The Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi were the BJP’s first major test after the party officially anointed Narendra Modi its Prime Ministerial nominee. The BJP has done pretty well in these elections, retaining both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, wresting Rajasthan from the Congress by a massive majority and stopping debutant AAP from walking away with a clear majority in Delhi. While the BJP victories in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have been more emphatic than expected and the party’s results in the other two states are also impressive enough, opinions vary as to how far Narendra Modi can be credited with the results as the party’s star campaigner and declared prime ministerial nominee. It can well be argued that Modi’s high-profile campaigning and aggressive rhetoric hardly had any effect in Chhattisgarh and Delhi. But then Modi supporters can also say that the BJP would have been so much worse off in these two states had Modi not campaigned so extensively.
Leaving it to the psephologists and media analysts to figure out how much of an electoral impact Modi is really generating, we should focus on the political content of the Modi-for-PM campaign and the different dimensions of the Sangh strategy that need to be countered effectively. There is no denying the fact that despite reservations expressed by some senior BJP leaders including Advani, the most experienced leader in the BJP, Modi has emerged as the unquestionable choice of the entire Sangh brigade. Galvanised by Modi’s anointment as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, every Sangh outfit is working overtime to create an atmosphere of communal polarisation and whip up anti-Muslim frenzy. Muzaffarnagar has been the most disturbing upshot of this vicious communal strategy and it has apparently begun yielding rich electoral dividends for the BJP in areas with considerable Jat population as evidenced in the voting pattern in recent elections in Rajasthan and certain rural pockets of Delhi.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, BJP had built up its strategy of communal mobilisation primarily around the issue of Ayodhya. But following the demolition of Babri Masjid by Sangh vandals, the issue of Ram Mandir has perhaps lost much of its earlier emotive appeal. Nowadays the BJP’s communal campaign revolves around more contemporary anti-Muslim prejudices and the US-instigated politics of Islamophobia. The propaganda about ‘love jehad’, fears of influx of immigrants from Bangladesh and infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan, the myth of explosion of Muslim population and demonization of Islam in the name of terrorism – these are the key ingredients of the BJP’s current communal campaign. This is complemented by a relentless propaganda offensive against what the BJP calls ‘pseudo-secularism’, ‘Muslim appeasement’ and ‘vote-bank politics’. The BJP campaign of course also draws a lot of strength from the soft communalism of the Congress and the opportunism practised by many non-BJP parties in the name of secularism. The trivialisation or devaluation of secularism always ends up lending added strength to the BJP’s constant tirade against pseudo-secularism.