2019: Signs of anti-incumbency

Amulya Ganguli

No one says any more that the “achhe din” are here, while those like Omar Abdullah and Nitish Kumar, who claimed that Narendra Modi faced no challenges, have fallen silent. Even the boasts about the BJP ushering in a Congress-mukt Bharat have died down.
Instead, we have seen the unusual spectacle of the redoubtable Amit Shah breaking away from his Jan Raksha (save the people) padayatra in Kerala to rush to Delhi for a round of consultations with Modi and others to save the party from a critical political and economic situation.
What is noteworthy is that it has taken a mere three and a half years for the BJP to slip from its earlier position of being the lord of all it surveys to one where its grip on power is perceptibly less secure.
It isn’t only the economic slowdown which has landed the BJP in trouble. An equally potent cause is the atmosphere of what the former BJP minister and now a trenchant critic of the government, Yashwant Sinha, has called “darr” or fear in large parts of the country.
The primary victims of the fear are the minorities. Strangely, it isn’t communal riots on the 2002 Gujarat pattern which have unnerved them, but an underlying atmosphere of unease and uncertainty which makes them wary and nervous about almost every step they take, not knowing when they may fall foul of the Hindutva Gestapo.
The three typical cases which may have intensified their dread of not knowing when they may be done to death are those of Mohammed Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Junaid Khan. Akhlaq was having a meal with his family in a Delhi suburb when he was killed by a mob on the suspicion that beef was being consumed.
Pehlu Khan was killed while transporting cattle through a Rajasthan town for which he had the requisite permit, but which the gaurakshak signored as they were convinced that he was either taking the cows for slaughter or for smuggling. And Junaid was killed following a quarrel over seat sharing in a local train near Delhi, and because he “looked Muslim”.
It is the assumption of authority by those who are not formally authorized to wield it simply because they belong to the ruling dispensation which has been slowing undermining the BJP’s position.
The BJP’s success in 2014 was based on the faith which the people had placed in Modi’s promise of “vikas”. But what the electorate hadn’t bargained for was to be held hostage to the party’s concept of what constitutes patriotism and what does not.
Never before in Indian history has so much emphasis been placed on testing a citizen’s nationalist credentials. So much so that Union ministers and chief ministers haven’t hesitated from insisting that unless a person says, Bharat Mata ki Jai, he may be in danger of being deported to Pakistan – the BJP’s preferred place of exile for perceived anti-nationals.
The BJP might have got away with its hyper-nationalism if “vikas” had taken place. The average person who was assured of a regular income might have dismissed the focus on patriotism as an aberration which could be endured if only because he could seek succour from the judiciary in extreme cases of intimidation and harassment.
But the common man will resent having to run the gauntlet of the BJP’s test of patriotism in the context of the failed promise of development. This is the crux of the BJP’s present problem. To make matters worse for the ordinary citizens, the dissenters among them have to face a barrage of abuses from what used to be known as Internet Hindus and are now called trolls.
These vicious users of foul language have always been a part of the saffron network. In the pre-Internet days, they used to send handwritten post cards and inland letters full of vulgar allusions to the characters of the receiver’s female family members. Now they have graduated to Twitter, Facebook, blogs and emails. But their hate for the suspected seditionists remains undiminished.
Their animosity towards the anti-nationals has also found expression in outright killings such as that of the woman journalist, Gauri Lankesh, who has been called a “presstitute” by a saffron blogger. It is an insulting term which is much favoured by the former army chief and present Minister of State for Defence, V.K. Singh.
It is this atmosphere of venom and vitriol which is eroding the BJP’s base, leaving it only with its core supporters and persuading those to drift away who do not look on the minorities with a jaundiced eye or think that all opponents of the BJP are traitors.
What is more, this vitiated environment is not a new phenomenon. It has been present from the time when a number of writers, academics, filmmakers and other members of the intelligentsia returned their awards and made groups of retired bureaucrats and army veterans warn the government of the growing intolerance.
This sense of disquiet has only increased, raising doubts whether it will be an easy win for the BJP in 2019. (IPA)

Sunday, 15 October, 2017