Uttar Pradesh under Ajay Singh Bhisht alias Yogi Adityanath is proving among the biggest headaches for both Modi and the RSS. As if alienation of Dalits and Muslims was not already complete in this state, the recent shooting of an Apple executive by police with impunity in Lucknow could be the undoing of the BJP in UP. For this time, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, unlike the times when Muslims were similarly encountered, was immediately on the phone with the Chief Minister protesting about victimising the “us” (read upper caste/ Brahmin) rather than the usual “them”. The victim, Vivek Tiwari, and his family are BJP voters. Besides and even though the Chief Minister may have moved swiftly to pacify the family, questions will be asked of the BJP for targeting their own voters. No wonder, unlike the other times, Singh was demanding action against the guilty policemen - Lucknow is his constituency, after all, and he cannot afford to lose his voters.
UP also bothers both factions of the BJP – it won 73 seats of 80 the last time round but now their internal assessment tells them they would be lucky if they get 40. They are trying their best to break the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance here, by getting to Mayawati but the situation with Dalits in the country today is such that if she attempts to play footsie with the BJP, she is likely to lose her leadership position among the Dalits, particularly with new leaders like Chandrashekhar Azad and Jignesh Mewani rising from the ranks to take stated positions against BJP governments in their states and at the Centre.
Although the BJP may have captured Nitish Kumar’s government in Bihar, but the groundswell of support against the BJP is such that potential candidates need to put themselves at a safe distance from Modi to save their constituencies. That is what happened when founder member of the NCP, Tariq Anwar wasted no time quitting his party, when NCP president Sharad Pawar seemed to give a clean chit to Modi on the Rafale deal.
Loss of seats from these two states and Maharashtra cannot be made up from West Bengal or the northeast as Shah had hoped. Their mishandling of the National Registry of Citizens in Assam that not only has Bengali and Assamese Muslims but also Hindus listed as aliens is likely to have a cascading effect in the entire eastern part of India. In any case, the BJP has won many of those states not by popular vote but by buying up governments. And that may not be enough to win the Centre. Left with no friends in Tamil Nadu (both factions in the AIADMK who are willing do not count in terms of potential), just the TRS in Telangana and the BJD in Orissa may not give them the numbers.
So with promises unkept, dreams shattered, jobs not in sight, minorities and Dalits lynched and alienated, women no better off than before, what does the BJP bank on, if not on Ayodhya? Sources reveal that the party has almost finalised a plan for the temple in Ayodhya and may undertake the groundbreaking before the 2019 elections
According to sources, the BJP internal surveys have already done the number crunching and it is this potential shortfall which is making them highly nervous of the future. Moreover, if the Congress plays its cards on corruption on the Rafale deal well, Modi will be left with no fig leaf to cover his shame and the plank of his personal integrity is likely to go for a toss.
So with promises unkept, dreams shattered, jobs not in sight, minorities and Dalits lynched and alienated, women no better off than before, what does the BJP bank on, if not on Ayodhya? Sources reveal that the party has almost finalised a plan for the temple in Ayodhya and may undertake the groundbreaking before the 2019 elections. But that could be a double-edged sword for Modi. Firstly, there are many within the BJP and even the RSS waiting to trip him up on the temple issue so that he does not get credit and entrench himself in the party forever.
Secondly, what he needed to do in the past four-and-a-half years is to simply take care of the poor and the farmers in the country to be home safe and dry without needing to whip up the temple issue or bully the minorities and Dalits into submission. But not only did they not get their MSPs or other dues owed to them, demonetisation struck them a deathly blow right in the middle of the Rabi sowing season in 2016 from which they have been unable to recover. As Balu Aher, a grape grower from Nashik told National Herald, “You can write off loans of industrialists to the tune of crores. We do not have any pennies to pay our loans of Rs one lakh or less. You can build monuments to your glory. But we must die of debts and starvation.”
What monuments? Even in his remote village in Dindori taluka, he has heard of the swanky multi-crore BJP office in New Delhi and now talk of the temple irritates him no end. “Our God is our fasal. We don’t have money to harvest and take our crop to the wholesale market, where will we find the money to go to Ayodhya?”
Aher is among the better off earners but his sentiment is reflected among most of his fellow poor.
Then there is Janabai, considered educated for her village (she is Class VIII pass) who has been visiting her bank almost every day to see if ₹15 lakh has been paid into her Jan Dhan account. She asks anxiously, “I and other members of the Mahila Bachat Samiti got together to open this account when we were told we would receive ₹15 lakh in it soon. When will Modi pay?”
Then, she answers her own question. “Perhaps just before the next elections. They always give us sarees and cash at every election. I am sure it will come.” She hasn’t heard of Ayodhya and in any case her gods are right around her. She can put her money to better use than going to Ayodhya but perhaps she could visit the Vithal temple in Pabdharpur when her ₹15 lakh arrives – that’s as far as her pilgrimage is likely to extend.
So, who is likely to be impressed by the Ram temple in Ayodhya? Our guess is merely the core supporters of the BJP which would come down to 19% of the people of India instead of the 31% that swept Modi to power. As for Kashmir, Muslims, Rohingyas and termites, the BJP rhetoric has already lost much of its sting.
The BJP and the RSS know well enough that Modi’s reputation on all counts in tatters. Perhaps that is why two weeks after tearing into Modi in public, Bhagwat took pity on him and said every government makes mistakes.
He could finally afford to be magnanimous to Modi for he knows this round is going against the man who sold impossible dreams and that now, far from trying to subdue the RSS, Modi will soon be standing with a begging bowl before Bhagwat seeking his help for votes across India.
Modi may lose but the RSS will win. And if they have enough numbers to cobble together post-poll alliances (very few are going with them pre-poll with even the Shiv Sena’s proclivities in doubt), another man will be the next Prime Minister. The Modi era may then well and truly be over. Brought down by the same men he kicked in the teeth on his way upstairs..
(This is the concluding part of a two part article)
This article first appeared in National Herald on Sunday. Read the first part here.