With an eye on UP and U’khand polls, Oppn competes by emulating Hindutva
Promising a spiritual city in one poll-bound state and carrying out a Tiranga Yatra in another, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s political pitch shows an unmistakable overture towards the Hindu votebank as it gears for the upcoming elections in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh (UP).
The Congress, which is also hopeful of reviving its fortunes in the upcoming set of assembly polls, is also making an effort to compete with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to grab a share of the Hindu vote bank pie through symbolic gestures and commitments.
The AAP and the Congress are not the only ones competing with BJP in wooing what can broadly be called the “Hindu vote”. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) in UP too have tweaked their outreach to appear less-pro minorities to prevent the BJP from being the only political entity to gain from the poll plank of Hindutva.
As polls draw close, Opposition parties have allowed issues related to religion take centre-stage even as the spotlight is on issues such as development deficit, job crisis and the economic slowdown.
In Uttarakhand, where the AAP is striving to emerge as a third pole in what has been a traditional bipolar contest between the BJP and the Congress, party leaders have spoken about turning Dehradun into a spiritual city and taken up the contentious issue of the management of Temples and sided with the priests who do not want government interference by way of the Devasthanam Board that was set up in 2019 by the then chief minister (CM) Tirath Singh Rawat. In UP, the AAP’s September 14 Tiranga Yatra in Ayodhya, with a stopover at the Ram Temple, is aimed at emerging as an alternate to the BJP.
Congress leaders too have not shied away from wearing their Hindu credentials on their sleeves. If leaders in UP make references to former party president Rahul Gandhi being a Shiv Bhakt and a janeudhari (or one who wears the sacred thread), in Uttarakhand, Harish Rawat, the party’s former CM and poplar face has also been invoking Hindu Gods.
In UP, the BSP, which pivoted its politics on the fight against oppression by the so-called upper castes, has been wooing the Brahmins. On Tuesday the party’s supremo, Mayawati, addressing a conclave said that Brahmins agree that they were in a better condition during BSP’s rule. “We should join more people from Brahmin community with us for the upcoming elections to form government with majority, similar to 2007,” she said.
The party‘s national general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra has also been on a temple-visiting spree, having offered prayers at a makeshift Ram temple in Ayodhya and accusing the current leadership in the state of discriminating against the so-called upper caste.
The SP, which was accused by the BJP of appeasing minorities, too has been trying to change its image as that of a party whose politics centres around the Yadavs and the Muslims. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has promised a Vishnu temple indicating a shift in the party‘s policy.
The shift within the Opposition
Opposition parties deny competing for the Hindu votes.
AAP’s Sanjay Singh rejected the premise that the party has altered its election strategy or changed its stance. He said, “Our Tiranga Yatra has nothing to do with the kind of politics that BJP talks about; we are talking about equality between Hindus and Muslims we are talking of the Delhi model of governance, which is development and progress. It is wrong for the BJP to appropriate the national flag or temples or religion; the Constitution of this country guarantees people the freedom to choose their religion or even be atheists.”
On the charge that the AAP is allowing religious issues to override other concerns in poll-bound states, he said, “Mahatma Gandhi was a religious man, yet he was a secular; (Mohammed Ali) Jinnah on the other hand was a religious man who was not secular so there is a difference. We think appeasement in itself is wrong; there should be no appeasement of anyone Muslims or Hindus.”
A Samajwadi Party leader, who did not wish to be named, was more candid. He said there has been a shift in how the party perceives the issues related to Hindutva because the BJP has been successful in changing the narrative. “The biggest achievement of the RSS- BJP has been the iteration of Hindu identity across castes. If any party has to win, they cannot afford to alienate the Hindu vote bank anymore,” the leader said.
Not anyone agrees with the strategy. A Delhi-based former SP leader, who requested anonymity, cautioned that emerging as clones of the BJP would prove counter-productive for these parties. “These parties will not be able to take up issues that the BJP does or even take extreme positions that some of the BJP leaders have taken on issues such as glorifying Godse or on issues related to population control among minorities. By modelling themselves on the BJP, they will end up losing their respective constituencies,” he said.
For the BJP — vindicated, challenged
The Opposition’s overtures towards Hindus have evoked mixed feelings in the BJP. While a section of leaders believe that these parties will not make any headway because their more recent Hindutva avatar will be seen as a poor copy of the BJP, there are some others who argue that it could pose a challenge to the BJP.
“BJP‘s politics is rooted in Indian culture. For us, Bharatiyata (Indianess) and patriotism are part of our ethos and we believe everyone has the right to follow their faith and practice it without restrictions. What these parties are doing is drama and this turn towards Hindus is a seasonal phenomenon (linked to the elections). People will see through this,” said Chandra Mohan, spokesperson of the BJP in UP.
Political commentator and professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Ajay Gudavarthy said that the BJP has been able to enforce the Hindu identity across castelines. “What the rise of the BJP has done is to prove that there is an appeal of the Hindu identity cutting across caste and class lines. This phenomenon is here to stay and therefore all the parties are making similar appeal,” he said.
Gudavarthy added, “This is also making it (electioneering) shrill and ugly in the process of distinguishing each other’s appeal to the same identity. But such appeals have worked only in tandem with developmental aspirations.”