Opposition bets on Hindutva to counter BJP

The RSS can today sit back rather pleased that almost all the parties that operate in the Hindi belt now go some distance to prove their so-called Hindu-ness. AAP is highlighting its Hindu credentials, with Kejriwal promising that his party would make Uttarakhand the global spiritual capital of Hindus. The Congress is stating that Hindutva does not belong to the BJP and if they say Ram, we will say Bholenath.

Opposition bets on Hindutva to counter BJP

Master plan: Not to be outdone by BJP, Rahul Gandhi has pedalled soft Hindutva. PTI

Saba Naqvi

Senior journalist

Rahul Gandhi said recently in Jammu that he identified with the pain of Kashmiri pandits as he came from the same community. This was not the first time he had declared his Hindu and Brahminical antecedents: during the 2017 Gujarat elections, Rahul and the party stressed that he was a janeo-dhari Brahmin which means he wears the sacred thread. Clearly, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family occasionally feels pressured by the prevailing socio-political ecosystem. It sounds lame for anyone to say that I too am a Hindu and/or a Brahmin but many Opposition figures are doing so. It’s not in keeping with Nehruvian secularism but a reflection of the times.

Indeed, the RSS can today sit back rather pleased that almost all the parties that operate in the Hindi belt now go some distance to prove their so-called Hindu-ness. Take the case of what is happening in the tiny election-bound state of Uttarakhand to understand this phenomenon. The ruling BJP is of course the WWF heavyweight champion of being Hindu as a political strategy. But the AAP too has entered the arena highlighting its Hindu credentials with party chief Arvind Kejriwal promising that if voted to power, they would make Uttarakhand the global spiritual capital of the Hindus. Not to be left behind, the Congress that is taking out parivartan yatras in the state is emphatically stating that Hindutva does not belong to the BJP and if they say Ram, we will say Bholenath.

In India today, one could argue that it is only two parties in the deep south that seem to feel no pressure at any point about proving credentials as Hindus. The Left that rules Kerala and the DMK in Tamil Nadu that just passed a resolution in the assembly against the CAA. Meanwhile, one could explore the Hindutva lite of AAP. First, it must be stated that the architect of the party, Arvind Kejriwal, was always comfortable with Hindu symbolism that he used freely in the 2011 Anna movement, that came before the formation of a political party and in which the RSS and VHP also participated. The motifs, idioms and language of the Anna movement that began under an image of Bharat Mata were a mish-mash of hyper patriotism with notions of public service and rooting out corruption.

It’s been a journey since the party was founded in November 2012, less than nine years ago. Having defeated the BJP in two tough elections in Delhi in an era of a shift in national consciousness, the AAP now apparently believes that they can survive and expand in politics only by beating the national party at their own game which involves playing the Hindu card. This also extends to evading Muslim issues, not stepping out to defend the minorities, but not attacking them as the BJP does.

Hence, just as they ducked the anti-CAA protests issue during the charged Delhi election in February 2020 that they won, the AAP intends to go on evading issues that they believe are a trap in an era where binaries constitute a debate and the BJP grabs every chance to present the rivals as anti-Hindu. Therefore, its not just in Uttarakhand that Hindu credentials are being stressed (along with the template rhetoric about rooting out corruption and offering free electricity). The AAP has also begun an extraordinary campaign in Uttar Pradesh, kicking it off symbolically with Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Azad Singh (UP in-charge), offering special prayers at the Ram Janmabhoomi and Hanuman Garhi temples at Ayodhya. The AAP is not a big player in UP and would have possibly liked an alliance with the SP that does not seem to have materialised. In the meantime, they are trying to make a mark on their own and certainly got attention for beginning the campaign at Ayodhya. The AAP likes to believe that it annoys the BJP when they say they are Hindus too.

Howsoever we may interpret the AAP’s position, they aren’t coy about making a display of Hindu-ness today just as the Congress also increasingly does so. The difference perhaps is that the AAP has with clarity decided to go down this path in all states where they have ambitions with the exception of Punjab that has a different demographics. The Congress by contrast does so almost defensively, zoning in and out of soft Hindutva symbolism and statements, struggling at being all things to all people. Indeed, one must note that confronted with a pitched BJP campaign earlier this year, even Mamata Banerjee had declared before the voting day in Nandigram that “I am a Hindu” and went on to recite the Chandipath and said she does so daily, before leaving her home. She had added with her typical feistiness that “the BJP better not play a Hindu card with me”.

All these parties are struggling to survive in the face of mighty campaigns that the BJP unleashes. Even the SP, now the principal opposition to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, uses Hindu symbolism that has up to a point been par for the course. But what is somewhat tragic is the dilution and co-option of the BSP that once spoke so strongly for Dalit and subaltern rights. Today, the BSP rarely speaks for anything and is accused of playing a supportive role to the BJP in UP. It is now seeking to create a coalition of extremes, combining Dalit support with that of Brahmins. Satish Chandra Mishra, the right hand of party chief Mayawati, has said that the BSP will expedite the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya if voted to power, as if the BJP were not doing enough for the mandir to begin with.

It’s a strange agenda for a party rooted in social justice that could have talked of economic and social justice, unemployment, hunger and despair. But clearly, the BSP has travelled some distance from the ideas of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar and the principles of the Constitution that lays out a clear separation of religion and state. Mass politics is now moving in a direction where several non-BJP parties seem to believe they must be part of the Hindutva discourse to fight their battles.

The RSS should have no complaints as the larger goal is the transformation of India. The BJP may have a quibble over being more-Hindu-than-thou but it must know that imitation is the best form of flattery. Either way, Opposition parties now strategically use the language of Hindutva in their politics although it’s unclear whether this works or not.

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