Beef Politics in The Cow Belt: Will It Turn the Calendar to 2014?
LUCKNOW: “The biggest Kasab is Amit Shah himself, Gujarat is witness to that,” said an aggressive Bahujan Samaj party leader Mayawati in the midst of an intense election campaign for the remaining phases of the Uttar Pradesh elections.
This was after BJP President Amit Shah had used Kasab as an acronym for Congress, Samajwadi party and Bahujan Samaj Party. And insisted that deliverance for UP lay in getting rid of this “Kasab”.
“You must have heard his speech, he (Modi) has started this (spreading hatred) yesterday. The elections come and go. But you must understand all this. If UP is set on fire or a house starts burning, everybody’s house will get burnt. Whenever Modi feels jittery, he starts spreading hatred. You can vote for anyone of your choice. But they are trying to put one against the other” said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at a public meeting.
This was in response to comments by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his well publicised qabristan-shamshaan ghat comments at a rally in UP where he said that if the first was allowed, the second should be too, there should be no discrimination. The words of course implied that there was discrimination.
Communalism seems to be the only remaining card now for the Bharatiya Janata Party with the top leadership having moved away from the demonetisation and development plank midway into the Assembly polls. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with party president Amit Shah have moved straight into the realm of divisiveness after receiving a lukewarm response from the voters as compared to the 2014 elections.
The change in track came almost on the same pattern as the Bihar Assembly polls when the BJP, that was defeated in the final analysis, moved from development to an open communal agenda after the first phases of polling were over.
PM Modi’s message has not been lost in the streets of Lucknow despite the analysis of some columnists claiming he was not being divisive and had spoken against discrimination for all. However, the kabristan-shamshaan ghat comments from the Prime Minister of India have been interpreted by the voters exactly as he intended, although not many spoken to had praise for these sentiments. Or were even willing to admit that these would work to divide the people along predictable lines.
Shah has revved this line of campaigning further, and at the time of writing this has added yet another salvo to his litany of such comments with “Qatalkhane bandh karenge. Congress, SP, BSP ke raj mein gaai, bhains, bael ke khoon ki nadiyan bahi, hum doodh ghee ki nadi bahayenge.”( we will shut down the slaughter houses where the Congress, SP, BSP have been killing cows, buffalos and ox in rivers of blood, we will make milk and ghee).” It is part of the virulent propaganda by the BJP that has been ongoing in UP for several years that Muslims and Dalits are responsible for the slaughter of cows, with the party President now stating the same at a election rally.
Congress-SP workers insist that the communal jargon is indicative of the BJP’s growing nervousness. BJP workers who had been fairly silent in the first phases are out in the streets now insisting that the party is ahead of all others, and will be winning the elections.
However, at the moment at least there is little to show that there has been a change on the ground insofar as the impact of communalisation is concerned. The elections are still being fought on the same considerations as before the PM and Shah shifted gear, with the SP and BSP in particular having sufficiently strong organisations to counter the propaganda. As an old BJP worker from Varanasi said, “it is not easy to milk the same cow over and over again.” Ram Mandir is not an issue and the anti-Muslim campaign too is something that the voters have been living with since 2013 on a daily basis.
A senior journalist based in Lucknow probably said it best, “everyone here is tired of communalism, there is a major sense of fatigue and the voters are not really looking for all this again.”
Shah has gone to the extent of insisting that the laptops distributed by the Akhilesh Yadav government have gone to “one community” meaning of course the Muslims. But as scribes pointed out, the distribution has been so widescale that everyone knows that this is not true. The Chief Minister had told The Citizen that 13 lakh laptops had been distributed to the youth all over the state, and this has been done very successfully as in Lucknow’s Hazratganj several shopkeepers referred to this. In fact one of them who had voted for the BJP in the last polls but was not very sure now was rather critical, “now these young people are sitting just busy with all kinds of sites, now tell me who is going to monitor that?”
The effort to polarise is being cut into by caste considerations as well, and it remains to be seen whether the old card will be able to consolidate the non Muslim vote given that the Dalits and the Yadavs have still shown no signs of moving away from the BSP and the SP respectively. Instead reports reaching here suggest that sections of the Brahmins who had remained aloof in the first phases, are looking at the Congress favourably again.
This is largely because the BJP has been making a big play for the other backward vote, fielding almost 50 per cent candidates from the OBCs. The Brahmins are feeling neglected, particularly in some pockets, where they cite the marginalisation of leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi and Varun Gandhi and Kalraj Mishra and others within the BJP as an indication of its indifference to their problems.
The BJP was aware at the onset about the fatigue with communalisation and the response that was not going to reach the 2014 levels. Demonetisation was thus set to replace this, but given the adverse impact on the entire state that is totally visible, the party is following PM Modi’s lead and going back to whipping up a frenzy against the Muslims in particular. This is being punctured by the other political parties on a daily basis, with the PM and Shah’s jumlas being challenged as soon as these are uttered.
Unlike 2014 when PM Modi and the BJP burst on to the scene after the Muzaffarnagar violence, with master oratory and bigger promises, the voter in 2017 seems to be more grounded. Also the Opposition to the BJP in this campaign is more alert, more aggressive, and more focused unlike 2014 when it simply dissolved out of existence. On the other hand, the BJP has been working since to keep the divisions alive and the change in track could bring that effort together in the remaining phases of the polls.
It remains to be seen whether beef politics will be able to cut across the concerns of livelihood, employment, development yet again in what is commonly referred to as the cow belt.