arms and ammunition? You tell me what should have been done to Sohrabuddin, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi asked the crowd at an election rally in Mangrol in south Gujarat. The crowd replied: Kill him, kill him. In response, Modi said: Well, that is it. Do I have to take Sonia Gandhis permission to do this? Hang me if I have done anything wrong.

This speech has shocked the nation, but in Gujarat, people did not bat an eyelid. To them, it is nothing unusual. This is the level of political debate in the State.

Moreover, everything is tinged with communal overtones. In the last leg of his campaign, Modi resorted to rabble-rousing to win over voters and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh cadre, many of whom have deserted him. By referring to Sohrabuddin Sheikh, he was reviving the fear of terrorism, a manufactured threat.

Sohrabuddin, his wife Kauser Bi and Tulsiram Prajapati were pulled out of a bus by Modis favourite encounter specialist D.G. Vanjara on November 23, 2005. Three days later, Sohrabuddin was killed in a police encounter. Kauser Bi had been missing since then. A year later, Prajapati was killed in an encounter. Sohrabuddin was supposed to have been part of a conspiracy to kill Modi. As truth of the brutal encounter killings came to light, many of these assassination conspiracies turned out to be fake. Vanjara and two other police officers are now in jail for the fake encounter murders. The dark brutality of Gujarats human rights abuse was exposed in this case.

The Sohrabuddin encounter was a skeleton in Modis closet, better kept buried. Yet, he has raked it up to turn it in his favour, using it to reinforce his macho Hindutva hero image - unafraid of terrorists and minor complications such as the rule of law.

Taking off from his Gujarat Gaurav (Gujarat Pride) campaign of 2002, the campaign slogan this time is Jeetega Gujarat (Victorious Gujarat). Modi had tried to sell his governments achievements to voters. But once he realised that they saw through the gas, Modi pumped up Hindutva chauvinism. It was a desperate attempt to win back the Sangh cadre, many of whom are campaigning for rebel candidates.

Though there is enough evidence to prove that the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 was state-supported, Modi remains confident that he can get away with murder. If the Tehelka tapes (where BJP leaders were caught on camera speaking about the Chief Ministers role in the mass murders) could not bring him down, the Sohrabuddin speech would be no cause for worry.

An astute politician, Modi knows how to play to the gallery. When he needs to reach out to the cadre, it is back to Hindutva. Earlier in the campaign too, while addressing a meeting of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Ahmedabad, Modi had proudly owned up the Sohrabuddin killing. The urban business community in the State lapped it up. Most of them are hard core Hindutva supporters. But, while talking to Adivasis, Modi does not use the same language. Instead, he promises them land under the new Forest Rights Act and blames the Congress-led government at the Centre for delaying its implementation.

His remarks irked the media at the national level. Human rights activist Teesta Setalvad filed a complaint with the Election Commission for provoking communal tension. The BJP responded by filing a complaint with the E.C. against Congress president Sonia Gandhi for calling one of its leaders a merchant of death.

While the national media noticed the Hindutva tone only towards the end of the campaign, the truth is that Modi has used it throughout. Every speech of his has a Hindutva subtext, even when he is talking about development, says Achyut Yagnik, social activist and historian. In his first campaign speech, Modi said that the design of the new two-rupee coin has been changed, replacing the map of India with a cross, a veiled reference to Sonia Gandhis religious background. Whenever he speaks of the Central government, he uses the term Delhi Sultanate or Delhi durbar mockingly, he adds.

The BJPs campaign managers published advertisements in Gujarati newspapers with headlines such as, Put salt on the wounds of Godhra. The text has a poem directed against the Congress: Made [Justice U.C.] Banerjee write a report, About how the fire started inside, The case was weakened, The culprits were saved, We will expose this conspiracy, And Gujarat will be victorious. The obsession with Godhra has not ended.

During the 2002 election campaign, Modi angered the Election Commission when he said, We do not want to continue to run relief camps to produce children. We wish to go towards family planning. But for some people that means hum paanch, hamare pachhees (We five, our 25). They keep on giving birth to long queues of children, who keep repairing cycle punctures everywhere. We must teach a lesson to those who multiply like this. Later, Modi even lashed out against the then-Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh. He asked: Is Lyngdoh from Italy? He and Sonia Gandhi must be meeting each other in church. None of these communal speeches caused him any harm. Whos to stop him this time round then?

The 2002 election campaign was far more communally charged. The BJP distributed T-shirts displaying pictures of the burning train at Godhra and a slogan saying, I will not let my town become a Godhra.

This election does not have the same intensity of hatred as in 2002 following the communal carnage. Then, the wounds were still raw and the mood still triumphant. But the communal hangover lingers. Urban Gujarat still remains divided along religious lines. People still harbour the same prejudices and feel vindicated by the violence. For once, Hindus came out and fought is the popular sentiment.

The fact that Modi still uses the communal card is an indication that stirring prejudices still works with certain sections of the electorate, particularly the urban voters. It is a sad reminder that even five years after the communal carnage in the State, the prejudice and polarisation remains strong even if there is no violence.