It is anybody’s guess what government 2019 will throw up, but unlike 2014 there is a visible and more credible Opposition on the ground. Whether petrol prices, demonetisation, agrarian distress, Dalit anger, Muslim insecurity, Upper-caste reservations and a host of other issues shaking the cities and districts of India into periodic violence will be able to effectively counter the loud Hindutva rhetoric and movement forward remains to be seen. But it is safe to presume that the two will clash in the run up to the general elections, often in a manner that will seriously compromise the already weakened foundations of Indian democracy.

BJP president Amit Shah has sounded the election bugle as it were in Rajasthan. If there was any chintan baithak at the top level after the last session of Parliament, a decision seems to have been taken that the BJP will push the Hindutva agenda with new determination and force, beginning with the Assembly elections in Rajasthan.

Shah’s address to BJP party workers was clear:

- That there should be no second thoughts about the by now well defined Hindutva agenda.

- That the lynching of Akhlaq followed by award wapsi by writers and poets had no impact and will not be allowed to have any impact now, so there was no need to review the violence as some might have raised within the party. (“When Akhlaq happened we won, we won when award wapsi happened. If they do something else now, too, we will win. The BJPs workers are certain of victory” – quoted in The Indian Express, September 11.)

- That despite protests the Assam agenda will be extended to cover all of India, where every single “Bangladeshi” will be hunted down and deported. (“After singling them out we will put them on the list so they can be identified.”)

- That notwithstanding the protests in the North East states, the BJP remains committed to its position to open doors for all non-Muslim refugees from the neighbouring countries. ("We have decided that all Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain people coming fro Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh are not infiltrators, they are asylum seekers, our brothers and we will grant them citizenship.”)

- That there are no second thoughts about the drive against “Maoists” and this will remain on the anvil along with the arrests of the five activists. (“Should those who bought mortars be given freedom?”)

- That nationalism will remain the theme as will PM Narendra Modi. (“Show them the photo of Modiji, tell them about the work that has been done… talk about surgical strikes, Bharat Gaurav and in the end say ‘come to vote’.”)

In his speeches in Rajasthan on September 10, the BJP president has put an end to speculation that the party might review its stategy in the wake of widespread protests and alienation, dominated these days by spiralling prices. And that it will soften the hard line to reach out substantively to the larger populace by presenting a softer face in the run up to the elections. While this speculation was the subject of heated conversation in drawing rooms and chaurahas, Shah has laid it to rest with his detailed speeches marking the kick-off of the Rajasthan, and indeed national polls.

Demonetisation, price rise, development all become secondary to the agenda where currently Ram Mandir too is not the highlighted issue. At least not yet. The measures implemented on the ground such as citizenship in Assam, arrests of activists as part of the avowed crackdown on alleged Maoists, lynchings that continue despite the Supreme Court order, and the ‘traitors” versus “nationalists” approach as defined by the BJP will continue with more vigour than before. The BJP has whipped up a sustainable campaign on these issues central to which is the Hindu rashtra, presented with emotive arguments by spokespersons, as well as a strong, relentless campaign on the social media where the message rather than the truth assumes all importance. RSS cadres have fanned out across the districts of the Hindi heartland in particular, sitting at tea stalls, travelling on buses, and strengthening the arguments of Hindu nationalism in conversations. Occasional use of the stick, such as beatings and lynchings, reinforces the ‘we mean business’ stance of the party and its affiliates.

Shah has made it very clear that there will be no going back on the agenda that the BJP in government and as a political party has so well defined over the past four years. The love jihad and ghar wapsi agenda now appears amateur beside governmental initiatives that have formalised the Hindutva agenda through a series of measures and even legislation. Through every statement and action the ‘other’ is well defined as the Muslim, the Dalit although here it is not a blanket averment, the Maoist (though the rest of the Left will follow), the Secularists (all traitors) with different groups of dissenters thrown in for good measure such as the writers, poets, journalists who come in the way every now and again.

What Shah did not say is actually as interesting as what he did. Kashmir was left out, as was the economy. Kashmir of course feeds into the larger discourse of security and nationalism where the Muslim is projected as the threat. And the economy clearly hurts. Given the specific issues such as defence deals, corruption, development, jobs, price rise that are being raised by the Congress and other parties, the BJP in its response will tackle these by highlighting the achievements of PM Modi as a more generic response to the economic issues that are taking a toll on farmers, workers, women, and the poor of India.

Use Hindutva to cut into arguments about the economy is the message out there now. Still intensely potent in Shah and the BJP’s reckoning.

(Part 2 soon: On the Congress/ Opposition strategy)