Politics makes surprising things happen. Even Narendra Modi can cite the Bible. It happened in Kerala, of course, on March 30. The prime minister was addressing an election rally in Palakkad, a district that hosts some of the high passes that take you across to Tamil Nadu. His point of reference was Judas, the arch figure of betrayal in biblical lore. And who did Modi wish to compare him to? The LDF government in Kerala, who else? The ironies that abound in Indian democracy today exceed the fact of the Hindutva icon citing a Biblical character, one who had betrayed Christ for a few pieces of silver, to a party that has spent decades trying to speak a godless politics. Till recently, of course. Because divinity, and the ways in which society approximates to it, is a political issue these days. The prime minister, on the campaign trail in poll-bound Kerala, also raised the Sabarimala temple issue, slamming the Pinarayi Vijayan government on its handling of the agitation following the Supreme Court verdict allowing the entry of women of all ages. Lord Ayyappan and Jesus Christ thus came together in 21st-century India.
The same day, amid loud chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, Union home minister Amit Shah also held a massive roadshow in far-away Nandigram, in the western part of West Bengal, where the canonical Bengali society begins to shade off into Adivasi territory. This edgeland has been part of Indian political lore for a decade now; you could hear its name being thrown about even in Malayalam films, as the place that defied even a Left regime when they tried to mess with people’s ownership of land. This is where Suvendu Adhikari, the recently saffronised leader who was on the frontline of that battle, is now taking on his mentor of those days, Mamata Banerjee. It’s a do-or-die battle. He shows no mercy for his former leader—he even called her the ‘phuphu’ of infiltrators and the ‘khala’ of Rohingyas. Phuphu means paternal aunt, and khala means maternal aunt—both are words used mainly by Muslims. And then he cautions the voters: “If she wins, you won’t be able to put a ‘tilak’ on your forehead, wear tulsi beads around your necks, or even don a dhoti.” The references are hardly subtle these days.