In the history of modern political philosophy Thomas Hobbes, the seventeenth-century English philosopher, holds a special place. Hobbes tried to marry up protection with total submission to the authority of the state. His key insight that without the centralising force of the state life of man can turn to “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” still animates modern politics. While modern liberalism may not have accepted this, his idea of security being the fundamental problematic of modern statecraft is indisputable.
The central plank on which the BJP is fighting the elections in Uttar Pradesh seems to be this paradigmatic Hobbesian insight. From development to corruption to women empowerment, every issue is couched in the language of security. It seems that routinised campaign categories of Vikas (development) and Samman (dignity) have been overshadowed by the overarching category of Suraksha (safety and security).
This is certainly not the first time wherein fear of civil strife may have been used to mobilise voters. Neighbouring Bihar’s Jungleraj campaign may be a case in point, wherein the central plank of political mobilisation of the ruling NDA was the fear of the return of RJD. Here in the case of UP, the whole discourse of security has been centred around the alleged nuisance caused by the Muslim minority.
For instance, in Lucknow, from panwallas to ricksha-pullers, as an observer, one was surprised to notice the enchantment of such a campaign. An often-repeated narrative is that the police are now noting the complaints more fervently than under any previous regime. Generally speaking, the interaction of an average urban Indian with a police station is not a common affair. Yet, to entrench such a narrative shows the true capability of BJP’s machinery.
A clear outcome of this, according to respondents, has been the reduction of dabangai (hooliganism) of the Muslims during their festivities. While Lucknow has remained Hindutva’s electoral fortress for long, socially, this has not translated into any major communal flare. Even during the height of the Ramjanmbhoomi movement, the city remained remarkably calm due to its strong cross-cultural associations. To translate a campaign which couples safety and majoritarianism as two sides of same coin shows the success of the hegemonic capabilities of the BJP.
A connected and core electoral plank for the BJP has also been the free and safe movement of women in public spaces. It is not a hidden fact that under the BJP rule, UP has witnessed horrifying incidents of crime against women. Cases of Hathras and Unnao immediately come to one’s mind. Yet, it has pitched itself as a party that has made the state a safe home for women to the extent that they can now freely roam around even during the midnight. It is not hard to find some of the symbolic initiatives taken by the government to justify its claims. Through the pink police booth and pink bus, BJP has created the spectacle of women’s security at least in Lucknow. Has the symbolism really translated into the decrease in the cases of crimes against women? The answer is no.
To illustrate, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, there has been a 66.7% rise in cases of crime against women between 2015 (35,527) and 2019 (59,853) in UP. Crimes against women almost tripled in the last decade, from 20,169 cases in 2010 to 59,853 cases in 2019.
Besides, even on the symbolic front, the pink bus services itself has witnessed an abysmal failure, for they now ply just like other buses due to a lack of passengers. However, the BJP seems to have brought home the message that it has done enormously for public safety.
Interestingly, the arguments for safety are being put forth by both the ruling party and the opposition. While the BJP invokes a security discourse around “the fear of small numbers.” The opposition uses the same discourse to mobilise minority voters in the name of safeguarding them from majoritarianism. While the former may be a relatively recent phenomenon, the latter signifies the continued stagnation of minority politics. It is here that the phenomenal failure of secular discourse in India needs to be located.
(Authors Supriy Ranjan and Pankaj Kumar are PhD scholars in JNU, associated with Peoples Pulse, a Hyderabad-based research organisation)