Since the BJP came to power in 2014, India has seen several plans to make the country leapfrog to $5-trillion economy. Unfortunately, no agenda did work, as envisioned by the BJP. Meanwhile, the coronavirus barged in and subsumed the failure of all agendas. Conveniently, the government changed its goalposts as per the exigencies. Mostly leaving the virus combat to the health administration, institutions and pharmaceutical infrastructure, the government was pursuing other political agendas — elections in the States, particularly where the BJP isn’t in power. And inventing ways to win them has become its most important agenda.
After the 2019 elections, the results were entirely as wished by the BJP. In Maharashtra, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, there were some pre and post-election hiccups, permutations and combinations. So amidst the pandemic, the decelerating economy and the lackadaisical State election results, the ruling BJP needed to adopt a new approach and do some ‘creativity’ to win power in the States.
The party quickly embarked on it. Wherever elections came in the States — whether Assembly, byelections or local elections, the central BJP was trooping in and organising the election campaign using the big resources at its command, to denigrate the parties in power. Home Minister and a few other VIPs of the BJP were made to raid the States frequently. The Prime Minister was also lending a hand in a subtle way. Thus, winning State elections became a major agenda for the BJP.
Now, in the non-Hindi belt States, the modus operandi is a combination of religion and legacies. In the GHMC elections, it was Bhagyanagar and Bhagyalakshmi temple legacy. BJP leaders even conveniently forgot that for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, Telangana State formation was not palatable and they never helped in forming Telangana.
In West Bengal, they have declared a virtual war on the Mamata government. They started their campaign almost a year before for the Assembly elections scheduled in April/May 2021. There have been regular raids by the BJP bigwigs on the State, at times creating law and order problems.
Amit Shah plans to visit the State for 2-3 days every month till the elections are over. They are poaching TMC MLAs and invoking religious sentiments to scuttle the TMC strength. They are also trying to usurp the legacies of Rabindranath Tagore and Subhas Chandra Bose. If the Centre wants to host these icons’ memories, it can do so at the national level. There is no need to hijack State’s legacy and try to belittle the State government in its own precincts.
They are celebrating Netaji’s birthday as Parakram Divas this year on the eve of elections in the State. Celebrating this year alone explains it. It is inappropriate for the Central government to contribute to making the political situation murky in West Bengal. Netaji called himself a leftist and socialist. Netaji’s son is said to have invited Modi to his home as Prime Minister and not as a political leader. Anita Bose Pfaff, his daughter, told NDTV: “Netaji was a devout Hindu but also a supporter of a secular state. He was very tolerant of other religions. He would certainly want India to be a secular State”.
It is opined that the Sangh Parivar’s vain efforts to co-opt him into its pantheon of saffron heroes is even more problematic because it seeks to distort and falsify all that Netaji stood for. No doubt, he was a devout Hindu with a saintly streak of self-abnegation in him. He was deeply inspired by the Bhagavad Gita and the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda. Yet, he was uncompromising in his advocacy of Hindu-Muslim unity. He would have roundly rejected the Sangh Parivar’s agenda of turning India into a Hindu Rashtra, as it is totally antithetical to his ideology of secular and inclusive Indian nationalism.
It is surprising that the BJP which has vilified Nehru to be responsible for all the ills in India is so enamoured of co-opting Netaji as its icon. Both of them were in the Congress and were national leaders of the first order. It should be interesting to know the political relationship between Netaji and BJP’s own icon Syama Prasad Mukherjee, incidentally from West Bengal. Syama Prasad Mukherjee was in the first national government in Nehru’s cabinet but it is not known if he worked with Netaji for the independence of India.
In such circumstances, the BJP trying to co-opt Netaji as its own icon, while denigrating other Congress leaders of the independence movement, is ludicrous. There is no scope to suggest such a possibility, except the temporary trial by the BJP to win the impending Bengal elections. Whatever will be election results, this effort of the BJP to hijack Netaji’s legacy is purely inappropriate and rank political opportunism.
No Different in Assam
In Assam, Shah is doing more than what is being attempted in Bengal. There the legacy is of Kamakhya Devi temple and the Vaishnavite traditions but now the focus is on escalating Bodo- non-Bodo politics. In fact, the BJP has already created a great deal of strife in Assam with the contentious and half-baked NRC and CAA politics. So all this bluster and skullduggery in Assam are for garnering votes.
The BJP has been in power in Assam for the last few years. Instead of highlighting its development work, it is promising development, if elected again. It is an oft-repeated refrain before all elections, but there is not much of a track record of keeping it.
If the BJP wants to win more States, it should be based on its work in the national government and in the States where it is in power. Not by invoking Hindu religious traditions and co-opting the icons of the States going for elections, that too when they have no relationship to the ideology of the BJP. Belittling the State leaders in their own States, in the celebrations designed for electoral gains, is not only improper political etiquette but is very much against the spirit of federal polity and democratic credentials of India.
(The author is a freelance journalist)
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