There are no half measures in the BJP’s vocabulary and the outline of its campaign for the all-important assembly elections in UP, now run by the Mulayam Singh Yadav family, is emerging. It is a mix of chest-thumping, priming the Hindu card and using every conceivable trick in the pack to win the state. As usual, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be thrown into the mix as the prime campaigner to the detriment of national interest in so far as he becomes a partisan abusing all opposition parties, instead of being above the leader above the fray, as was the practice in the past.
The chest-thumping will not be so subtle, after all, judging by the rhetoric and symbolism of Defence Minister Parrikar being designated as a main campaigner. He has been expansive on the theme of the valour of the Indian armed forces and has emerged as a garrulous speaker.
Predictably, the BJP has translated the “surgical strikes” into the epic tales of yore evoking the valour of traditional heroes and gods. The ruling party at the Centre has learned that subtle signals do not count in elections. Broad strokes are the norm. And the BJP has replicated its new-found love, courtesy Mr Modi, for computer technology other parties have been forced to copy by setting up shop in Lucknow.
As a half measure, the BJP is setting up a Ramayan museum near the Ayodhya site, a member of the party tellingly described as a lollipop. This is a token gesture to keep the Hindu card alive because any decision to build the temple at Ayodhya would run into a storm of protests and legal difficulties. The family-run Government of the Samajwadi Party on its part is planning a park near Ayodhya.
However, the SP has not covered itself in glory in the state letting family quarrels overwhelm official work and betting heavily on the Muslim vote, courtesy less than sterling characters it has in its ranks. Although the tradition of family rule was pioneered by the Nehru-Gandhi family, Mr Mulayam Singh has taken it to absurd levels by inducting his son and a host of uncles and wives and children and their children into the copious shelter of ministerial berths or other jobs.
Apart from the Congress seeking to make a dent by wooing Brahmins, there is the hovering figure of the BSP leader, Ms Mayawati, seeking to make her mark by consolidating the Dalit vote and offering lollipops to Muslims. She remains a formidable challenger.
Some of the problems of UP defy solution and there have been several plans to divide the state, which have fallen by the wayside. Whatever the statistics, it has gained the reputation of being the home of ‘goonda raj’ with rough justice meted out to victims for considerations of caste, honour or simple enmity. And the collective punishment of Muslims has been a frequent theme of pogroms.
For the present, UP is a highly sought-after prize because of its bumper clout in augmenting the winning party’s numbers in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP is seeking a majority in the Rajya Sabha or as close to it as possible to pass legislation of its choice.
Much of the country’s attention will be focused on the BJP’s tactics because, despite losing Bihar, party president Amit Shah is ruthless with his party men and women and expects total compliance. He has the advantage of being a close confidant of Mr Modi — the Gujarat duo having been brought to national politics — and wields the stick mercilessly to tame dissent.
A key element in contesting elections in the BJP scheme of things is the marshalling of foot soldiers provided by the RSS, now dressed in khaki trousers, instead of the traditional shorts. Come elections, the clout of the RSS grows each day.
Prime Minister Modi has still to reconcile the contradictions inherent in his becoming the chief election campaigner in every Assembly election. His hope of holding simultaneous elections to Parliament and state Assemblies is a long way to fulfilment. In the meantime, his invectives against opposition parties and leaders will poison the country’s soil to make him less of the country’s leader. As we have seen, his insults aimed at opposition leaders are not forgotten long after the election results are out.
In a sense, the RSS, out of which the bulk of the BJP leaders come, is still reconciling itself to its new role as the mentor of the ruling party which has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. Sometimes, it is carried away by the new clout it has acquired and tells off Mr Modi by forcing him to reduce the number of fake cow protection units from 70 to 80 per cent to “a few” in 24 hours. For the most part, the RSS expounds its grand theories of a Hindu India and is prepared to wait for some time for the age of bliss to arrive.
In governance, Mr Modi has the task of crossing the hurdles of RSS ideology to administer. Although he still believes in some of the fibs taught to him in the cradle of the RSS in which he was reared, he is pragmatic enough to set them aside to rule. But he, more than anyone else, knows the limits of RSS tolerance.
The results of the UP elections will determine how effective the immense election machinery and the time and resources put into the contest will yield. If the BJP does less well than it expects, it will brush off its disappointment with a shrug while nursing the pain.
Tailpiece: For a ruling party’s official journal — the BJP’s face to the world — the English language journal Organiser must rank as the ugliest publication of its kind. It is written in semi-literate English, its makeup is amateurish and the sketches it carries would shame a class IV student. Why the BJP cannot hire professionals in copy-editing and makeup remains a mystery.
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