The mask is off, so are the gloves. Hindutva will be the campaign tune of the BJP, not so much development, governance or even corruption. The other three issues will end up as fillers in the primary discourse. The posters in Mumbai proclaiming Narendra Modi as a Hindu nationalist suggest as much.
These, of course, could not have come without the tacit approval of the party’s top leadership. Thus it is safe to assume that there is some kind of a strategy involved in the exercise. However, its timing is perplexing.
It is rather curious that Narendra Modi, the poll campaign committee head of the BJP, who has made a reputation for himself by emphasising the issues of corruption, governance and development - the weakest points of the Congress - would bring the Hindutva question into the mix so early in the day.
First, it was his interview to Reuters where he cautiously put across the fact that he considered himself a 'Hindu nationalist'. Then there were reports of his meeting with the RSS chief and unconfirmed reports of the Ram temple issue being brought back to the election agenda. Then came the posters in Mumbai.
While it isn't too surprising that Hindutva or Hindu nationalism will be an important theme of the BJP’s electoral discourse, couldn't it have waited for a little longer?
It is possible the party expects an early, possibly mid-November election, and wants to put all its cards on the table quickly. The Congress-led UPA is also fast forwarding its moves. It has already taken the ordinance route to pass the Food Security Bill and on the economic front, it is announcing decisions in an unseemly hurry.
The Congress appears to be in no mood to take the opposition into confidence on national issues and engage in debate. There’s reason to suspect that it wants to dissolve the House and go for early polls. Whether it actually does that is a different question, but for political opponents it helps to stay prepared.
Secondly, it is also possible that the BJP now understands that there’s no escaping the communal tag. The more the Gujarat cases hog the national headlines, the more the BJP would come under the scrutiny of minorities. So it’s wiser to go for pre-emptive damage control by not being ambiguous on the subject.
The party has sought to distract from the core issue on the Ishrat Jahan encounter case by taking a hyper-nationalist position. That’s the strategy the party seems keen to adopt now. The projection of Modi as a Hindu nationalist leader, thus, is a strategic decision. It provides an ideological shield against many uncomfortable questions that might crop up later.
Thirdly, the possibility is that the party realises that the issues of corruption, governance and development have resonance only in urban areas. The rural areas from where the bulk of parliamentary seats lie have other worries. Rural India is doing better economically and developing, courtesy more efficient state governments, and thus, topics like misgovernance and development would not cut much ice with the electorate there.
The party needs something emotive to make the rural voters look up and take notice. Hindutva fits in here. It also has pan-Indian appeal. But to reach out to this constituency, the party needs to move fast. That partly explains the BJP’s hurry. Don’t be surprised if the Ram Mandir issue crops up again at some point.
However, the Hindutva bogey could cause collateral damage. While it offers the BJP an overarching ideological position to go to the elections, it also allows the Congress get off the hook. Corruption, governance and development are valid electoral issues and by harping on them for sometime, the BJP had generated some positive response for itself. The Congress, which had been on the back foot over two years over these issues, appears to have found some respite of late after the talking point shifted to Hindutva. It certainly does not deserve that luxury.