Modi is not the first leader nor the last one to create a personality cult around himself Image Credit: EPA

The Indian left and the right today agree on one thing: most Hindus in India, according to them, have drunk the Kool Aid of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism.

This is why, they both think, the Narendra Modi-led Bhartiya Janta Party can never lose elections. It will stay on in power forever, till kingdom come.

Many liberals will tell you, for example, that even after the second wave of COVID, the BJP will likely win the crucial Uttar Pradesh assembly election in March 2022 because the BJP’s chief minister in UP is the top Hindutva icon, Yogi Adityanath. The right-wing obviously agrees.

Endorsing tolerance and diversity

A humungous Pew Research survey finds most Indians and most Hindus endorsing religious tolerance and diversity. Liberals are unhappy. Nobody will say they are intolerant in response to a survey question, they insist.

All right, but whatever happened to the consensus that the BJP was going to win the West Bengal assembly elections in May 2021, thanks to Hindu identity politics and, of course, “polarisation”.

The BJP not only lost West Bengal but lost it quite badly. The ruling Trinamool Congress won an absolute 2/3rd majority, winning even more seats than last time. Yet there was no sigh of secular relief. Liberals are convinced the West Bengal voter is still drinking the Hindutva Kool Aid. Exactly what the Hindu nationalists would like them to believe.

Liberals still speak of West Bengal as if the BJP won the election! Many liberals are so sure that their country is overrun with fanaticism that they refuse to believe there’s anything that affects the average Indian other than religion. Doom-scrolling Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp, liberals see the country sinking like the Titanic into the sea of interreligious hatred.

Dog-ate-my-homework excuse

Even when they win, they want to believe they lost because chest-beating has become a habit. Hindu nationalism has also become a dog-ate-my-homework excuse for opposition parties which want us to believe they lose elections not because they lacked in hard work or political strategy, but because voters are sold on Hindutva.

They want us to believe that voters care more about religious chauvinism than about whether they have a job.

This is not to say there is no Hindu nationalism, or that it is not a factor in electoral behaviour. But by how much? If it is an overriding factor for most Hindu voters above all else, then how do we explain the BJP losing West Bengal 2021; Delhi 2019 and 2015; Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh 2018, Bihar 2015?

About a year ago, last summer, when people were not talking about COVID all, they were talking about was polarisation in West Bengal. Yet there is no soul searching among liberals or liberal-minded opposition parties about why polarisation did not work in West Bengal.

Ideological commitment

You’d think people would want to study and understand so that they could propagate it — look, this is how to defeat religious polarisation. But nope. Nada. They refused to believe it did not work. Of course it worked, they insist, as though they didn’t see the result.

Hindu nationalism as an overriding factor is true for about 20 per cent voters. When the BJP is down and out, it wins around 20% national vote. These are the people who don’t desert the BJP even when it is losing thanks to ideological commitment.

Guess what is the Congress party’s vote share when it is down and out? Say, in 2014 or 2019 general elections? The same, 19-20%! You see, polarisation works both ways. If the Hindu nationalist votes BJP no matter what, minorities and Dalits vote Congress, no matter what.

If both parties have a base vote of 20% each, that leaves us with 60% voters who are willing to change their voting preferences (swing voters) or they vote for regional parties (who are willing to support anyone who can form government). In other words, 60% vote in India is not permanently glued to the BJP’s Hindu nationalist ideology.

The BJP won around 40% vote-share in 2019. Its allies won another 5%. No, all of this was not a vote for Hindu nationalism.

It was also a vote for Indian nationalism and national security (the Modi government’s military action against Pakistan in Balakot). It was also a vote for a faith and trust in PM Modi, which goes beyond Hindu nationalism, but liberals won’t agree. He is not the first leader nor the last one to create a personality cult around himself.

It was also a vote for disillusionment with the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, but saying that will make some liberals ‘cancel’ you. It was also a vote for caste — the BJP has actively wooed and mobilised a section of the caste pyramid, the ‘lower backwards’, who feel unrepresented.

This is all too complex for liberals to digest. Much like the right-wing, they want a simple explanation.