Spectre Of The Aggressive Muslim Male Pervades BJP's UP campaign
MUMBAI: In the post civil-rights era, conservative American politicians faced a pressing problem- they could no longer suppress the black population from voting, neither could they overtly resort to racist slurs in their appeals. With the black voters switching decisively to the Democrats , Republicans needed a way to consolidate the white vote.
Thus, dawned the era of the politics of dog-whistle racism where appeals to racial prejudice were coded into ostensibly law and order or economic concerns. When Nixon christened himself the “law and order” candidate in 1968( duly borrowed by Trump), focusing his campaign on issues of crime and unrest, he was unambiguously signaling to the white voters that he would cleanse the crime-infested inner cities by being tough on black criminals.
This racism by proxy not only lent a veneer of respectability to otherwise barely concealed appeals to racial anxieties, it also provided room for plausible deniability in the face of troubling allegations.
We see a similar transformation happening in India. Even before the SC verdict banning the use of religion-based appeals in politics, communal politics in India had long outgrown it’s Ram Janambhoomi phase and become more subterranean and insidious, focussing on dog-whistle bigotry rather than overt incitement.
Strident communal rhetoric, and unvarnished machismo of the Ram Janambhoomi issue in the 1990s has given way to a more formal deference towards the Constitution and switch in top- level discourse from overt communalism to strident nationalism, defined in an exclusionary way.
Communalism is however unmistakably injected into every wedge issue- nationalism, law and order, women’s safety- so that these issues serve as focal points of majoritarian consolidation.
This brand of politics, perfected by the Amit Shah- Modi combine, is fused with an official narrative emphasising jobs and development. This is ensured by a careful division of labour, which entails playing up inflammatory issues at the ground level , leveraging technology like WhatsApp and YouTube for its toxic rumour campaigns and communal stereotyping, while the top leadership, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wrap themselves around the discourse of aspirations and development.
The spectre of the aggressive Muslim male pervades the campaign rhetoric of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Even legitimate concerns, such as weak law and order, are viewed from a communal lens and contorted to feed into a polarising narrative.
The narrative arc tying the law and order concerns of BJP – Hindu “exodus” from Kairana, the Muzaffarnagar (and other Western UP) riots, and the ever-present threat of sexual violence towards women---revolves around the motif of the aggression, perfidy and lasciviousness of Muslim men.
Consequently, there are no concrete proposals presented on how to strengthen the law and order machinery, only a nebulous promise to be tough on the criminals and sexual aggressors patronised by the present regime, presumably for vote-bank concerns.
In Yogi Adityanath’s telling, many Muslim-majority areas have become no-go zones for Hindu women. This star campaigner of the party in UP also claims, contrary to State as well as independent investigations, that Kairana is the new Kashmir, and there are scores of similar forced Hindu migrations elsewhere in UP. His reasoning on the recurrent cases of riots in Western UP and not Eastern UP centers on the presence of Hindu vigilante groups, patronised by him, in the eastern part of UP. This, he explains, helps maintain the balance of power.
Yogi Adityanath is sometimes astoundingly characterised as a fringe voice, even though he is one the most prominent faces of BJP in the state , and in fact led the party’s campaign in the UP bypolls held in 2014.
Yogi Adityanath is most passionate when railing about the insecurity of Hindu women, although he was one of several BJP MPs who stated defiance to the party whip on the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which sought to reserve a third of Lok Sabha and State Assembly seats to women. His position is symptomatic of a large section of the Hindu Right’s attitude towards women- always to be protected, never to be empowered.
The US has a long history of using white womanhood to justify racist violence. The racist trope of the lustful, beastly black male innately driven to rape white women has always been a staple of reactionary politics in the US, ever since the lynchings of the the late 1800s, and later immortalised by DW Griffith in the deeply racist 1915 epic ‘Birth of a Nation’.
The fear of the black rapist figure, central to the narrative of ‘Birth of a Nation’, spurred the revival of the vigilante group Ku Klux Klan in the US, self-fashioned saviours of white women, which adopted the movie as a recruiting tool.
As vigilantes, imaginatively termed anti-Romeo Squads, are proposed to be set up to save college girls from harassment, the expected identity of the harassers is hinted at, though not fully spelled out. Again, unlike the transparently communal ‘love jihad’, the communal undertones here are subtler, though no less dangerous.
Given the already emboldened mood of Sangh affiliated vigilante groups like Gau Rakshaks and Bajrang Dal, with their frequent recourse to gratuitous violence, injecting vigilantes near college campuses seems to be a horrifying idea.
Similarly, the pitch for the Uniform Civil Code carefully timed before the UP elections, was aimed not so much to attract Muslim women, but to arouse repulsion among Hindus by portraying the Muslim community as separate, inward looking and fundamentalist.
Conforming to the broader pattern, legitimate concerns, that of the autonomy of Muslim women, were melded with xenophobic messaging, such as the canard on widespread polygamy, to appeal to prejudice in the garb of progress.
The grandiose slogan of the PM “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas”, (development for all, through participation of all) is revealed for the anodyne bunkum it is , as the BJP seeks to exclude a fifth of the UP population from any meaningful participation in its electoral campaign (0 tickets given out of 403 assembly segments), and deliberately marginalises them through well-orchestrated campaigns of odious fear-mongering.
To use a metaphor, PM Modi has shielded himself in an aspirational raincoat while his commissars hurl communal sludge all across UP’s political landscape.