The campaigns for state assembly elections in five states – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Mizoram – are in full swing. Various political leaders are creatively crafting their narratives to mobilise people for the upcoming elections. The prevalent theme in the electoral narratives of all these states primarily revolves around promises, beneficiaries, and developmental issues. Notably, the prominent mobilization issues in these state assembly election campaigns have not yet centered on caste census and Hindutva.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), well-known for its politics centered around Hindutva, has yet to re-emphasise this issue in the ongoing election campaign for the state assembly elections. In contrast, the Congress, positioning itself as the primary contender for power in most of these states, is actively asserting its soft Hindu image. This is evident in the election speeches of Congress leaders such as Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh, Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh, and Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan. The question arises: does this reflect the Congress leaders’ over-alertness to the Hindutva issue or an “over-fear” of the BJP’s politics surrounding Hindutva?
The Ram Janam Bhoomi temple, despite not being inaugurated yet, has prompted many regional Congress leaders to offer their perspectives on the issue. In their public lectures and interviews, these leaders are highlighting their inherent connection with God Rama, underscoring their Hindu identity. Additionally, they are actively asserting their “Hindu-ness” by including visits to temples dedicated to Hindu deities in their election campaigns. Shri Bhupesh Baghel, during his tenure as Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, engaged in symbolic Hindutva politics by promoting temples dedicated to Seeta and other Hindu deities, along with organising various celebrations centered around the memories associated with Lord Ram.
The star campaigners of Congress, including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, have made visits to several Hindu temples and actively participated in puja rituals as part of their election campaigns. These moments, captured in pictures showcasing thread ceremonies and worship rituals dedicated to Hindu deities, are widely disseminated through social media, electronic channels, and newspapers. The performative acts of Congress leaders in these instances raise questions about whether they are excessively vigilant on Hindutva issues or if they reveal an underlying fear of the BJP’s politics centered around Hindutva.
The “soft Hindutva” phenomenon is primarily an innovation by mostly secular political parties, engaging in politics through Hindu symbolic performances as a response to the BJP’s Hindutva politics. However, a crucial question arises: can the adoption of soft Hindutva as a strategy by the Congress and other Opposition parties prove to be an effective countermeasure against the BJP?
The BJP has a rich tradition and history of engaging in Hindutva politics, consistently speaking, launching mass movements, and supporting Hindu causes from its inception. This commitment has been a fundamental aspect of the BJP’s discourse for an extended period. The party’s active involvement in the Ram Janam Bhoomi movement significantly boosted and multiplied its trust capital, particularly among Hindutva-oriented voters. As a result, the BJP enjoys a high level of trust capital in the hearts and minds of a majority of voters in India.
The Congress, Samajwadi Party, and Bahujan Samaj Party, in contrast to the BJP, have not incorporated Hindutva elements into their political image, predominantly emphasising their secular stance. On issues like the Ram Janam Bhoomi temple, these non-BJP political parties often struggle to take a clear stand, influenced by the subtle pressure of minority votes during elections. Consequently, the BJP criticises these parties for engaging in appeasement politics to secure minority votes in Indian politics. For the BJP, the Hindutva political landscape serves as a testing ground where they adeptly navigate when, how, and what to do to garner the confidence of Hindutva-oriented voters for the party.
The Congress, adopting a “soft Hindutva” image during elections, faces uncertainty in whether it can genuinely build trust among Hindu voters. Establishing trust among the public is a prolonged undertaking for any political party. The gradual accumulation of trust capital by a party, centered around specific issues and agendas, may eventually translate into votes to varying degrees in different elections. Essentially, the Congress is strategically engaging in a match on the playing field shaped by the BJP, attempting to navigate the political landscape set by their opponent.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has also been drawn into the fold, with the sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat, urging people to organise similar programs at their places of residence. Due to its sharply polarising ideology, any Lok Sabha election that consolidates polls is consistently a disadvantage for the BJP. Unless Mr. Modi can craft an overarching narrative or a prominent issue emerges, similar to 2019, the BJP will be concerned about a potential decline from its previous electoral tally.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)