Battle for Uttar Pradesh 2017: Cow vs Modi
After the Ram Janam Bhoomi chant for a century, the BJP took a recourse to the ideology of cow protection to project the Indian Muslim as the sociologically 'Other' who engages in slaughtering cow while the majority of the country is portrayed as 'cow worshipper'. But this time, the agenda is set to backfire more than it could work for the party electorally.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s politics has always revolved around religious and cultural symbols. In the last century, the BJP gained electoral grounds all over the country in the name of Ram Janam Bhoomi movement and demolition of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. Its tally in the Lok Sabha rose sharply amidst the movement and it was able to consolidate the Hindu voter to its side and later in 2016, emerged as the single largest party.
However, the momentum around the movement has dried out with time with the matter pending in the court. Now, the saffron party has now taken recourse to the ideology of 'cow protection' having historical roots in the 19th century. This is again done to project the Indian Muslim as the sociologically 'Other' who engages in slaughtering cow while the majority of the country is portrayed as 'cow worshipper' through the Sangh Parivar lens.
But this time, the agenda is set to backfire more than it could work for the party electorally. The reason being large-scale protest by Dalits across the country in the aftermath of attack on members of the community in Gujarat by cow vigilante (gau rakshak) groups.
It has affected the party so much so that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to chew his own words and come out in public saying that members of these groups are anti-social elements. By doing so, he contradicted his earlier statement where he accused the erstwhile UPA government of carrying out a ‘Pink revolution’ in the country.
Nevertheless, sources within the party told this correspondent that the condemnation of cow vigilante groups by Prime Minister has upset Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders and at the same time, it has failed to have the desired placebo effect on Dalits who continue to rise in protests across the country, majorly in Gujarat under the leadership Jignesh Mewani.
This has put the Prime Minister in a fix. And what has made things worse for the BJP is the show of solidarity shown by Muslim groups to Dalit protesters in Gujarat. If this alliance between Dalits and Muslims extends to other parts of the country, it could severely damage the electoral prospects of the BJP in states like Uttar Pradesh where the two communities form 42 per cent of the total population. And in turn, benefit party like the Bahujan Samaj Party whose core support is the Dalit vote bank along with Muslims. Mayawati realises this quite well and is doing every bit to channelise this upsurge of Dalit sentiments against the Hindutva agenda to her favour. She has been boldly attacking the saffron outfit on the agenda of cow protection.
The forthcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh is considered to be the semi-final for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Both Modi and Maya understand the importance of winning it. While Modi is trying to retain the Dalit support it got in 2014 election, Behenji is trying reclaim the ground it ceded away to the BJP.
Sources informed this correspondent that cow will be the pressing agenda of the ongoing BJP national meeting in Kozhikode in Kerala.
Apparently cow as a symbol which the saffron outfit anticipated would work in its favour, has resulted in more chaos and backlash, as Muslims are not the only beef-eating community but also Dalits for whom this meat comes as the cheapest medium of protein intake. And this community is not as politically vulnerable as Muslims, hence any attack on its way of life will meet with vehement protests.
Cow has now become an albatross in the neck of Modi. It will be interesting to see how Modi deals with this pressing issue. He has to ensure that he does not upset his followers and at the same time win back the trust of Dalits.