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  Opinion   Columnists  19 Apr 2023  Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Karnataka poses challenge to BJP’s Hindutva strategy

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Karnataka poses challenge to BJP’s Hindutva strategy

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : Apr 19, 2023, 12:34 am IST
Updated : Apr 19, 2023, 12:34 am IST

Political pundits are not willing to stick their neck out and make predictions

Political pundits are not willing to stick their neck out and make predictions. But what is evident is that the Hindutva juggernaut is grinding to a halt in Karnataka.  (Representational Image: ANI)
 Political pundits are not willing to stick their neck out and make predictions. But what is evident is that the Hindutva juggernaut is grinding to a halt in Karnataka. (Representational Image: ANI)

The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah domination of the BJP seems to have taken a beating in the run-up to the Karnataka Assembly elections next month, with the inner party turbulence revealing that the Hindutva party cannot enjoy the meek obedience that it is used to in the Hindi-speaking states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh, and of course in Gujarat.

It is an entirely different ballgame south of the Vindhyas. A former BJP chief minister, Jagdish Shettar, and a former deputy chief minister, Laxman Savadi, quit the party, and Mr Savadi has got a Congress ticket to contest the coming election. These can be explained as mere blips in the electoral storm, and the BJP can say that individuals do not matter and that the party remains strong. But what is unmistakable is the rising din of dissidents in the apparently disciplined party.

Political pundits are not willing to stick their neck out and make predictions. But what is evident is that the Hindutva juggernaut is grinding to a halt in Karnataka. The BJP had not been in power for six years and more before it came in through the backdoor this time. The party had effectively lost the Assembly elections of 2013 and 2018. And it has been pointed out that the tagline used by TV news anchors whether the BJP will retain power in the state is a plain lie because the BJP did not win the election last time and before that to talk of retaining power. The party is struggling to gain power in the state and it is facing major structural challenges on the way.

The key feature of the BJP ever since the ascent of Narendra Modi to power in 2014 has been that he and his Man Friday, Amit Shah, ruled the party and no questions were raised from any quarter. But Karnataka has always been an exception, embodied in the ever-defiant senior party leader B.S. Yediyurappa, in power and out of power, in the party and outside the party.

He may well be a spent force but he still had his way when his son was given the poll ticket. The Modi-Shah dispensation has not been able to tame the Karnataka BJP, where caste and community arithmetic is complicated and the BJP’s Hindutva ideology has limited attraction. In Uttar Pradesh, Mr Shah had fine-tuned the caste equations behind closed doors while projecting the Hindutva ideology marked by the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

The BJP, more than even the Communist parties, did not allow diversity of opinion inside the party organisation. It always believed that diversity of opinion would corrode ideological unity. It is not surprising therefore that despite its ostentatious independence from the RSS, the mother organisation, the BJP followed the RSS pattern of regimentation, and rationalised it as discipline. The major change that has occurred since the emergence of Mr Modi is that the party has now developed the idea of the leader. The BJP now feels that ideology is much too abstract and that what can keep the party going is the leader factor. And so, for both admirers and critics of Mr Modi, he is the unchallenged leader, who is as important as the party’s ideology. The Communists, despite the Stalinist distortion, never gave assent to the idea of the leader.

The loud and strong dissonant notes that have emerged in the Karnataka BJP pose a challenge to both the key ideas of the party -- ideology and the leader. When BJP leaders speak of ideology, they tacitly refer back to the RSS and its core belief in Hindu political resurgence. There are large parts in karnataka, especially in the old Mysuru, where there are no minorities as they are in Mangaluru, for the party to play the Hindu card. Mr Shah, the de facto BJP working president, and Mr Modi, the supreme leader in the party, are forced to tackle the local inner-party fissures. It is an exercise they cannot hope to do quietly because the BJP’s members in the state are prominent politicians in their own right and they do not owe it to either Mr Modi or Mr Shah, nor to the BJP-RSS ideology of Hindutva. Whatever may be the outcome of the Assembly elections in Karnataka, it has effectively demolished the image of the BJP under Mr Modi and Mr Shah as an ideological monolith. And the charisma of Mr Modi as the leader is vulnerable as well. But between the two principles, the BJP is well aware that Mr Modi, as charismatic a leader as he may be, is a temporary phenomenon, and what will outlast him is the ideology.

The dilemma of the BJP and Indian politics in general of course goes beyond the Karnataka Assembly elections. It is that of communalism of some kind or another under the guise of nationalism and casteism in the name of social justice. A boast of former BJP leader L.K. Advani in the 1990s was that his Somnath-to-Ayodhya rathyatra countered Mandal politics which sought to divide Hindu society with caste politics, and indirectly claiming the Hindu card as an antidote to casteism. But it is something that even the anti-BJP secular politicians and political theorists believed in as well. They wanted to play the caste card to counter Hindu communalism. So, the discomfiture of the BJP in Karnataka in the face of caste claims cannot be of much solace to those who oppose the Hindu/Hindutva politics of the BJP.

The modern goal of a national identity which is not based on religion and caste or region seems to have failed as democratic competition anchored Indian politics, and caste and religion became rallying points through the last 75 years and more of independent, democratic India. The belief that modernity would dissolve the outdated identities of caste, religion and region has turned out to be wrong. While it may be exciting to speak in terms of caste and communal calculus in discussing India’s electoral politics, it should be a matter of concern and worry for many who still cling to the old-fashioned post-independence idea of India and Indian. It can’t be dismissed as a Nehruvian illusion which had had its day and that there’s no way of going back to the utopian ideal.

Tags: b s yediyurappa, karnataka assembly election