Saffron forces are clear that 2019 is a ‘difficult challenge’ that they cannot escape, in fact, should not escape. As Amit Shah keeps repeating: ‘We must take on UP’s caste based leaders.’
NEW DELHI: The Bharatiya Janata Party wants the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to shape up as a battle between Nehruvian ideology and the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and not as a sharp contest between Mandal and Kamandal—that is caste-based politics and Hindu identity-based politics. With this on mind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah are moving into the 2019 battlefield in a manner as if 2014 was only the semi-final and it’s only in 2019 that the final battle will be fought to win the war of ideologies. The attempt is to make the elections a straight presidential style fight between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. The BJP doesn’t want demonetisation, GST or any other reforms to be debating points in this.
For both the RSS and the BJP, 2019 will be the culmination of the war that started with the inception of the RSS on 27 September 1925. Their aim is to unite Hindus and assert their Hindu identity in governing India. For this, while it is essential to fight and defeat the caste-based regional and ethnic forces, the aim will be to underplay the leadership roles of regional leaders such as Mamata Banerjee, Stalin, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav on the national horizon. This can be done if the Modi vs Rahul fight gains in momentum.
The recent announcement of 10% reservation for economically weaker sections among the upper castes is at the very core of this idea.
There is absolute clarity amongst all the saffron forces that 2019 is a “difficult challenge” that they cannot escape—in fact, should not escape. As Amit Shah keeps repeating: “Yeh UP ki ladai toh ladni hi hogi (We must take on Uttar Pradesh’s caste based leaders). Why not now when our leader is someone as strong as Narendra Modi?”
Regional, caste-based forces and aspirations of ethnic groups make Indian politics what it is. Indian democracy is all about their representaitonal participation. That’s why the extent of the victory in 2014 came as a surprise even to the BJP, especially when it saw that not a single Muslim MP was elected from a state like UP, where the community has always played a decisive role in many seats.
BJP has been hyperactive since 2014 to ensure that whatever be the results in 2019, 6A Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg will be the epicentre of nationalist politics in the coming decades. BJP’s imposing, sprawling headquarters is not just the symbol of saffron power, but its future too.
That’s why, on Saturday, 12 January, at Ramlila Maidan, Shah told 12,000 BJP leaders and cadre who had gathered there, to take selfies of themselves at the party headquarters in New Delhi and spread those photos all over India. In the last five years, the BJP and RSS have emphatically tried not just to influence politics but national discourse on everything. From JNU, media, cow slaughter to Sabarimala, on all issues BJP took clear and sometimes brazen stands. BJP has remained aggressive all through, except perhaps in the demonetisation debate and to an extent in the Rafale controversy.
From 1947 to 2000, Nehruvian intellectuals were claiming that RSS was not mainstream India and that BJP could never be the centre-point of Indian political thinking. Later, when the first BJP government came to power under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, they started saying that BJP’s right wing voters would never exceed 10%-15% in the country.
In 2014, with 31% vote share on its own and 17 crore-voter support, BJP’s aim was to consolidate the Hindu voter base without losing time. The mission has been messy—cow politics in UP, for example—and even violent sometimes—cases of lynching of Muslims in Hindi-speaking states. But in these turbulent times, Shah has brought about a transformation to the BJP that no previous party president was able to. He has created a permanent infrastructure and systems to spread information and create awareness of the BJP ideology. He has re-set BJP’s assets all over India and has increased manpower in all the districts. He has reshuffled the leadership-base in districts like never before. In doing so he has created within the party a huge distance between Modi’s power base and that of the rest of BJP leaders. In the process, Shah has taken a firm grip of the mammoth party structure that will be made available in Modi’s support—maybe only in Modi’s support—during and post the 2019 elections.
That should explain why, while addressing the all-important National Convention at Ramlila Maidan on Saturday, Amit Shah spoke of the third Battle of Panipat fought between the Marathas and Ahmed Shah Abdali of Afghanistan in 1761. He said, “Kuch yudh aise hote hai jo sadiyon tak asar chodte hai (some battles leave an impact for centuries).”
Soon after the defeat in the Assembly elections in the three Hindi heartland states, Shah had given an important speech to all office bearers on 13 December in Delhi. Then too he had mentioned the Battle of Panipat and had emphasised that 2019 would be a battle of ideologies. Nothing more, nothing less. He added that “Aaj aisi hi sthiti hai (2019 resembles the situation that was created during the Battle of Panipat).”
This should not only explain BJP’s desperation and panic, but also its passion and conviction to fight the 2019 elections. As a BJP office bearer claims, “Amit Bhai believes it took 67 years for the RSS ideology to get an absolute majority, as in 2014; but if we lose in 2019, then it will be a tremendous setback for seven decades of our work. It will take us another couple of decades to regain the thumping support for our ideology through the ballot box.”
At the BJP event in Ramlila Maidan, Arun Jaitley unfolded a five-point action plan for the party’s saffron army. He further elaborated on what the 2019 battle was all about. The leadership of Modi, the NDA government’s performance, the national narrative on issues such as GST and last-mile-development, emotional appeal on issues such as Sabarimala and cow politics to Ram temple and alliance partners within the NDA fold will decide BJP’s strategy.
In UP, BJP’s Panipat, Congress is seen as a vote katwa (vote cutter) party by all. It will cut into BJP’s Brahmin votes, but the BJP thinks that Congress will also cut into the Muslim votes of SP-BSP, more than their Brahmin votes. UP-based BJP leaders claim that it is possible that the Congress will be offered some seats by the SP-BSP by the end of February if they find BJP’s Hindutva narrative is not resonating on the ground. SP-BSP’s seat-sharing may not be final, yet. By going for a historic alliance, Mayawati (fighting only 38 seats) and Akhilesh (38) have given hopes to Mamata Banerjee (fighting 42 seats) by accident. Banerjee wants to emerge as the biggest party after Congress in the non-BJP space.
BJP top sources claim that they have completed their homework and three to four big ticket announcements and the Kumbh Mela event will change the narrative by the end of February.
Their internal pan-India survey conducted on more than 5 lakh voters is ready. Around 70 sitting MPs are being alerted that they would either be axed or given different seats or positions ahead of the elections.
When asked if BJP was “looking at 2019 nervously”, a senior leader said, “for us, the battle is not only about winning seats. It’s about ideology. Only Modi and Mandir enthuse our cadre. Nehruvian Delhi will be defeated in this round, finally.”
This explains why Congress is after all important in this historic mission of Modi-Shah.
Let’s wait and see who wins. Nehru or Modi?