The BJP swept to power on the back of a decade-long reign of corruption that stoked anti-incumbency against the Congress, and riding on a wave of insecurity that the Congress’ purported minority-appeasement policies had triggered in India’s Hindu majority.
I say “purported” not because I believe the Congress cares for the Hindus, but because I believe it doesn’t care for the Muslims either – it doesn’t really care for anyone who cannot contribute to a vote bank, and it misjudged the power of the people on whom it relied for its votes, which led to its downfall. The Congress only appeased Muslim bigots who wanted to ensure their men didn’t have to pay maintenance to their ex-wives in accordance with the secular law, and who had a problem with free speech and good writing.
But the Modi-Shah combine, the king and his kingmaker, got away with a lot in their first term and even more in their second, by riding roughshod over public sentiment and spinning ham-handedness as strength.
Demonetisation broke the promise printed on every note that turned into paper overnight.
The Aadhar card implementation took a bad idea and executed it in the worst possible manner, making hundreds of millions of Indians vulnerable to data theft.
Riding the saffron wave, they made it back to the seat of power for a further five years.
Then they made their first idiotic mistake, forcing the backdoor open to abrogate Article 370, and then trying to cut off communication in an era when that is simply impossible. They ended up shooting themselves in the foot yet again with the National Register of Citizens in Assam, quickly followed by the Citizenship Amendment Act and the promise of an all-India NRC.
For the first time, Modi and Shah have been forced to backtrack on the promises they made to appease their bhakts.
They did not quite think their moves through.
The divide-and-rule policy has traditionally been successful, but the BJP was foolish to think the sentiments of the cow belt are shared across the country. It didn’t understand that the xenophobia in the northeast was even greater than the religious bigotry, and didn’t understand that the linguistic chauvinism in the southern states is greater than the religious chauvinism. In short, it chose the wrong divisions to exploit, which is what led to the debacles in Jharkhand and Maharashtra, and will lead to more debacles in future.
Each state has its political rivalries, and the parties which are not allies of the Centre will make capital of the people’s discontent and provide them safe spaces for protests that could be beneficial to the said parties.
The BJP has also chosen brawn over brain in handling the authorities’ reaction to the protests. It ought to have ensured that the protests in some of the states in which it enjoys monopoly did not turn violent, so that it wouldn’t be quite so blatant that the violence was likely to have been instigated with the intention of justifying a brutal retaliation.
Everyone loves romance, and there is little more romantic than peaceful student protests that have been quashed viciously by the state; and so the entire world is writing and reading articles about the People’s Movement in India. And the government, which is particularly concerned with what white people feel about it, has panicked and done the one thing it has successfully evaded thus far: eating its own words.
In the meanwhile, stories have come out about the man who was killed by a police bullet in Bijnor, about the German student who has been asked to leave the country, about the female activists who are being dragged and beaten by policemen. With the media coverage and social media unity, people have begun to feel they can cause a change.
The protesting students are touted as being “diverse” because of their varied streams of education, their varied ethnic heritage, and their varied genders; but chances are that everyone who has taken to the streets from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Aligarh Muslim University, the IITs, the IIMs, IISc., and Jamia Millia Islamia will be quite comfortable in an echo chamber.
Even Rahul Gandhi has found sensible things to say in public, which is damning evidence that the government has made a laughingstock of itself.
And now that the protests have turned into a movement, with bored cops standing around, and gleeful protesters browsing their phones to see what is being said about them, the issues that the government was likely hoping to bury with its drastic passing of the Bill into law – the teetering economy, and the rising crime against women – are being included in the list of things the people of India are against.
The polls in the states have not been going in the BJP’s favour recently, and there’s a good chance the tide is turning. The Congress is hardly the better option, but protests have a way of churning up leaders, and the next few months promise to be interesting even to the disinterested observer.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
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Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
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When Kamal Haasan endorsed harassment
The Dalai Lama and the death of humour
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com