The BJP leaders have failed to make development an electoral plank in the recently held Bihar Assembly Elections 2020. The Hindutva leaders, instead, have invoked Muslims, terrorism, and Pakistan in their electoral speeches.
Last week the elections for the second (94 seats) and the third phase (78 seats) were held for 243-member Bihar Legislative Assembly. During this period, the top BJP leaders kept harping on communal issues. The mainstream media – particularly the Hindi newspapers published from the state – prominently covered their provocative speeches without raising any objection.
The media, which is expected to play a role of the watchdog, forgot that in a representative democracy winning a majority on communal and emotive issues strikes at the very root of democracy itself.
Addressing an electoral rally in the north Bihar district Chhapra, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked the religious sentiments of the majority Hindus by referring to ‘Chhat Pooja’, an important festival of the Hindus observed in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh and parts of Jharkhand.
The next day Dainik Jagran (Patna, November 2) reported his speech in an eight-column story. Modi, despite being the leader of the country and holding constitutional post, played the Hindu card: “At the time of corona no mother needs to feel worried about how she will observe the Chhat Pooja. My mother, you have made your son sit in the chair of the Government of Delhi (Union Government). Will he not be concerned about you? Mother, you prepare for the festival, your son, sitting in Delhi, will arrange ration for you”.
The critics argue that many women voters might not have been moved by the speech of the Prime Minister. Perhaps, they have not forgotten that during the corona lockdown they had to starve. Even that time their self-appointed son did not show any concern about them. Instead of giving them relief, Modi asked people to clap their hands and bang vessels in appreciation for the work of corona fighters such as doctors, nurses etc. The lockdown was suddenly imposed without any social policies for the poor and the workers by the Modi Government
Modi’s colleague, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was busy invoking Pakistan in electoral rallies held in Madhubani district of the Mithila region and in Katihar district of the Seemanchal region. Note that both the regions had a large proportion of Muslims. The BJP has often tried to divide the voters on the religious lines.
In his rally, Rajnath Singh invoked the threat of terrorism and claimed that within two years it would be weeded out: “Our target is the complete extermination (safaya) of terrorism (aatankwad). In the coming two years we will achieve this goal. Article 370 has been abolished from Kashmir. People can go and settle in any part of the country” (Dainik Jagran, Patna, November 4).
Afterwards, Rajnath Singh attacked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for raising questions over security and strategic issues of the country. He also tried to scare the voters by invoking the threat of Pakistan. In order to strike a chord with the locals, he praised the jawans of Bihar regiments for showing courage in the Galwan valley.
A few days later Modi addressed several other rallies in the Seemanchal region of Araria and Saharsa. In his speech, Modi again failed to offer any concrete welfare policies to the voters. Here again, he played the religious card and sounded hyper-nationalist. “Some people have problems with raising slogans in favour of ‘Ma Bharati’(a symbol for Motherland). They do not want you to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’ as well” (Dainik Jagran, Patna, November 4).
The contents of his speeches are in sharp contrast to the dominant narrative in the mainstream corporate media that he is “a champion of development”, while the opposition leaders indulge in petty and sectarian issues such as caste and religion. Many political analysts lament that Modi, as the leader of the country, should lead by example by bringing to the centre stage substantive issues. But he appears to be convinced that the Hindutva agenda – not development – can fetch more votes for the BJP.
Two days before the end of the last phase of elections, the communal campaign got intensified. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was at the forefront to polarize the voters. In Mithila and Seemanchal region, Yogi Adityanath alias Ajay Singh Bisht invoked the threat of Muslims, Pakistan, Naxalism: “If the politics of appeasement (tushtikaran) had not existed in the country, then terrorism and Naxalism would not have spread. Today Pakistan has lost its senses (sitti pitti gum ho jana). If leaders from the Congress and the RJD get elected, they will create anarchy as we saw (during the anti-CAA protests) in Shaheen Bagh”. In Seemanchal, Yogi said that “infiltration is a big problem in India. To drive the infiltrators out, the CAA and NRC have been brought in” (Dainik Jagran, Patna, November 4).
As the exit polls on the Bihar Assembly Elections 2020 indicate, the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan is likely to win the elections. Unlike the BJP’s strategy to communalize the electoral campaigns, the Mahagathbandhan consistently raised common man’s issues such as unemployment, education and development of the state. It appears that Mahagathbandhan leaders have been able to strike a chord with the voters. This accounts for the large turnout at RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav’s rallies.
Contrary to this, the frequent invocation of Hindutva agendas – appealing to religious sentiments of the majority Hindus, support for CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), the abolition of Article-370 that put an end to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the threat from Pakistan, etc. – has not appealed to the voters of Bihar, reeling under the acute crisis of unemployment, flood, and price-hike.
The anger of the people – towards the NDA Governments, both in the centre and the state, for miserably failing to give relief to the migrant workers hailing from Bihar during the corona lockdown – has not been diverted by Hindutva leaders’ recourse to communalism and hyper-nationalism. This shows that the antidote to hard Hindutva is not soft-Hindutva but taking up the issues of welfare and development.
(Abhay Kumar is a Ph.D. from JNU. He is broadly interested in Minority and Social Justice. E arlier, he held a Post-Graduate Diploma in English Journalism from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, and worked as a Delhi-based reporter with The Indian Express. You may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org).