If the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are a game of chess, then breaking away from the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir was Amit Shah’s opening move. The strategy was finalised on the eve of June 19 at a meeting between the BJP and its ideological mentor, the RSS. Nestled amid the hot and dusty Aravalli hills, leaders engaged in a three-day-long marathon meeting at a resort in Surajkund, Haryana.
The agenda was clear—to prepare a game plan to keep the BJP in power in 2019. The “worsening situation” in Kashmir came up time and again as something that was affecting the carefully-crafted image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ and a tough nationalist leader. RSS leaders who had come from the state gave the feedback that the Centre’s peace overtures—such as the ceasefire during Ramzan—were only giving militants time to recoup, regroup and rearm. Radicalisation and the voices of those demanding ‘azadi’ were only growing bolder. The message from the ground was loud and clear—“Pull out from the government and cut your losses before it’s too late.”
Outlook spoke to several BJP leaders and RSS functionaries to find out how they plan to ensure ‘Phir ek baar, Modi sarkaar.’ The crux of the strategy appears to be going back to the Sangh’s core values of Hindutva and nationalism. And the BJP and the RSS are working hand in hand, the latter’s refrain that “we are merely a social organisation” notwithstanding.
The plan to polarise was evident from Amit Shah’s aggressive speech in Jammu on June 23. There to attend the martyrdom day rally of Jana Sangh founder Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, he unabashedly talked about the stepmotherly treatment meted out to Jammu and Ladakh compared to Srinagar by a soft-on-separatists PDP. “This time, the road to Delhi will not only go through Uttar Pradesh but also via Jammu and Kashmir. Our workers and local leaders in the state had been simmering ever since we tied up with the PDP in 2015. It was a significant and symbolic move at that time. However, the inherent differences between the two ideologically antithetical parties pulled the state in opposite directions. We had to break off for the sake of our larger Hindutva support base, not only in the state but in the entire country,” explains a BJP general secretary.
There is no way the BJP could have gone into the next Lok Sabha polls as a partner of the pro-separatist PDP. A senior BJP leader tells Outlook that perhaps the government used the surgical strike strategy against Pakistan too early. “Though it reaped benefits in the UP Assembly elections in 2017, something like that cannot be used again. Even a big ticket move like demonetisation has been used. We must think of something else that has an instant connect with the people,” he says.
That, according to an RSS leader, is still Hindutva. “The so-called liberals can look down upon the concept of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra but the idea has amazing connect with the people at the grassroots. It is our core value and something that we will ignore at our own peril. The BJP has always suffered whenever it tried to go against its grain,” he insists.
Amit Shah’s Jammu speech made the plan to polarise clear
Both BJP and RSS leaders claim there is going to be major movement on construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. This is important to the BJP as much in Uttar Pradesh as in the rest of the country. “It was for a reason that Yogi Adityanath was appointed chief minister of UP. The BJP had already won 71 seats in the state and Yogi’s value was seen more as a saffron-clad Hindu leader, aimed at 2019. He has been used as a star campaigner in other states including Gujarat, Tripura and Karnataka. But with the party losing by polls including in Yogi’s own constituency Gorakhpur, the gamble may have been somewhat misplaced. That is one move that the party needs to counter,” observes a cabinet minister at the Centre.
The BJP believes that the Ram Mandir may come to the rescue. Much depends on the Supreme Court verdict in the Ayodhya title suit. “We are expecting a verdict on the case before October 2, the date when Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, who is heading the bench, retires. The perception created by the Congress and other Opposition parties—that the impeachment move against the CJI was not allowed because the BJP wants a pro-deity verdict—is wrong. We definitely do want an early judgement but we will be happy either way. If it is in favour of the deity, it will give impetus to our campaign, but even if it is adverse, we will still use it to gain sympathy and will go into 2019 elections in an aggressive mode,” the minister explains.
In the meantime, the UP government has been asked by the Centre to complete the Ramayana museum in Ayodhya by October 2018 so it can be showcased in the run-up to the elections. “The Ram Mandir may not be an issue any longer,” concedes a BJP leader, “but not working towards it has a high potential to harm us electorally, whereas showing our honest intent will do no harm even if it doesn’t reap benefits.”
With the BJP losing crucial by polls in Uttar Pradesh, it does need to revisit its strategy and work to negate Yogi Adityanath’s image of indulging in ‘Thakurvaad’ at the cost of other castes.
Social Engineering Once Again
It is no surprise that Yogi raised the demand for reservation of seats for Dalits in minority-run institutions like Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI). At a public event recently, he asked why, when an institution like Banaras Hindu University could reserve seats for Dalits, minority institutes couldn’t do the same.
“Even if the Ayodhya verdict is adverse, we’ll use it to gain sympathy and go into the 2019 election in an aggressive mode,” says a minister.
“It is an extremely clever ploy on his part. One, the opposition parties cannot oppose the quota demand. Second, by clubbing the minority status issue of universities like AMU and JMI with the Dalit reservation issue, he is killing two birds with one stone. He is also aiming to break the OBC-Dalit-Muslim votebank that had come together with the SP, BSP and RLD joining hands,” explains a BJP leader based in UP.
The RSS, in the Surajkund meeting, is also believed to have given the feedback that the BJP has lately acquired the image of being anti-Dalit. “The BJP needs to counter the misinformation that it is against the Dalits, that it has removed the SC-ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and that it is going to do away with reservations. Parties like Mayawati’s BSP are already gaining ground. She is trying to wean back her core voters, many of whom voted for the BJP in 2014 and also in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh polls. The BJP must do major work on the Dalit issue. It will have a bearing in UP and also in Bihar,” says a UP-based RSS functionary.
The BJP is also banking heavily on subcategorisation of OBCs—41 per cent of the country’s population—into most backward classes (MBCs) and extremely backward classes (EBCs) to apportion reservations. A committee set up by the Centre is expected to report in July. The party is also likely to flaunt the OBC credentials of its trump card, PM Modi.
Modi remains the BJP’s most precious and marketable asset. “People still have appreciation for him. His personal image is above board. He has shown that he can take tough decisions like demonetisation and GST without worrying about electoral politics. When he goes to campaign in any state, it tilts fortunes in favour of the BJP. Now imagine when he goes to seek votes for another term for himself. People will see him and think of 10 other regional leaders trying to take him on. It does not take rocket science to guess which way the voters will go,” says a BJP office-bearer.
Though Modi-Shah do not give an inkling of their next move, the office-bearer believes that more pro-poor schemes like Ujjwala (for LPG) and Saubhagya (electricity for all) can be rolled out before the polls. “There is no doubt that King Modi and his Wazir (Shah) will checkmate the combined Opposition,” he adds.