As the Lok Sabha election approaches, the ruling BJP’s policies appear to be pointing to the party’s particular identity in our politics. This is a suite of characteristics that the saffron party does not always draw attention to. For instance, in 2014, the BJP’s chief slogan was “Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas”. The ideas and slogans that mark out the BJP from other parties were kept tucked away. Not in 2019, though.
The most significant direct issue being underlined now is the temple issue. For more than four-and-a-half years, the Modi government kept mum about it, for good reason. Several of its “secular” allies — such as the JD(U) and others — might have been obliged to quit the alliance if the Ayodhya issue had been fore-grounded earlier. But nearer election time, the ruling party feels the need to signal to its core constituency that it has not abandoned its basic agenda.
At this stage, the saffron party’s secular allies are helpless. They have nowhere to go. So they may be expected to side-step the Ayodhya question even as the BJP goes about building pressure even if actual work for temple-construction cannot begin before the polls.
An example is the government’s recent appeal in the Supreme Court to return to the owners (mainly a VHP affiliate) the lands surrounding the “disputed” area where the Babri mosque once stood. This is a dog-whistle that must go out if the RSS cadre is to be mobilised for PM Modi’s campaign.
In general, for the past two decades or so, with the exception of 2009, the Hindu upper castes, with which the Indian middle classes are to a considerable degree congruent, have been BJP voters. The party led by the Modi-Shah duo has gone out of its way to court these sections. For the PM, it would be a disaster if the middle classes moved away from the BJP, as in 2009.
Thus, in the Union Budget presented this Friday the key element was the substantial tax benefits announced for the middle class. In his New Year day interview to a news agency, the PM had underscored the importance of the middle class. When tax cuts were announced, the BJP benches set up the chant of “Modi, Modi!” in the Lok Sabha. They were grateful to the PM for massively appeasing their constituency.
The tax sop is in line with the additional 10 per cent reservation announced for the Hindu upper castes earlier this month. The Ram temple, appeasement of the upper castes, and the effort to fully win over the middle class, are fundamental issues to which the BJP has always paid pointed attention, whether it advertises these or not.