There has been an important shift in Indian politics recently. In the previous days, most of the political parties engaged openly in the politics of Muslim polarisation, before as well as after the elections. Names like ‘Mulla Mulayam’ and ‘Maulana Bahugana’ were seen by the leaders of these parties in the form of electoral dividend. Now and then, BJP has also talked about organising nationalist Muslims.
But in the current scenario, secular parties are afraid to openly pursue the politics of Muslim polarisation. As a result, these parties are adopting the politics of counter-polarisation as their campaign strategy.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh family's strategy of counter polarising Hindu votes versus the Muslim votes came to fruition in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. With this approach, they made the polarisation of Muslim votes almost irrelevant. They tried to implement this strategy in the previous Bihar Vidhan Sabha elections as well, but failed to succeed due to various reasons.
During the Assam Assembly elections as well, BJP and its alliance succeeded by employing non-Muslim counter polarisation. In the context of the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, all the secular parties are bound to showcase a soft Hindu identity in their posture as part of the counter polarisation approach.
The 2017 UP elections are being considered as the semi-finals to the grand finale that is the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Political actions implemented at the ground level as well as the statements made by political leaders reveal that the forthcoming elections will be fought through the efforts of polarisation of Hindutva politics and the fear that would emerge in this process.
The BJP and the Sangh family are working on their master strategy for polarising Hindu votes while keeping the focus on development and caste issues. Whereas, parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress are becoming victims of a double fear.
Their first fear is that the Muslim votes may get divided and become irrelevant just like it had happened in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Their second fear is that the BJP may portray them as a pro-Muslim party and in that case it may create a counter polarisation of Hindu votes against them.
Therefore parties like BSP, who have emerged as the strongest contender for the Muslim votes, are critiquing the Hindutva brand of politics without raising the issues related to Muslims in an assertive manner. These parties wish to bring the Muslims within their fold gradually, like it had happened in Bihar. They want to polarise the Muslim votes in a concealed manner which does not lead to the counter polarisation of Hindus against them.
It is known that BJP, by adopting Amit Shah’s strategy, is aiming to create a strong counter polarisation just like it had done in the Assam elections. Shah elaborated his strategy in one of his statements that 'every polarisation produces counter polarisation and BJP will benefit from it'. Their strategy proved to be a success in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the recently held Assam elections but due to the conscious and active efforts of the grand alliance in Bihar, their strategy failed there.
In spite of aspiring for Muslim votes parties like BSP, SP and Congress adopt various political actions to appease the Hindus. For instance, SP in UP is taking Hindus on a pilgrimage under its policy, Shravan Teerth Yojana. This strategic policy, adopted earlier by BJP leader Sheoraj Singh in Madhya Pradesh, was beneficial in the association of Hindu votes.
The SP leaders and MLAs are providing financial assistance for the sculpting of idols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. They are doing this not as voluntary social and religious work but because of the exposure on national media and the attention in the Lok Sabha that comes with it.
SP in recent years has been celebrating the Saifai Mahotsava in a huge campus of Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh. This venue is used by SP every year to showcase its yearly accomplishments and organisational strength. These meetings are conducted by SP to connect with the common people, politically and culturally.
SP leader Dharmendra Yadav erected a 35-foot high idol of Lord Hanuman on this campus, amidst religious chants and hymns, in order to appease those Hindus who regard Lord Hanuman as their God. The imagination of Rama is also attached with the imagination of Hanuman; therefore, through the medium of idol-worship, the SP is trying to create a broader iconography of Hinduism.
The case of Kairana is also worth mentioning here. Kairana is not far from Muzaffarpur and is a small town of the newly established Shamli district, which has remained quite popular for its music. It has been said that the Hindus residing here fled from their homes due to the fear of Muslims. One of the BJP Parliamentarians had uploaded a list of such Hindus, which had created quite a few ripples in the media. The SP, in the meantime, established a committee of Hindu saints to set up an investigation into the incident.
On 20 June 2016, saints Acharya Pramod, Swami Kalyan, Narayan Giri, Swami Chinmayanad and Swami Chakrapaani visited Kairana and reported that the news about the Hindus fleeing from their homes was not true. The point to be noted in this is that the government – instead of relying on the Police, DM, commissioner and other officials – paid more heed to the words of the saints, thereby spreading a message to the press that many of the renowned Hindu saints were standing in their support. The SP, through its protective strategies, thus tried to provide an answer to BJPs aggressive brand of Hindutva politics.
If you look back into history, you will find that SP has also imbibed benefit from Ayodhya’s political story. In the month of November each year, a 14 Kosi (roughly 50 km) Parikrama is organised in Ayodhya which is attended by followers from nearby areas as well as others from across the nation.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) organised one such Parikrama in the year 2013. VHP had a clash on this issue with the SP government in UP that year. In the years preceding this incident, the Hindu saints were provided hospitality by the SP at the CM's residence in Lucknow. This proves that SP on one hand, through its secular image, is trying to make their place among the Muslims and on the other hand also want to add an element of Hindu appeasement to its image.
Associating with Hindus as part of UP's electoral politics may not be on the BSP's priority list but it is still present. The BSP is not participating in the elections in as vocal a manner as the SP but one can see the hidden aspiration of the party for showcasing its Hindutva policy.
Mayawati herself is reluctant to participate in religious programmes of the Hindus, Muslims and the Buddhists. She, however, has been participating in programmes associated with the erection of idols of Kabir and Ravidas and all those associated with BR Ambedkar. Unlike Mayawati though, her party leaders participate in such religious programmes and festivals.
BSP leaders Swami Prasad Maurya and Nasimuddin Siddiqui have been participating in several Buddhist and Muslim programmes respectively. Siddiqui also participated in the Buddhist programme organised by the BSP as a part of its strategy for strengthening the Dalit-Muslim alliance for the 2017 elections.
Similarly, BSP MLA Ramashankar Singh of Ballia took about 5000 Hindu followers for a holy dip in the 2016 Sinhastha Kumbh at Ujjain on the occasion of Mohini Ekadashi via train. These activities of the party just before the commencement of the 2017 UP elections indicate that all these parties are fearful of the possibility of counter Hindu polarisation and want to create a space for themselves in the minds of people as a pro-Hindu party.
The Congress party, however, recently appointed Imran Masood as its vice-president and in doing so sent out a message for the mobilisation of Muslim votes. But the Congress leaders aspiring for MLA seats in the upcoming election are running towards the Hindu temples Vindhyachal Devi and Maihar Devi, reflecting the same fear of being seen as anti-Hindu.
Although it has been tested before, it remains to be seen how much the political parties gain or lose by adopting this new political posture.