With Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP completing three years in office, there is growing chatter about 2019 Lok Sabha elections. After scoring an impressive victory in UP and forming governments in three other states, Modi and BJP have the wind at their backs. Try your luck in 2024, some say to India’s opposition.
But, will there be an election in 2024? I believe RSS and BJP view the 2019 election as an important milestone in their desire to realise their long-standing dream of establishing a Hindu rashtra. To circumvent the hurdle that our Constitution poses, a key step is to establish a de facto single-party government, followed by changes to the constitutional scheme.
Should RSS and BJP prevail with the same or enhanced mandate as was the case in 2014, an alternative ‘idea of India’ will become the new norm. The 2019 election will be the last opportunity for the political opposition as well as the citizen to stop this from happening.
While many have written about creeping authoritarianism and rise of Hindutva in India, much of it sounds like a complaint, a warning or a cry for help. An underlying theme is that of disbelief about the erosion of “the” idea of India, most often associated with Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru.
Two issues are of particular concern. First, there is very little acknowledgement of the possibility that there was always an alternative Hindutva idea of India and that it had significant support. Second, those of us opposed to Hindutva often do not look at the world from the perspective of its proponents. The game, however, has changed.
RSS is resolute in its “idea of India” as a quintessentially Hindu country. It has toiled hard for decades in pursuit of this vision. The Sangh Parivar has always had a core base of support. This leads me to believe that there was a section of Hindu society that felt aggrieved that after the creation of a country for Muslims, Hindus were denied their own country.
This grievance has simmered for decades as the Gandhi-Nehru vision prevailed and the first past the post system kept Hindutva forces from gaining power at the national level until 1998. The defeats of 2004 and 2009 delayed the project but the 2014 election finally provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hindutva proponents. BJP had an aspirational narrative, an astute strategic approach, a compelling leader in Modi, boots on the ground and a real hunger for power.
Modi has used populism, nationalism and anti-secularism to great effect and fired up the imagination of millions looking for instant progress and national greatness. Hindutva is now undeniably a mainstream alternative to the idea of India that most Indians grew up with. Where do we go from here?
It is here that we must see the world from the RSS’s perspective. They are not in politics for the usual business of governance and economic development. Those are means towards the ultimate goal, a higher aspiration, which is to build a Hindu rashtra. Clearly, a Hindu rashtra is incompatible with India’s Constitution and its democratic norms.
I believe the likelihood of India’s conversion to a Hindu rashtra has never been greater. Most government institutions are brittle. Indian democracy as we know it, stands at the precipice. But there is still one hope. Paradoxically, it is the same Indian voters who are supposedly going to deliver a decisive victory to Modi in 2019 who are also in the best position to rein the Sangh Parivar in.
What does that mean for 2019? The opposition must build its own strategy, complete with an ideological narrative that can resonate with most Indians. Mobilising public opinion and public participation at a mass scale will be imperative. For all of BJP’s strengths and successes, the majority of Indians have still not voted for them. India’s diversity offers opportunities for opposition forces. As the Sangh Parivar pursues pan-India uniformity, the opposition must relearn the power of unity in diversity.
After 2019, all bets are off. Oh, by the way, what if it isn’t 2019? What if it is 2018? Be ready for anything and everything. India is calling you to duty.
SALMAN ANEES SOZ