Why BJP is still far from winning the cultural war
The Left's rout in Tripura is more about numbers, less about the rightist forces having conquered the social wars in India.
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Let’s not exaggerate the BJP’s victory over the CPI(M) in Tripura.
No doubt, it’s unprecedented. For the first time in the electoral history of the BJP and the CPI(M), the Centre-Right has trounced the Centre-Left in a direct fight. It’s a stunning political victory.
But to invest the Tripura victory with the larger symbolism of the right-wing forces having finally won the war over the Left and liberal forces in the social and cultural landscape of India is reading more into the result than it warrants.
That’s why a headline in The Washington Post - “Under Narendra Modi, India’s Right is finally winning the culture wars” - was eye-catching, also a bit jarring. More so because the author is Barkha Dutta, a voice identified with liberal and Centre-Left space.
“The Right won resoundingly-and not just electorally”…. “The numbers themselves are marginal to why these wins are so valuable for India’s right. For them, it’s about symbolically conquering the social and cultural landscape of India.” Dutt exaggerates BJP’s so-called cultural and social victory in these words.
Actually, the Left's rout in Tripura is more about numbers, less about the rightist forces having conquered the social and cultural wars in India. The BJP has dented the Left’s social and cultural space in tiny Tripura. But it’s a long way off from winning the war in India.
India is too big; it’s cultural geography too vast, its social makeup too pluralistic and its linguistic and religious base too diverse to be dominated by a party, which wants to make the country socially and culturally homogenised.
The nationwide storm of protests over vandalisation of Lenin’s statue in a faraway district of Tripura have sent a warning to the BJP against making any brazen attempts to paint the entire cultural space of India in saffron.
The BJP’s hurried steps to dissociate the party from the vandalisation of the statue, the entire leadership, including Prime Minster Narendra Modi and the party president Amit Shah getting into the act to condemn the incidents show the BJP is not yet confident of winning the cultural war.
Ram Madhav, the BJP general secretary and one of the architects of the Tripura victory, too mistakenly thought the BJP had won ideological contest until he received a rude shock that the reality was different.
Who would think the BJP had won the ideological war if the demolition of a Lenin’s statue, which appeals mainly to the Left parties that are hardly electorally relevant outside West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, could force BJP’s top brass to go on the back foot?
I don’t recall when was the last Modi reacted with so much alacrity - within hours - to publicly condemn an event of this nature? They had kept quiet for weeks and months even after national uproar over events such as killings of Muslims by rampaging cow lynch mobs and violence against Dalits.
Modi and Shah hit the panic button when an over enthusiastic party leader H Raja’s call for demolition of EVR Ramasamy, popularly known as Periyar, in Tamil Nadu led to defacing of Tamil’s cultural and social icon’s statue.
Periyar represents the anti-thesis of BJP’s social and cultural philosophy. Espousing atheism, opposed to worship of lord Rama and Hindu deities and virulently opposed to Brahmanism-led social order, the Tamil icon is even a greater threat to the RSS ideology than the Communists.
Almost the entire political class in Tamil Nadu rose in revolt against the BJP. Selective attacks on some Brahmin Hindus wearing sacred threads alarmed the BJP, which, perhaps, needed to be reminded that the Dravidian parties rule in Tamil Nadu and their culture is at odds with the RSS.
A deeper analysis of the BJP’s win in Tripura would show that it’s not the victory of the RSS’s ideology as much as it’s an achievement of the BJP’s electoral machine. It’s the caste and sectarian arithmetic, which the party enthusiasts call social engineering, micro-management down to the booth level and above all huge anti-incumbency that caused the rout of the Left government.
Almost total decimation of the Congress, as an alternative to the CPI(M), is another major factor behind the BJP’s stupendous performance. From 10 MLAs in 2013, the Congress has been reduced to zero. The Congress’ vote share dropped from 36.5 per cent in 2013 to 1.8 per cent in 2018.
The BJP that has emerged in Tripura is socially, culturally and politically nothing, but the old Congress. The BJP has adopted poaching from its rivals as a strategy to build its base in states where it doesn’t have presence.
In Tripura, for instance, BJP fielded as many as 14 candidates who were sitting Congress legislators or former Congress MLAs. Barring two, all won. Seven Congress MLAs had deserted the party to join the Trinamool Congress in the run up to the election. All of them ultimately joined the BJP. Some from CPI(M) too were poached and at least one won the election.
In West Bengal earlier, almost the entire Congress vote base had shifted to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, which emerged as an alternative to the Left Front. In Tripura, the victorious BJP is primarily the erstwhile Congress.
The BJP hasn’t won the cultural and social war in Tripura. It has been Congressised. In Tripura, the BJP represents the same Congress culture that Modi swears to fight and make India Congress-mukt.