Babri all over again: Modi's campaign sees UP polarisation peak

When it comes to reading the situation, for once, leading clerics, BJP candidates and those managing the UP polls for the BJP,appear to be on the same page.

Sanjay Singh April 12, 2014 10:12:32 IST
Babri all over again: Modi's campaign sees UP polarisation peak

“Popular passions in these elections are flying higher than those in 1991, 1996 and 1998. The polarisation today is sharper and clearer than even the 90s in in the aftermath of Ayodhya movement and Babri masjid demolition”, Maulana Anwarul Rehman of Bijnor told Firstpost.

Maulana Rehman's observations are not merely academic. He is saying this on the basis of on the ground feedback that he is getting from people both within his community and outside. His views are largely echoed by Maulana Abdul Khaliq Madrasi, of the Darul Ullom Deoband as well as another leading cleric of Jamia, Mazahirul Uloom of Saharanpur.

And it is not just the clerics who say this. A whole lot of other people also have a similar assessment, attributing it to Narendra’s Modi’s decision to contest the parliamentary polls from Varanasi.

Babri all over again Modis campaign sees UP polarisation peak

The situation is ascribed to Modi's decision to contest from Varanasi: Reuters

When it comes to reading the situation, for once, leading clerics, BJP candidates and those managing the UP polls for the BJP,appear to be on the same page. However they have completely different opinions about what this means in terms of what created these circumstances,  and what consequences, both electoral and otherwise, may follow.

Two-time MP and candidate from Ghazipur, Manoj Sinha says that there is a greater groundswell and polarisation in favour of the BJP than what he saw in the immediate aftermath of the Ayodhya movement. Sinha, a former BHU president had incidentally won the 1996 and 1998 elections. This time around he is banking on the Modi wave to be an MP, yet again.

While Sinha likes to credit the prevailing state of affairs to Modi's image of a strong, decisive and development oriented leader, there are many who believe that the Muzaffarnagar riots, the way they were handled by the state government and the situations that developed in their aftermath, led to this kind of unprecedented polarisation.

Most in the Muslim community have forgiven Mulayam Singh Yadav for his failures in the Muzaffarnagar riots. But this is largely because he is seen as the only man who has a chance of challenging Modi’s rapidly expanding might. Mulayam for his part is actively wooing minority community leaders and commoners.

The question is, what makes these elections more communally polarising than that of the '90s? And if that is the case, should that be music to ears of BJP? Will they be able to repeat its 1996 high of 58 seats is achievable?

The critical difference between the '90s and 2014 is that the issue of the Ram temple vs the Babri Masjid was more emotional than real. This time the issue revolves around Modi - which is more real than emotional. Maulana Rehman and Maulana Madrasi say that the contention in 90s was limited to a specific place of worship in the state. While people were emotionally attached to the issue, it didn’t concern their day to day issues. The prospect of Modi ruling over the country is real and so are the fears of minority exclusion.

The BJP leaders broadly agree with these assessments, but have a different take on minority fears. They agree that Modi has galvanised the BJP campaign and boosted the party’s prospects like no other leader in the history of Independent India. But they argue that minority community fears are completely misplaced and are a result of conscious attempts by the Congress, SP and other secularists to create a fear psychosis among members of the community, because they cannot challenge Modi’s development agenda.

The withdrawal of Mukhtar Ansari's candidature of in Varanasi is the result of hectic closed door negotiations not to let “secular votes” split against Narendra Modi. Whether these votes will consolidate and go to AAP, or to the Congress or to the Samajwadi Party will the most interesting thing to watch. But before that happens on 12 May, when Varanasi goes to the polls, the question that many are asking is whether the jailed don withdrew his candidature for ideological concerns or for more real and tangible considerations.

The provocative rhetoric from all sides and emerging social equations on the ground suggest that beyond the numbers game, the communally polarising politics has a dark side  -- leaving deep scars and keeping the atmosphere surcharged even after elections are over.

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