Autor: Badri Raina

This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.


Passing references apart, the most worrying feature of the current election campaign has been the lack of popular or systemic outrage against the way Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have succeeded in normalising the use of religion and communal hate as their chief electoral strategy.

Indeed, the list of epithets and items – mangalsutras, buffaloes, cricket, government tenders –  deployed to obtain the grossest denominational polarisation is getting to be endless, with next to no pushback either from the fourth estate or the catchment of experts who routinely populate prime time shows, with honourable exceptions, it must be said.


Mentions are made but then the “debates” go on after academic observations about how canny Modi’s tactics are, and how all is fair in electoral battles, as among corporate wars. That the electoral contest is indeed projected as war is evidenced by the sort of terms the vernacular media unfailingly applies to a description of campaign episodes; phrases like “hunkar,” “shankh naad,” “vaar/palat vaar,” “hamla,” to underscore a few, cast the democratic contest as a battle reminiscent of the Mahabharata.

From disgraceful scare-mongering about how non-BJP parties, with the Congress always the chief culprit in Modi’s anxious mind, mean to “turn Hindus into second class citizens,” steal “reservations” from the Schedule Castes, Schedule Tribes, and Other Backward Classes and hand them over to Muslims, even steal all the gold from Hindu women to pass on to Muslims, to continuous projections of the Ram temple and fake propaganda about how the Congress will embrace Pakistan etc, Modi has insistently used the majoritarian card to counter his failures on livelihood issues, and his falling ratings among the masses.


One look at the five guarantees he has promised to the people of West Bengal, and it is again clear as daylight that his chief tool for electoral success continues to be religion.

Guarantee number three promises that there will be no hurdles tolerated to the celebration of Ram Navmi; number four vows that no one will be allowed to alter the status of the Ram temple at Ayodhya—as brazenly a cooked-up fear as can be; and number five refers to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act which for the first time in our post-independence, constitutional history, makes religion a criterion for grant of citizenship).

None of the above, the Election Commission would have us believe, amounts to a violation of the constitutional injunction or the provisions of the People’s Representation Act which forbid discriminating among citizens on denominational grounds or using religion to appeal for votes.

Cutely, his guarantee number one – namely, that religion cannot be a basis for granting reservations – seems to Modi the only constitutional caution against the use of religion in matters of state function.


Accusing the opposition of being Muslim-friendly, he has no problem with making a no-holds-barred Hindu (read: upper caste Hindu) friendly frenzy as his chief campaign gambit.

Modi’s success lies in the fact that both the media and the elites seem to think that being pro-Hindu is not a religious phenomenon, but a nationalist one—an eventuality that Jawaharlal Nehru had cautioned us against when he predicted how the communalism of the minority will be referred to as communalism, but that of the majority as nationalism.

It is the best-known secret that the one word, most of all among many others, in the constitution that the right-wing wish to eject is the word “secular” in the Preamble. And yet we are to believe that it is not Modi who has been pressing religion into political service with undiminished resolve and fury but the opposition which has been doing so.

This against the starkly demonstrable fact that the electoral campaign of the INDIA alliance has unrelentingly centred on non-religious, livelihood concerns of all citizens.


Many who may well be helpless in countering in any large-scale measure the make-over of the republic, ought at least not to descend to hypocrisy, but remain sentient about the fate that seems to be overtaking the nation.

Badri Raina taught English at Delhi University. 


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