The Wrong Yatra

Atul Cowshish

Accompanied by media hype and much fanfare, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) organised a fortnight-long Janraksha Yatra (Journey for People’s Safety) across Kerala, the southern tip of India.  Well, Kerala sticks out as a sore thumb in meeting BJP’s ambition to bind India in one ‘culture’.  But if media reports are to be believed Mission Kerala has brought little satisfaction for the saffron party and its fierce gladiators.  All because of BJP’s exaggerated notions about itself which makes it incapable of accepting that there is an India beyond its nose.

 The BJP has little idea of what or how people in the South think. Their ethos does not match with people living in the Cow Belt. The pull of Hindi is limited in the South while most BJP leaders sent to Kerala are unfamiliar or uncomfortable in any other language than the Rashtra Bhasha (and their mother tongue, if it is different). The wise men in Nagpur do not charge up people outside their turf.

If looked carefully, the BJP has actually not taken roots beyond its traditional areas of influence—the Hindi heartland and the western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Goa has been a dubious addition while the conquests in the Northeast are entirely contrived, achieved with questionable means; barring Karnataka the BJP can at best count on token friendship of the dominant regional parties in the former Andhra Pradesh region, a dicey relationship with the Tamil nationalist parties and stare at barren fields in Kerala.

The religion-oriented war cries may have paid dividends in the North and the West but cut no ice in the rest of the country. In Christian dominated Northeast the BJP has to disown its cow politics and discovered to its discomfort that it is not a winning formula in much of southern India.

The BJP dispatched an impressive team of four chief ministers and 16 union ministers, not to speak of the army of elected representatives and fire eating office bearers, all dedicated to espousal of ‘nationalist’ causes, to annex Kerala and thereby cleanse it chiefly of the ‘anti-national’ leftists and ‘sickulars’ who come under two brands—LDF (mainly Communists) and UDF (Congress-led).

‘Love Jihad’ had worked as a mobilizing force in the Hindi Belt, but it was unable to arouse the same passion in Kerala even though some ‘Love Jihad’ cases in the state have engaged higher courts and, hence, the whole nation. The reason could be that while many Hindus in Kerala are as passionate about their religion as those in the North, they do not respond to divisive appeals with the same gusto as those habituating other parts of the country.

In a by-election for a Kerala assembly, held in the midst of the BJP yatra, the Indian Union Muslim League (a partner in the Congress-led UDF) managed to retain its seat with comfortable majority despite a dip in the number of votes polled. From the BJP perspective the important thing is that the LDF of leftist parties increased its share while the BJP candidate, placed at the fourth position, could garner about 5000 votes, about 1000 less than in the 2016 state assembly election.

Projecting ‘Love Jihad’ as a major political issue made the UP chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, a less potent BJP campaigner in Kerala than what the party had imagined. And he is sometimes seen as the next prime minister from the BJP stable.

The Yogi did considerable harm to his party when he claimed that Kerala could take some lessons in better health management from UP! Apart from the fact that in most health indicators, Kerala is far ahead of UP, people in India’s most literate state had all the reasons to feel insulted by a chief minister in whose home constituency babies have been dying in hospital due to utter neglect and mismanagement.

To most people outside Kerala, revelations about the violent nature of politics in the state has come as a surprise. Better informed observers say that violence in Kerala politics as such is four-decade old. Condemnable as the current state of violence in the state is, it is also clear is that the two bitter rivals in this murderous game—the Left parties and the BJP/RSS combine—participate in equal measure.

The Janraksha Yatra was obviously named and designed to highlight murderous attacks by the Left cadres on RSS workers. But if people in the state refuse to believe that only one party has murderous instincts the tirade against the Left parties loses its edge.

Narendra Modi, the BJP icon, is quick to see criticism of his long tenure previously as chief minister of Gujarat amounting to hurting the ‘pride of Gujarat’. In fact, he has accused the Congress of being inherently ‘anti-Gujarat’.

The people of Kerala were not amused by the intemperate comments of the likes of the Goa chief minister, another itinerant in Kerala, who described the Kerala chief minister and his team as ‘rogues’, and the national secretary of the BJP, Saroj Devi, who has threatened to ‘gouge the eyes’ of Marxists in Kerala if they dared to ‘show eye’ to RSS workers.

The BJP seems to be pleased with that kind of words from those two worthies, not knowing the harm it has caused to its prospects                                    Syndicate Features

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