National

For both BJP and Cong, it was ‘soft Hindutva’ that worked

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on January 27, 2018 Published on December 19, 2017

Why did the Congress lose the Assembly elections in Gujarat? What helped the BJP win? What was the main plank — vikas, demonetisation, GST, farm distress or unemployment?

None of these issues seems to have worked much for the two parties, given that the Indian voter generally votes on emotional issues. What seems to have worked was the common template of ‘soft-Hindutva’ the two rivals adopted.

The BJP repeatedly reminded people about the “curfew-free” atmosphere it has provided in Gujarat over its 22-year regime, unlike the ‘lawlessness’ of the Congress regime it succeeded. It, however, skipped mention of the 2002 riots that kept Gujarat on the boil for months, and which is seen to have given the BJP its highest-ever tally of 127/182 seats in the Assembly elections that year. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adiyanath also pitched in, with his brand of Hindutva.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and other party leaders took pains to tell people that a curfew-free environment and peaceful governance are the prerequisite for socio-economic development. The youngsters may be unaware of this, but the older voters would recall the caste and communal riots, and subsequent law and order issues, in Gujarat under Congress, they said. This could well have split the Patidar votes — surveys pointed to younger voters opting for the Congress and older ones supporting the BJP.

Even while addressing development-related queries raised by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Modi deftly turned the focus of the election speeches towards soft-Hindutva topics and nationalism, raising issues like Doklam, surgical strike, and Pakistan’s alleged interference in India’s and Gujarat’s affairs.

Temple tour

The Congress, meanwhile, reminded people of its secular credential while also believing in Hindu temples. In all, from September onwards, Rahul visited 27 Hindu temples across Gujarat, apparently to re-establish the party’s Hindu credentials for the first time since the 1980s, when his father, then PM Rajiv Gandhi, got opened the locks of the Ayodhya shrine. A year ago, Rahul himself visited the makeshift Ram temple in Ayodhya, becoming the first Nehru-Gandhi scion to do so since the Babri demolition.

That a significant percentage of votes may have swung the BJP way in communally-sensitive constituencies is borne out by the fact that the ruling party won as many as 69 Assembly seats, out of its total 99, from such areas.

In 2002, on the basis of an intelligence report following the communal riots, the Election Commission had identified 154 Assembly constituencies, out of 182, as communally sensitive.

Communal polarisation

Communal polarisation seems to have been an important reason for the BJP’s return to power. It won 44 seats out of 55 in districts considered communally sensitive — 15 out of 21 in Ahmedabad, eight of 10 in Vadodara, six of eight in Rajkot and 15 of 16 in Surat.

In addition, it won 25 seats from other communally-sensitive districts like Kheda (3/6), Anand (2/7), the Panchmahals (4/5), Bharuch (3/5), Mehsana (2/7), Gandhinagar (2/5), Sabarkantha (3/7) and Bhavnagar (6/7).

The Congress’s soft Hindutva paid off as well. The party won 16 seats, out of 80, in temples/towns visited by Rahul — for example, Chotila Assembly seat (Chotila temple), Radhanpur (Khodiyar temple), Unjha (Umiyadham), Patan (Veer Meghmaya), Gadhda (Swaminarayan) and Kapadwanj (Phagwel).



Published on December 19, 2017
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