By RK Misra*
History repeats itself — first as a mistake, second time as stupidity and thereafter as a tragedy — invariably with lethal costs.
It began in 2002 as an experiment in crass communal cleaving to win elections in Gujarat and has endured up to February 2020 as the BJP pulled out all stops in ethnic animosity to wrest India’s capital, Delhi from the Aam Admi Party (AAP) only to fall flat on its face. A recap would be in order.
If AAP chief minister Arvind Kejriwal sought votes for his work, BJP toiled to unseat him through a vicious witch-hunt. The Prime Minister termed the ongoing Shaheen Bagh protests in Delhi a proliferating mindset which needed to be checked.
His Home Minister Amit Shah wanted voters pressing the saffron button so hard that those protesting the CAA (Citizens Amendment Act) and NRC (National Register of Citizens) scamper home by counting evening.
Again, Union minister Prakash Javdekar termed Kejriwal a terrorist and BJP’s Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath named Pakistan 8 times in 48 seconds during his Delhi election rally.
When a debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser. Poison dripped every time the country’s rulers opened their mouth seeking to equate Muslims with Pakistanis and hindus or any other who voiced support as anti-national.
The violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia Millia Islamia, both central universities, was used to queer the pitch as hotbed of anti-national activities.The entire exercise was aimed at communal polarization for electoral gains.
The answer to the bang-bang campaign came in the results on February 11 with just one resounding thud from the people of Delhi. BJP was washed away-a mere 8 seats to the AAPs 62 in a 70-member Delhi Vidhan Sabha — and their voluble leaders left tongue-tied, Shah included. The Congress blanked out again.
Narratives may be pliable but facts are stubborn. The propagation of communal polarization as a poll strategy was initiated by chief minister Narendra Modi in 2002 in Gujarat and continues unchanged through numerous elections countrywide as he navigates his second term as Prime Minister.
The state has been the crucible of many political experiments from Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent Dandi salt satyagraha in March 1930 to the Navnirman students agitation in 1974 and Narendra Modi’s Gujarat Gaurav yatra in 2002.
Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement which commenced from the Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi in South Gujarat created the building blocks for the country’s eventual independence from British rule in 1947.
The Navnirman andolan (reconstruction stir) of 1974, termed as a crusade against corruption led to the fall of the Chimanbhai Patel-led Congress government and found echoes in the national movement led by Sarvodaya leader Jayprakash Narayan which installed the first non-Congress government in India led by another Gujarati, Morarji Desai in 1977.
Ironically, Chimanbhai Patel who had been expelled from the Congress returned as chief minister heading a Janata Dal-BJP coalition government (so much for BJP’s corruption crusade).
The state became the harbinger of another political experiment after Narendra Modi took over as the chief minister in 2001.The statewide communal riots, that followed the 2002 Godhra train carnage left over a thousand people dead, a majority of them from the minority community.
However, in the Gujarat Gaurav yatra, taken out through the state, the target may have been the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (Mian Musharraf) but the imagery sought to be evoked was focused nearer home.
Similarly the name of the then chief election commissioner James Michael Lyngdoh would be spelled out in full to evoke Christian camaraderie with Congress President Sonia Gandhi whose Italian origins were also marked out for special mention. Minority bashing stood turned into a potent, poll campaign tool.
The 2002 Gujarat State Assembly election was the first example of a cleaving poll campaign-it now goes by the name of majoritarian politics- undertaken by chief minister Modi and reaped handsome results .
BJP steamrollered to 127 of the total 182 seats in the Gujarat state Assembly with Congress reduced to 51, Janata Dal (United) 2 and independents 2. Thereafter it evolved into a signature tune of the party under Modi-Shah leadership, unrecognizably distant from the Jan Sangh-BJP of the Atal Vajpayee era.
If it was Mian Musharraf in 2002, it was Kabristan-Shamshan in Uttar Pradesh, followed by ‘tukde-tukde’ and Shaheen Bagh
A cleaving campaign in such a context is when the majority community — through direct or indirect methods-is suggestively led to believe of an enhanced threat from a minority. The political objective is to unite a religious majority under the shadow of a perceived threat to vote a party on religion, caste or creed considerations.
Modi ruled Gujarat for over 13 years and helmed the state through three Assembly elections with each one of them targeting the Congress, which ruled the Centre and was the main opposition in the state, as anti-Gujarat and pro-Muslim.
Modi was portrayed as the quintessential Hindu ‘hriday-samrat’ who was being targetted by Pakistan based terror groups ,the messiah of development who had turned Gujarat into a model state and was the subject of angst and envy-
After Modi took over at the Centre in 2014 with Amit Shah as his party president, majoritarian politics has been the centre-piece of every election whether state or central. If it was ‘ Mian Musharraf ‘ in 2002, it has been the ‘tukde-tukde’ gang thereafter or the ‘Kabristan-Shamshan’ issue raked up in Uttar Pradesh elections 2017 and now ‘Shaheen Bagh’ in the ensuing Delhi polls.
What is the intended implication of union minister Anurag Thakur’s missive that invited a ‘shoot the traitors chant’ except to widen the communal chasm for electoral advantage. BJP MP from West Delhi, Parvesh Sahib Singh, even did away with the fig leaf of a pretense altogether as he warned people that those gathering at Shaheen Bagh in South-East Delhi will ”enter your houses, rape sisters and daughters and kill them”.
It was a reckless communal pitch that was taken to a crescendo by the BJP in the Delhi Assembly election.
Since December 2018, the BJP has been vanquished in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, outmaneuvered in Maharashtra, is hanging onto the coattails of the Janayak Janta Party (JJP) to retain power in Haryana and has now been roundly thrashed in Delhi. Predictably repetitive, it is just not yielding the desired dividend, at least not in state elections.
Clearly, cleaving communities and hawking hatred on the streets for petty poll gains is a dangerous game with frightening national repercussions. Those who seek a place in history should well remember that the distance between a victor and a villain is just a shred of time!
*Senior journalist based in Gujarat. Blog: Wordsmiths & Newsplumbers