The BJP may or may not win the Assembly elections in Assam. In West Bengal, its chances may be considered to be less bright than in Assam on account of the structural makeup of the state, notwithstanding the pre-Partition communal politics rampant in undivided Bengal. But winning a poll fair and square is not the metric any longer. We have seen popular verdicts being overturned in state after state to the BJP’s benefit.
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his principal operative, Union home minister Amit Shah, the saffron party’s new sutra is to form a government in a state through any means. The capture of power is evidently crucial for erecting a scaffolding -- a formal platform -- for the systematic spread of ideas in the public realm through unrestrained heavy-duty propaganda, the rapid dissemination of communal politics through enabling instruments of State power (the police and the bureaucracy), and the unleashing of policy with a communal slant.
The last indubitably means going out of the way to disadvantage and “other” those who are not the majority, leading to the making of such patently unjust policies -- which defy the idea of equality before the law -- the new normal in a sharp deviation from the political tradition whose roots were laid over 70 years ago.
The Westminster system of party politics, which is enshrined in our Constitution, has been stood on its head in the post-Atal Behari Vajpayee BJP. When the BJP fails to bag the numbers in an election, it simply sets up a trade mart in which MLAs become the commodity. The gomashtas, or middlemen, and auctioneers are out in strength.
When elected legislators on party tickets other than BJP fail to take the bait (offered in the form of incentives), the punitive element kicks in and various agencies of the Central government raid and begin so-called investigations against the BJP’s opponents. The law courts simply watch helplessly. The Election Commission has little to say. The governors of various states frequently don the garb of apparatchiks. The Speaker is happy to receive instructions remotely.
The RSS is the ideological mentor of the BJP and several dozen allied organisations that are the repository of the notion of the “Hindu Rashtra” (the idea that the landmass of India -- in its present political geography as well as in its mythological connotation -- is the natural home of the Hindus of the world, where all others must resign themselves to the fate of being less equal).
The RSS lays claims to being exalted. Its propagandists and adherents have prided themselves on being seekers of a higher morality and ethical conduct in the family, society, and the “nation”, the last being an expression which in its most recent manifestation in India has been so thoroughly weaponised as to cause unease among “citizens” -- namely, those Indians who are not swayed by their religious identity alone in the running of public affairs and policymaking.
It was expected that the self-appointed custodians of the “culture” of the Hindus would object to such weaponisation in the interest of political hygiene and harmony in society. They have not done so.
When after an election, newly elected MLAs of non-BJP parties are pursued with serious intent to switch sides so that the BJP may unfairly get to form the government and make a mockery of the people who voted for them and against the BJP, a small hint from the top levels of the RSS leadership may have done wonders. It would have worked as a discouraging factor. But the RSS top brass have little to say. The inference is that they approve of dishonourable conduct in the interest of making an ideological conquest.
Whether it is an election to a panchayat, a district board, a trade union, a social club, a professional association -- and not just the state or national legislature -- the BJP uses every trick in the book to “capture” the body. Only then can it pass rules, regulations, laws, to influence civil society as well as the government.
More, only then does it gain the formal legitimacy and the authority to direct the making of budgets and play the lead hand in the disbursal of funds to its favourite schemes and outfits. The stamp of approval is thus gained to promote unworthy communal agendas. The general media tom-toms this, rather than interrogate the phenomenon.
Awestruck by the energy brought to bear by the BJP to win all elections, big or small, some commentators have urged other parties to emulate the saffron party’s methods. This is misconceived advice. It leaves out of account the fundamental proposition -- that the BJP is unlike any other party that we know.
It sanctions the use of majoritarian force (which may be unseen), rather than the commonly understood constitutional methods. Ordinary civil society sometimes transforms into un-civil society under its gaze. This is a phenomenon that is anathema to a democratic order.
In both Assam and West Bengal, the political actors in the fray, as well as the general public, need to remain alert to the “capture” and “takeover” syndrome. A successful takeover bid may be expected to give rise to the unbridled spread of communal fires in (fragile) border states. The Congress and the Left parties have given little evidence of understanding the parallelogram of forces at work, especially in West Bengal. They may live to rue the day.