Just Hin­dutva won’t work in Ker­ala

In a state which cel­e­brates uni­ver­sal lit­er­acy, di­vi­sive pro­pa­ganda could in­vite a back­lash

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - COMMENT - Ra­jdeep Sarde­sai is a se­nior jour­nal­ist and au­thor The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

Last Tues­day, the govern­ment of In­dia seemed to tem­po­rar­ily shift its base to the BJP head­quar­ters. A string of high pro­file Union min­is­ters queued up for tele­vi­sion in­ter­views to protest Left vi­o­lence against RSS cadres in Ker­ala. For­get eco­nomic slow­down, jobs, GST, Ro­hingyas or Kash­mir: for a few hours at least, the BJP’S high-deci­bel Jan Rak­sha Ya­tra across Ker­ala took prece­dence, as the lines between party and govern­ment were blurred.

The Ker­ala-cen­tric blitzkrieg re­veals the BJP’S ap­petite for po­lit­i­cal ex­pan­sion. This is a state where the BJP has never won a Lok Sabha seat and where it won an as­sem­bly seat for the first time in 2016. Its vote share though has steadily in­creased from 6% in 2011 to al­most 15% in 2016. And yet, the tepid re­sponse on the ground to the Amit Shah-led ya­tra sug­gests that Ker­ala’s back­wa­ters aren’t ready for the lo­tus to bloom just yet. That the BJP pres­i­dent chose to hastily re­turn from Ker­ala to the na­tional cap­i­tal sug­gests that the party lead­er­ship re­alised this was one gam­bit not work­ing out to the script.

Why has the BJP failed to crack the Ker­ala co­nun­drum? This is, af­ter all, a state with a size­able mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion – between them, Mus­lims and Chris­tians con­sti­tute 45% of the state – so there is ev­ery pos­si­bil­ity of ce­ment­ing a ma­jor­ity Hindu vote bank. The Left-con­gress bi­nary pol­i­tics have led to a mea­sure of fa­tigue among the vot­ers, es­pe­cially the youth. While Left and RSS cadres have tar­geted each other for years in a bloody con­flict, there is ev­i­dence to sug­gest that the vi­o­lence has be­come more one-sided with the left now in power. More­over, Naren­dra Modi’s na­tion­wide ap­peal of Hin­dutva plus good gov­er­nance should ide­ally res­onate pow­er­fully in God’s Own Coun­try where tem­ples and trade unions nes­tle in close prox­im­ity, where re­li­gion and class iden­ti­ties co-ex­ist.

If Ker­ala then is still re­sist­ing the BJP jug­ger­naut, it re­veals the lim­i­ta­tions of the pol­i­tics of po­lar­i­sa­tion. The Hindi-hindu-hindustan ide­o­log­i­cal ap­peal of the BJP was orig­i­nally de­signed for the caste and com­mu­nity caul­dron of the Gangetic heart­land.

By con­trast, the Hindu po­lit­i­cal tra­di­tions of Ker­ala are rooted in the so­cial re­formist move­ments of the early 20th cen­tury that aimed to trans­form Hindu so­ci­ety from within. The his­toric tem­ple en­try move­ment broke the supremacy of Brah­mini­cal rit­u­als and tra­di­tions, busted caste bar­ri­ers and cre­ated the ba­sis for a more egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety where the free­dom to wor­ship was a fun­da­men­tal right for all and where cow wor­ship wasn’t cen­tral to Hindu re­li­gious be­liefs. This wasn’t the dis­cor­dant pol­i­tics of saf­fron­robed Swamis and Ma­hants seek­ing to tar­get mi­nori­ties but the re­formist zeal of iconic fig­ures like a Narayana Guru who chal­lenged re­li­gious or­tho­dox­ies and pushed for spir­i­tual free­dom and so­cial equal­ity.

Con­trast the sec­u­lar, in­clu­sive spirit of a Narayana Guru with the anti-mi­nor­ity rhetoric of a Yogi Adityanath, the new­est poster­boy of Hin­dutva pol­i­tics. By mak­ing the con­tro­ver­sial Yogi one of the prime faces of its Ker­ala cam­paign, the BJP made the mis­take of rais­ing the com­mu­nal pitch: the ‘love ji­had’ rhetoric may be al­lur­ing in the back­ward re­gions of Ut­tar Pradesh, but in a state which cel­e­brates its uni­ver­sal lit­er­acy pro­gramme, the di­vi­sive pro­pa­ganda against ‘forced’ in­ter-re­li­gious mar­riages will in­vite a back­lash from those who see it as a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to di­vide so­ci­ety. More­over, can a Yogi cred­i­bly chal­lenge Ker­ala’s so­cial de­vel­op­ment record af­ter hav­ing en­dured the em­bar­rass­ment of spi­ral­ing in­fant deaths in Go­rakh­pur’s main hospi­tal?

This does not mean the BJP can­not grow in Ker­ala: if po­lit­i­cal Is­lam con­tin­ues to rad­i­calise Mus­lim youth, if the Pi­narayi Vi­jayan govern­ment fails to check po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence, if the Con­gress re­mains a party lack­ing en­ergy and co­he­sion, then the BJP does have a fu­ture in the state. But to march ahead, the BJP must shed its core Hin­dutva prej­u­dices : Ker­ala can be con­quered by spread­ing har­mony, not fo­ment­ing ha­tred.

Post-script: On the very day that the BJP’S Ker­ala cam­paign was the top head­line across ‘na­tional’ news chan­nels, the lo­cal me­dia was ob­sess­ing with top Malay­alam film star Dileep who was re­leased on bail af­ter spend­ing months in jail on se­ri­ous ab­duc­tion and mo­lesta­tion charges. Like many of us in the me­dia, Delhi-based politi­cians too need to come to terms with the ‘tyranny of dis­tance’: Thiruvananthapuram Dur Ast!

PTI

The re­sponse to Amit Shah’s ya­tra in Ker­ala has been tepid

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