February 06, 2022

UP: Falling Back on the Communal Agenda

AS the election campaign for the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls is in full swing with the first phase of elections be held on February 10 in western UP, it has become clear that the BJP is banking solely on the Hindutva communal plank for mobilising support.

The union home minister Amit Shah and chief minister Adityanath have set the tone for the BJP’s campaign, which is laced with communal dog whistles and anti-Muslim rhetoric.  Adityanath began the campaign by declaring that it will be a fight between 80 per cent vs 20 per cent.  This being the rough ratio of Hindus to Muslims in the state’s population. Later he sought to justify the statement by saying that the 20 per cent are those who are opposed to the Ram temple, the Kashi Vishwanath Dham and Mathura Vrindavan.  For good measure, he added that they sympathise with mafias and terrorists.

This is the motif of Adityanath’s rabid communal campaign – Hindus on one side and people who oppose Hindu temples and are linked to terrorists and criminals on the other.  The Samajwadi Party is sought to be branded as Jinnah lovers and backing mafias and terrorists.  To make the messaging more explicit, Adityanath tweeted, “They are devotees of Jinnah, we are worshippers of Sardar Patel”.

Amit Shah is not far behind in communal signaling. After the election announcement, Amit Shah held his first meeting in Kairana town where, before the 2017 assembly elections, the BJP had alleged that there was an exodus of Hindus who were forced to migrate due to the threats during the time of the Samajwadi Party government.  Amit Shah assured the people that they could stay securely because of BJP rule.  In another meeting at Deoband, he defended those who had instigated violence against Muslims during the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013. He stated that the victims were made the accused and the accused the victims.  He alleged that false cases were filed against BJP leaders and lauded their struggle to get justice.  Amit Shah also harped on the theme of criminals having had a free run during the time of the Akhilesh Yadav government, implying that these criminals got protection because they belonged to the minority community. 

Since the first three phases of the elections are in western Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has raked up the issue of building a temple in Mathura, where the Eidgah stands. The deputy chief minister, Keshav Prasad Maurya, himself raised this demand. So, Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura will find prominence in the entire election campaign.

This emphasis on the communal agenda and the efforts to create a communal polarisation are actually signs of BJP’s desperation having realised that the ground realities have changed. The historic kisan movement has healed to a large extent the Jat-Muslim divide which was created after the Muzaffarnagar riots of September 2013. The anger of the kisans, especially after the Lakhimpur Kheri atrocity, in which four farmers were killed, has been on display in several villages where BJP candidates were given a hostile reception and stopped from entering these areas. Harping on anti-Muslim issues and raking up old grievances are an obvious ploy to revive the communal divide.

The desertion of several OBC ministers and MLAs from the BJP and their joining the Samajwadi Party underlined the shrinking scope for the BJP to rally the non-Yadav backward castes, as it had done in the 2017 assembly polls.

The grandiose claims of ‘vikas’ under the Adityanath regime; the manipulated figures being produced to show growth in employment; and slanted crime statistics to establish that women are living in peace and security have all failed to produce the desired response from the people. 

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data shows that the employment rate in Uttar Pradesh has fallen from 38.5 per cent in December 2016 to 32.8 per cent in December 2021. All the tall claims of having created lakhs of jobs were shattered by the visuals of thousands of young men taking to the streets to protest against the railway recruitment exams and the brutal police assaults on them in their lodgings. In such a situation, it is safer to rant against Jinnah and brand all those who oppose BJP as followers of Jinnah.

UP saw the dismal sight of bodies floating down the Ganga during the second wave of the Covid.  Hundreds more were buried in the sands of the river bank.  Despite the bizarre claims of having improved and expanded the public health system, the fact is that according to the NITI Aayog’s Health Index, UP is listed at the bottom in the provision of health care among the larger states. As far as the NITI Aayog’s Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index, UP ranks third from the bottom with 38 per cent of the population being poor. 

It is with such an abysmal record that the Modi-Shah-Adityanath trio is having to tread the path of glorifying their contributions to the Hindu cause with the grand temple at Ayodhya, the Kashi Vishwanath corridor and the future temple at Mathura. The subtext of this message is that all these have been achieved by putting the Muslims in their place.

For the BJP, in Amit Shah’s words, this is not just a state assembly election but something which will decide the future of Bharat.  The stakes are high as the future of Hindutva is itself involved. That explains the desperation of the BJP leadership.

(February 2, 2022)