Delhi Elections: BJP Crossing the Rubicon?
Every day, a new chapter unfolds in this theatre of the absurd that electioneering has become in Delhi: from scripted stings to staged firings, the Shaheen Bagh-Jamia protests seem to have become BJP’s star campaigners!
When Delhi goes to vote on the 8th of February, curtains will come down on what has arguably been the most divisive election campaign ever in the history of independent India. The BJP, in its desperation to win Delhi—widely perceived as a bell-weather state—has been in a warlike-frenzy, almost, and has turned this electoral contest into a battle-ground. The entirety of its campaign, unfortunately, has revolved around a factitious enemy: Shaheen Bagh. By a twist of fate, at least in the beginning, and subsequently by design, Shaheen Bagh has become the BJP’s punching bag for these elections. Every day, a new chapter unfolds in this theatre of the absurd that electioneering has become in Delhi: from scripted stings to staged firings, the Shaheen Bagh-Jamia protests seem to have become BJP’s star campaigners!
Even as all mainstream parties have chosen to distance themselves from the ongoing protests, or remain conveniently ambivalent, civil society has risen to the occasion. Shaheen Bagh is an organic movement that has sprung from the ground; it is leaderless, but not without leadership. It is led by ordinary women, whose sincerity and moral courage—in the face of a campaign of sustained and vicious slander campaign—has struck a chord with the people of all faiths. The protest at Shaheen Bagh has become a metaphor for the “lived secularism” that has found a powerful voice; a secularism that is rooted in the praxis of co-existence—howsoever much it might be derided the Hindutva brigade, or challenged by Islamist fundamentalists. With exemplary grit, gumption, and resolve, ordinary people have done the unthinkable: they have extracted a moment of enduring poetic beauty, one that is inspiring and will inspire always, from the cacophony of politics.
And yet, Shaheen Bagh has been dragged into the vortex of politics. It was bound to be, with elections looming large. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the hope and optimism, and the possibilities of a new kind of inter-faith solidarity that the movement at Shaheen Bagh has evoked, has not found resonance in the political landscape which is caught in the throes of a bitterly fought election for the state of Delhi.
Posterity shall remember the Delhi campaign as a defining moment in the changing nature of our body politic; the moment when even the veneer of secular vocabulary was banished from political discourse; and, especially for the BJP, this is a moment of reckoning, when it finally, as it were, crossed the Rubicon. One might even suggest that the dirt and grime of politics has led to a very different kind of Lotus blooming in Delhi, and it is not a benign one, but one that has the colour of vitriol and invective.
For what it is worth, this is also a moment of honesty for the BJP. The nice but vacuous homilies on “Vikas” and “Vishwas” are finally spent. In Aristotelian phraseology, this is the BJP actualising its “nature”, realizing its “potential”. This is the culmination of a long, sometimes arduous, development of a party born from the ideological womb of Hindutva, whence the seeds planted by the likes of Savarkar and Golwalkar have fructified and bloomed with all resplendence.
This is the new BJP of Amit Shah. It does not sugar coat its political message. It does not even need the sly grammar of dog-whistle politics or anything pretentious or polite. It marks people and localities by clothes; it brazenly paints entire communities as traitorous. It does not hint or allude; it is direct. Its ministers and leaders proudly, with impunity, raise invidious slogans like “Desh ke gaddaron ko goli maaro saalon ko”. This new-found slogan—which comes from ABVP’s oeuvre, and which was not long ago considered too extreme even by the BJP to be accorded a place in the political discourse—is now epigrammatic of how the BJP has run this election campaign for Delhi. Is this a straw in the wind for how the BJP will position itself in the coming elections of Bihar and Bengal? Perhaps. This leaves one with an ominous sense of foreboding. What if this is just the beginning and darker times lie ahead? The capitulation of the media has allowed the BJP an unfettered opportunity to unleash its spokespersons on TV to continuously raise the communal decibel by many notches. One must listen to the likes of Sambit Patras on TV to sadly realise that we have reached a point where the entirety of BJP's campaign for Delhi is consumed by the hurtling of rotten abuse and hate at Muslims.
Don't you squirm when you hear this venomous farrago being poured non-stop into your ears? I am a Muslim, and sometimes I wish that there was some camouflaging, some concealment, or at least some political correctness in these angry calumnies. Like in the good old days of Modi's first innings at the helm. That would have allowed me to prevaricate, or at least misinterpret what was being said—if only to avoid the ignominy of acknowledging the crude truth of the actions that are done by the responsible leaders of the BJP to Muslims. But, how does one spin stark, naked truth? This unprecedented communal election campaign has robbed Muslims of even the luxury of pretending that they are wanted.
Other political parties have only meekly opposed such slogans, yes, but the bitter truth is that the BJP has been fairly successful in morphing Shaheen Bagh as a metaphor for Pakistan in popular imagination, and its inhabitants, the protestors, who have been agitating against CAA-NRC-NPR as enemies and, traitors, who deserve to be shot. While it is true that Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) still seem to be holding all the aces, insofar as the electoral arithmetic goes—many opinion polls have suggested this—but the BJP may not even be fighting that limited battle. What is now abundantly clear is that the BJP has won too, and perhaps it has won the more important battle for the hearts and minds of the majority. That explains why no political party has dared to support Shaheen Bagh or come out in solidarity with the brave women who are singularly opposing the citizenship law—a sinister law which aims to divide people along religious lines and wrecks the secular fabric of our constitution.
It is tragic to realize that no political party has the inclination to fight the BJP on principled terms. The Congress is weak; it does not have a leader like Nehru who could fearlessly stand his ground even against his colleagues when it came to defending the secular character of the constitution. AAP has always been municipal in its approach, fighting shy of any ideological commitment. It knows too well that the Muslim vote is a captive vote as it won’t go to the BJP. It doesn’t want to take the risk of annoying the majority by being seen as sympathetic to Shaheen Bagh.
What a travesty! We surely must be at a wretched place in our chequered history as a civilization for an epochal movement—lit by the same glow that warmed our founding moment—to find no takers in the political terrain. In a sense, therefore, should the AAP win, it shall be a pyrrhic victory bought by the deafening silence of the whole political firmament: all parties have acquiesced in propagating the narrative run by the BJP by refusing to defend Shaheen Bagh. Such victories are meretricious, as they would only attenuate the rights of citizenship for Muslims by normalising, and even legitimising, a discourse of "othering".
One wishes that our political parties had more faith in the wisdom of the Hindu majority than the BJP, which thinks that secularism is a euphemism for minority rights alone. There is no hope for India unless the opposition realises that the BJP must be fought on the ideological terrain. A Gandhi, or a Nehru, would have understood that secularism is indispensable for a modern democracy. Or as Charles Taylor puts it, we can neither have democracy nor an open access horizontal society without secularism.