Of religion, electricity and cemeteries…

The Prime Minister made a surprising speech yesterday at a campaign rally, calling for a better treatment of Hindus in Uttar Pradesh. Narendra Modi specifically pointed to the absence of load-shedding during Ramzan and Eid (and the relative absence of electricity during Diwali), and promised that a BJP sarkar would provide adequate facilities for Hindus as well.

Ramzan me bijli athi hai tho Diwali me bhi ani chahiye; Bhedbhav nhi hona chahiye (If there is electricity during Ramadan then it must be available during Diwali too; there shouldn’t be any discrimination)” said the Prime Minister, who added “Gaon me kabristan banta hai to shamshaan bhi banna chahiye (If there is a ‘kabaristaan’ (graveyard), there should be a ‘shamshaan’ (cremation ground) too.” (quote taken from the Indian Express).

Communal appeals from the leader of BJP should not surprise anyone, given his past stance and actions, particularly as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. What is surprising (and interesting) is the timing of these appeals. The campaign has been relatively free of communal violence. Perhaps the communal appeals reflect the BJP’s nervousness as the last three phases of the polls are slated to take place this week and next. The BJP leadership in Uttar Pradesh has faced an unusual level of pushback from its cadres when decisions relative to party tickets were made earlier this year. There are fears that the party may perform badly at the polls because of this intra-party feud. The BJP remains one of the only relatively institutionalized parties in India as it relies, perhaps more than other parties, on a mobilized group of cadres. At the same time, however, parties in Uttar Pradesh must consider the local caste coalitions when awarding tickets (which explains that a party like the BSP has this year given a large number of tickets to Muslims and non-Dalits in general).

Will these appeals be successful in rallying Hindus behind the BJP banner? The same appeals made during the Bihar elections in 2015 proved not only ridiculous (in their emphasis on a beef ban), but also disastrous electorally.

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