BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra on Friday stunningly claimed that his party candidate’s defeat in Kairana bypolls was the defeat of Hindus and victory of Muslims. While taking part in a live TV debate on News24, Patra told the show’s anchor, Manak Gupta, “If one religious group (Muslims) decides to polarise, then other group (Hindus) too will polarise. This shouldn’t happen but if one group has voted en masse for a particular candidate, then please mark my words, this will have its effect across India.”
The show’s anchor sought to correct him stating that Muslims constituted only 32% of Kairana’s vote share, while 68% population were still Hindus, Patra blurted out his party’s dangerous plan for 2019. He said, “When this will reverberate across India, then everyone will pause and reflect. When word will spread that 32% Muslims could unite, but where were Hindus? Islam won but why did Hindus lose, then everyone including Manak Gupta and Sambit Patra will be forced to think.”
His comments coincided with a dangerous social media campaign by BJP supporters, who falsely blamed the newly elected RLD MP, Tabassum Hasan, for saying that Kairana results were the victory of ‘Allah’ and ‘defeat of Ram.’ A shocked Hasan had told Janta Ka Reporter that she never made those comments and was contemplating filing a criminal case against the members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini for spreading the dangerous propaganda.
Sambit Patra is often termed as BJP’s loose canon while taking part in TV debates or flying the flag for his party in conclaves organised by TV channels. But, his stocks within the saffron party have skyrocketed in the recent months, particularly after he was made an independent director in the government-owned ONGC.
Another theory about Patra’s perceived loose talk in TV debates is that he says things that the higher echelon in his party would not publicly utter for the fear of reprisals. In other words, Patra’s seemingly bizarre utterances, according to many politics watchers in India, are prompted by a shrewd political design, to extract the much-needed electoral advantage.
Just before the last year’s Gujarat assembly elections, Patra was taking part in a conclave, organised by ABP news channel. For every criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his failure to deliver the election promises, Patra would pretend to get animated and utter repeatedly, ‘Sun raha hai na Gujarat? They (Congress) are making fun of Modi because he’s a Gujarati.” This was a clever move given that, for the first time, the saffron party had started to develop cold feet in its own bastion, a state that the BJP had first sown its Hindutva seeds so successfully. It was a dangerous but effective move to make it Gujarati Vs non-Gujarati by selling Modi’s credential as the son-of-the-soil to woo voters in order to ward off any potential threats to BJP’s survival in the western coastal state of India.
Post Kairana’s defeat, Patra’s party is facing an existential crisis not just in Gujarat but across India with a united opposition appearing determined to shatter Modi’s dreams for a second term in the prime minister’s office. The RLD’s decision to field a Muslim candidate in a predominantly Jat constituency and ensure her decisive win over the BJP candidate in Kairana also demolished a communally divisive plan that has always suited the BJP in the past. BJP had ridden piggyback on the growing anti-Muslim sentiments in Kairana in 2014 Lok Sabha polls after a bloody religious strife in the neighbouring Muzaffarnagar in August 2013. Then, a small fight had metamorphosed into full-blown communal violence killing more than 60 people in the Jat-dominated Muzaffarnagar.
Although Modi spoke about development in all his public rallies while leading the BJP’s campaign to wrest power from Manmohan Singh in 2014, that mask has been taken off long ago. Faced with a huge anti-incumbency, series of electoral setbacks in bypolls and unprecedented unity among the opposition parties have seemingly prompted the BJP to return to its age-old agenda of Hindutva and religious polarisation more explicitly.
Modi gave the first hint towards religious polarisation during the UP assembly elections when he spoke about Qabristan and Shamsan (burial and cremation grounds for Muslims and Hindus). Modi and BJP President Amit Shah’s choice of Yogi Adityanath, a known face of militant Hindutva, to quit as an MP and become UP’s chief minister was another step in that direction. Post BJP’s stunning defeats in Gorakhpur, Adityanath’s home constituency, Phulpur and now Kairana, the party appears to have decided its electoral agenda for 2019 elections. Whether it will be help Modi reap dividends is anybody’s guess.
When Patra and his party intend to polarise Hindu votes, they surely don’t have plans to do so using emotional appeal. That doesn’t work anymore and we saw that in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana. In the absence of using words, one could only expect something sinister from these so-called Hindutva warriors. Let’s not forget that it took 2002 pogroms for Modi to cement his position as chief minister indefinitely before staking his claim for India’s prime minister.