The disruptive social effects of Hindutva 2.0
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was a result of the transformation of three crucial Ms in Indian politics: Mandal, Mandir and Markets.
Almost two years later, the BJP seems to be sticking to the script, but its tactical manoeuvres, even though they have delivered in elections, are beginning to show their disruptive side effects, with the possibility of unrest. Three seemingly disparate events over the past week highlight this trend.
First, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, while campaigning in Assam, said that a Congress government, if elected, would not let the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) be implemented in Assam. Gandhi was silent on the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Politically, this makes sense. Assam has had a long and bloody ethnic conflict, which was rooted in Ahoms — the indigenous landed elite — protesting against the large-scale influx of Bengalis in the state. Decades of negotiations and judicial processes ultimately culminated in the decision to update NRC, which was aimed at detecting illegal migrants in the state. Because a large number of Bengalis in Assam — migrants or not — happen to be Muslims, it suited the BJP to appropriate the demand for NRC.
However, the outcome of the NRC process, which is reported to have excluded a large number of Hindu Bengalis, who are current and potential supporters of the BJP, created a challenge. This forced the BJP into rolling out CAA, a law which provides for granting of retrospective citizenship rights to non-Muslims from India’s neighbouring countries. If a large number of Bengali Hindus were to gain from the CAA route, it would leave the Ahoms with a feeling of betrayal, for they oppose immigrants, irrespective of religion. This is the constituency the Congress is seeking to tap, and the BJP is now seeking to reassure by putting CAA on hold.
Second, an Economic Times report said that the Justice Rohini Commission, examining the reorganisation of reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs), is likely to propose a segregation of the existing 27% reservations into four bands of two, six, nine and 10%. Immediately after that, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar demanded that a caste census be conducted in the country.
The BJP’s success in the Hindi belt, especially Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, can be attributed to building a rainbow Hindu collation of upper castes and non-dominant OBCs. By championing a narrative that the politically dominant OBCs had usurped most of the benefits of reservation and that the Narendra Modi government will correct this historic injustice by creating sub-categories within OBC quota, the BJP aims to consolidate its base and marginalise traditional Mandal parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
But this approach has the potential to trigger an adverse side-effect. India does not have sub-caste wise population data. This means that whether or not the new categories of OBC reservation do justice to demographic weights of sub-castes will remain in the realm of speculation. This will create a fertile ground for disputes among various sub-castes who could perceive the new formula as an effective reduction in reservations. There is another possibility, linked to the demand of conducting a caste census, which can create an even bigger challenge. If a caste census shows that the actual population share of communities which are eligible for reservations exceeds 49.5%, there may well be demands to do away with the 50% cap on reservations — which has, in any case, been breached in recent times. Both of these have the potential to create large-scale social unrest.
And finally, facing a backlash in the traditional green revolution belt of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh (UP), and after having performed badly in the local body polls in Punjab, the BJP has begun an outreach programme among Jats. The community supported the BJP in the 2014 and 2017 elections in UP.
In one such outreach event at Soram village of Muzaffarnagar, violence erupted between the supporters of Cabinet minister and the BJP’s important Jat leader, Sanjeev Balyan, and local residents. Earlier, farm protest leaders have issued calls for social boycott of BJP leaders and collective punishment for those who fail to comply with these diktats. Given the maximalist positions which the protesting farmers have taken, such altercations are likely to increase. And since the BJP enjoys power in Haryana and UP, the possibility of the landed elite in these regions seeing the State as an agent of persecution cannot be ruled out.
None of these implies that the BJP will suffer electorally. It has a solid social coalition and is pitted against an emaciated opposition. However, it is exactly this electoral hegemony of the BJP which can deepen the sense of persecution/betrayal among those who feel short-changed by the side effects of Hindutva 2.0 strategy the BJP has unleashed. India’s history tells us that failure to seek grievance redressal through elections can push social groups into pursuing other methods, not all of which have subscribed to laws of the land. The BJP’s political dominance may, paradoxically in some ways, deepen social divisions.
The views expressed are personal