God is mathematics—a couple of prime equations in the form of commandments and their endless permutations and combinations. Politics is a marketplace of numbers. Apply the equations using different calculations, and the results vary. But the end product is the same—Power. And what good is a merchant who cannot sell his wares? In Palampur in 1989, the BJP adopted Hindutva as its official ideology of “cultural nationalism” and the spirit of “Indian nationhood”.
At that time, the reigning Vajpayee-Advani team was averse to giving the ideology theocratic colours. Mohan Bhagwat was content to call it “India’s identity.” The current political Veda is extolling the BJP’s cleverness in forcing other parties to follow political Hindutva. The Opposition is indeed in search of a new identity. While Rahul Gandhi’s temple runs and sacred thread are old hat, sister Priyanka’s shlokas and a heavily publicised Navaratri fast (though Robert is hardly seen these days) shows a new Gandhi Brahminism at play. Akhilesh Yadav went to the Kumbh Mela and returned with Covid. Bengal’s commies have adopted the “Aage Ram, pore baam” (first bring Ram, then we bring the Left) spin. The BJP’s former fellow traveller Shiv Sena is making its electoral mark outside Maharashtra. Mamata Banerjee chanted the Chandipath flawlessly in public and flouted her upper-caste status. The sundry cockerels in the intellectual coop are crowing that the BJP should be pleased.
Ah, if only it was that simple.
Imitation, the best-known form of flattery, could flatten the flatterer too. When an idea whose time has come becomes a wildly successful item, counterfeits flood the market. Since all major parties have entered the field to harvest Hindutva, the BJP should be worried. The Congress is improving its vote share. It looks poised to win states it had lost. It even wrested some seats from the BJP. Its vote share is up in MP and Rajasthan. Regional parties are giving the saffron hordes a whipping in unexpected places.
Over the next decade, expect the entire Indian political spectrum to have acquired various tints of saffron, in differing intensity. Where does that leave the original saffron company when its opponents appropriate Ram and his divine parallels? The BJP can either dilute its pigmentation and offer an equal fight, or become more saffron than saffron. This has pitfalls. Forget the sycophantic cockerels in the godi media and the few goons who intimidate or kill random Muslims using muscular Hindutva.
An important survey of religion across India by the respected Pew Research Center had 80 to 91 percent of respondents saying that religious tolerance is a central part of national identity. They felt respecting other religions is a crucial part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community. Considering that a great number of Hindus among them had, and will vote for the BJP, this is a wake-up call. It takes an entire community and state to keep the peace, and just a few thugs to spread terror—a lesson the Nazis learned in Hitler’s Germany—and there goes the neighbourhood. And a huge number of Germans were Nazis party members while the majority of Indians do not vote for the lotus.
The BJP’s third choice is to reclaim the idea of India that was the spirit of the post-Independence Republic. This could catch the neo-saffron Opposition copycats off guard. But does the country’s cleverest, and the world’s biggest political party, have the smarts to do that? Will Vishwaguru become Vikas Purush again? It could be both the party’s and the country’s salvation. No one loves a prodigal more than the prodigal.