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Gujarat elections: ‘Hinduvaad’ energises BJP’s supporter base but does not convert sceptics

BJP’s messaging around Hindutva has not helped in converting antagonistic voters towards the party — but it has energised its supporters.

assembly elections Updated: Dec 09, 2017 07:42 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, Dhanduka/Bhavnagar/Rajkot
Gujarat election,Gujarat election 2017,BJP
A supporter holds up a cutout of a lotus, the election symbol of BJP, with an image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a campaign meeting addressed by Modi ahead of Gujarat state assembly election in Kalol.(Reuters Photo)

As BJP state president Jitu Vaghani participated in his final roadshow on Thursday — the last day of campaigning for Phase 1 of Gujarat elections — an Assistant Sub-Inspector of the Bhavnagar Police watched him and his followers bring the city’s key crossing to a halt.

He was smiling, and turned around. “Bhajap (BJP) will win.” Why? He replied, “It is because they are a Hinduwaadi party. They take all Hindus along. See the Prime Minister has spoken of Ayodhya also. Mandir banna chaihye, mandir banega (A temple should be constructed, a temple will be constructed). Hindus will vote for them.”

The ASI, who insisted on remaining anonymous for he was not supposed to offer political comments on duty, was articulating a viewpoint that has existed — but below the radar — in this election. In the final lap of the campaign, the BJP has been more vocal in expressing its commitment to ‘Hindutva’ issues like the temple; it has also cast aspersions on Congress’ commitment to an early resolution of the issue. In particular, it has alleged that Kapil Sibal was acting on behalf of his Congress party when he asked the Supreme Court to postpone the case till 2019. This is in addition to subtle hints by the party leadership and candidates that a return to Congress rule would mean ‘Muslim raj’ - a criticism Rahul Gandhi sought to pre-empt with his temple visits.

HT’s travels reveal that the BJP’s messaging around Hindutva has not helped in converting antagonistic voters towards the party — but it has energised the base and consolidated its existing supporters.

Ayodhya messaging

In Dhanduka, on the edges of Ahmedabad district, Laxman is walking down the main bazaar. He is a petrol pump attendant and belongs to the Dalit community.

A BJP supporter, Laxman begins by reeling off the ‘vikas’-related achievements of Narendra Modi — roads, electricity, water. When asked about Modi’s comments on Ayodhya, he responded: “Ram Mandir must be constructed in Ayodhya. Congress wants Babri Masjid there. See their lawyer is against the temple. They are not with Hindus.” But isn’t Rahul Gandhi consistently visiting temples in Gujarat? “He is doing it only for elections. If he is so fond of temples, why doesn’t he support Ram Mandir?”

Kanhaiya sells vegetables down the same road. From the Satvara community, he is an ardent temple supporter as well. “Why shouldn’t there be a temple in Ayodhya? Ram is our God. I won’t say Congress is anti Hindu. But they should support the temple. We will not say no to a Muslim holy spot.”

Ramesh, from the same community, owns the next vegetable stall. He intervenes, with a laugh, and says, “Tell me, if a Ram Mandir is not made in India, will it be made in Pakistan?”

But, not all BJP supporters think this is an electoral issue. In Dhanduka itself, Ghanshyambhai owns a ration shop. He dismisses talk of the temple, and says, “I will vote for BJP, but because of Modi and vikas. See there has always been Hindu-Muslim amity here. What is important is that Modi used to stay in Dhanduka as a Sangh pracharak. We have known him from then. As CM, he brought roads and water here. That is why we are with BJP.”

The sceptics

The sharp discourse around the temple has not converted everyone, though it has made Congress voters a little defensive.

Zorubhai, a Koli farmer visiting Bhavnagar from an adjacent village, laughed off the BJP’s temple comments. “They remember the temple as soon as elections come and forget about it for five years.” Due to local affiliations with a Congress leader, Zorubhai said he will continue to vote for the party. “Sibal was arguing for Muslims, not for Congress party. Congress is also for the temple. BJP is trying to divert from the key issue of vikas. They used to blame Congress government at the centre. But for 3 years, they have been in power. What have they done for jobs and vikas?”

PM Modi greets his supporters during an election campaign meeting in Ahmedabad. ( Reuter File Photo )

At a nearby pan-shop, a group of young men echo the farmer. They dismiss BJP’s claims on the temple. One of them says, “BJP has become corrupt in power. They need to be taught a lesson once. This temple issue is a non issue.”

But while BJP has failed to win over the sceptics, its own audience is more motivated. As the Bhavnagar Police ASI said, “If Congress comes, Muslims will be strong and there will be riots. If riots happen, Hindus will lose. We need BJP to protect Hindus, to take care of them.” With a state functionary responsible for law and order at the local level adopting the message of the party, BJP may well have reason to smile.

First Published: Dec 08, 2017 18:48 IST