Millennium Post

2019: Brace for religious impact

The countdown to 2019 has started and religion will assume centre-stage – not development or joblessness.

2019: Brace for religious impact

The bugle has been sounded, the countdown to 2019 Lok Sabha polls has started, and make no mistake, this one is going to get downright dirty. The most important electoral issue will not be 'acche din' or the lack of them. We will not be discussing development, GDP numbers, historic weakening of the rupee against the dollar or joblessness; battle lines are being drawn on religion. The writing is on the wall and, with each passing day, the rhetoric of our politicians is proving just that.

If you are in the majority, you will be urged to take back what is yours. Be the protagonist of the 70-year-old post-Independence play that has sidelined you. If you are a minority, you will be implored to prove your Indian-ness or worthiness to remain a part of this great Hindu nation. Both sides of the political divide are doing this already; using religion to once again do what the British successfully did decades ago – divide and rule.

While rumours of early elections (and perhaps even a combined occurrence of Lok Sabha and state elections) are doing the rounds, our politicians have already upped the ante. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently charged that the Congress claimed to be a party for Muslims. The Congress denied this as fake news but the BJP's message of the Congress' soft stance towards Muslims went through. The BJP has increased its Hindutva focus and is organising numerous rallies on the occasion of religious festivals in different states (700 rallies on Janmashtami are being organised by the BJP in Mamata Banerjee's West Bengal). The Opposition will follow suit. Simultaneously, incidents of religion-based lynchings, cow protection etc. will continue unabated throughout the country. Social media, already replete with hatred and bigotry, is witnessing virtual swords being drawn with speed.

In this atmosphere of polarity, the divide between 'us' versus 'them' has never been more acute. The abhorrence expressed between the majority and the minority has never been so ugly. And, in this polarised environment, even the opposition parties are adding fuel to fire. Even in the name of secularism, the various statements and actions by opposition leaders are only further polarising the situation. A curious hashtag also did the rounds this week, #TalkToAMuslim. The idea was to show Muslims as normal, Indian citizens who are not to be despised and distrusted. It was heartbreaking that this topic was even up for discussion and that we have to be reminded constantly of the normalcy and patriotism of Muslims. If only patriotism could be judged by the daily actions of all of India's people rather than being based on their religion. Anti-national characters are exhibited for the entire country to withhold when they destroy public property, litter and throw garbage in lakes and on roads, deface monuments, rape our women and assault our girls. If only.

In the middle of this polarisation, Rahul Gandhi is experimenting with a new strategy. The hashtag #IamCongress has been started as a clever way to separate the all-inclusive ideology propounded by the Congress versus the majoritarian agenda spewed by the BJP. And, by speaking about love being intrinsic to Hindustan and the Indian identity, Gandhi as a maverick politician is adopting a smart, antithetical stance to the divisive politics of hatred propounded by the saffron party. With his 'jaadu ki jhappi' for the PM in the Parliament, can he hijack the religious debate ahead of 2019?

(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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