Aam Aadmi’s victory in Delhi was of course no surprise. Then again, it was a big surprise. How could a common man’s party win over a party headed by very uncommon men?
Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia are Lilliputians over whom Narendra Modi and Amit Shah tower as Brobdingnagians.
Perhaps that itself explained the surprise. Against the contrived and politicised Hindutva of the BJP, Kejriwal presented the ordinary man’s ordinary faith when he visited the Hanuman Temple, invoked Lord Hanuman’s blessings upon all and said his party’s victory was a good sign for the nation. For him Hanuman was a god to pray to, not a means to canvass votes.
The BJP’s tactic of exploiting religiosity for political gain will one day collapse because, for the general public, religion is a means for communication with one’s god and nothing else. Kejriwal did not canvass votes in Hanuman’s name.
He simply showed that he faithfully followed his religion, like most Indians do. Even the populist politics of Tamil Nadu did not use god as a bait.
DMK offered only TV sets, mixies, laptops, grinders, fans, rice etcetera, while the AIADMK offered all these plus half a sovereign of gold for brides. God was kept outside politics and all was well.
To get the perspective right, we must take a look at Gujarat.
What the late Praful Bidwai called “Gujarat’s ultraconservative, upper class, savarna-dominated ruling social coalition” created a mindset long before BJP arrived on the political map, even before democracy arrived in India.
Hindutva concepts grew naturally in the ultraconservative soil of Gujarat. The state’s social indicators, from health indices to gender empowerment measurements, have always been low. But its communal antennae were on the alert from the historical past. It is no surprise that both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are products of Gujarat politics.
With power in their hands and a tradition that made the pursuit of hardline Hindutva a matter of duty, Modi and Shah were true to their belief system and openly assertive.
The more blatant they grew, the more disconcerted were those who considered the government’s policies wrong. Some opposed it openly, some resented it privately. Some felt too scared to react. In fact, the emergence of fear as a factor on the political scene is something new in the history of our democracy. Even Indira Gandhi’s Emergency did not frighten people. The present tendency to see the government as a bugaboo is a defining feature of Modi’s India.
There is a pattern in the way the government’s investigative agencies are used. There is no effort even to hide the reality of intimidating critics and rewarding supporters. A recent case involved the two reigning superstars of Tamil filmdom.
Vijay got a dressing down while Rajinikanth got a bouquet. Vijay is generally seen as a star with political ambitions. In a film or two, he also delivered whip-lash dialogues critical of the powers that be. It electrified his fans, but it also made him suspect in the eyes of Hindutva ideologues. No wonder he was taken off the set a week ago and questioned for 30 hours by enforcement agencies.
No one missed the point that around the same time three cases against Rajinikanth were withdrawn by the authorities.
The public was happy because Rajinikanth’s contributions to popular culture remain unrivalled. Nevertheless, the contrast between the state’s handling of Vijay on the one hand and Rajinikanth on the other could not be missed. Rajini appreciated it by eloquently supporting controversial policies such as the recent Citizenship Amendment Act. “People are saying that this will threaten Muslims. How is it a threat to Muslims?”, he asked innocently. The BJP leadership appreciates innocence.
Actually, the BJP leadership has been very open about what it appreciates. It appreciated the Uttar Pradesh culture minister’s decision to keep the Taj Mahal in Agra out of the government’s list of “tourist attractions in the state”. This was after appreciating MLA Sangeet Som’s description of the Taj Mahal as “a blot on Indian culture”. The same Shri Som won appreciation for declaring that the government was taking steps to erase Babar, Akbar and Aurangzeb from history.
BJP leaders are so pre-occupied with their oddball view of history and culture that they fail to understand how infiltrators like Arvind Kejriwal sneak in from the sidelines. Here’s a tip. Imagine the BJP without the popularity of Narendra Modi’s oratory. Imagine the party and government being led by Amit Shah. That is when we will see multiple Kejriwals rising across BJP territory.