by Ratnakar Tripathy
The title of this piece may be flawed in being overcautious – may be Mandir VS Mandal is already with us as the central paradigm of Indian politics, even though no one is waving it in our faces yet. Yesterday on 12th April however, the Patna edition of the Hindi daily ‘Hindustan’ carried a headline that will seem unusual by the standards of the highly partisan Indian media these days. ‘2019 me BJP ka jana tai’ [BJP is sure to be out in 2019], the headline stated without the inverted commas, even though it quotes Nitish Kumar’s comments made during a press chat after his weekly Janata Darbar. It would seem that the Indian media is finally coming round to admitting that there is a life beyond BJP and that the Indian politics is not quite frozen in time. That we may already be under the huge shadow of Mandir VS Mandal seems a viable proposition in the light of the recent developments associated with Nitish Kumar and his party JD [U] but also elsewhere. But first of all, at the risk of a detour, I wish to dwell on the internal logic of the BJP that now provides immense political spaces to its opposition that show signs of widening every other day. Whether and how the opposition may gang up is another story!
Before discussing the new political developments and realignments, it is important to remind here that Mandir VS Mandal tug of war this time round cannot and will not be a repeat of the 1980s-90s in the frame to frame sense. In fact, far from it! The BJP has left the Mandir rhetoric way behind and is in the process of fashioning new slogans and axioms for Indian politics – be it patriotism, nationalism, or ‘bharat mata ki jai’. All these are being posited as supposedly the LCM [lowest common denominator] in the eyes of the BJP. And yet even these minimalistic sounding slogans are being defied by large sections of Indians as far too burdensome, a reaction that the BJP is failing to comprehend. Thus the heavy-handed retaliations and general annoyance in the governmental and political circles of the BJP, not to mention the lumpen brigades that are upping the rhetoric on a daily basis with impunity that is difficult to comprehend for the average law abiding citizen.
In all these, the one common thread seems to be the monolithic unity of India under conditions clearly and firmly set by the BJP. The problem is in a democracy we vote a party or a leader to govern for a finite period of time which does not give them the license to radically transform our world views at a short notice. Even though the Congress and the BJP seem to have a lot in common these days, the clear difference between them is the BJP is enormously demanding in its constant ideological meddling in daily life. You may vote the Congress and then withdraw into your private shell. But the BJP tends to hover around the doorstep with all kinds of irritating requests and demands that seem impossible to fulfill except as a zealous supporter for life.
Cut to Nitish Kumar who was the other day elected as the president of the JD[U] replacing Sharad Yadav at the end of his tenure. Even as the new president was garlanded, the immediate agenda seems to be the 2017 election in UP. Although the entire scenario remains unveiled, a merger of three parties – JD[U], Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) of Ajit Singh and the much smaller Apna Dal faction led by Krishna Patel is along the way. This merger may lead towards a grander handshake between the new formation and the in an attempt to repeat a Bihar-like grand alliance in UP for the assembly elections next year. Even as I write this, according to a latest report a joint rally, was organised in favour of JD(U) candidate Amitava Dutta from Howrah (Central) constituency and was addressed by CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury and JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav. The JD(U) is also engaged in merger talks with Jharkhand Vikas Morcha leader Babulal Marandi. The only spoiler so far has been Mulayam Yadav who in 2015 effectively undid the imminent merger of six parties including Chautala’s INLD and others supposedly sharing the legacy of Ram Manohar Lohia and Charan Singh.
As for the Congress, recently Rahul Gandhi was found to be labelling the BJP as manuwadi, an epithet used by Mayawati and a clear attempt to pit the Mandalite caste-oriented lingo against the far right. Interestingly, the vocabulary used by the Congress is likely to be designed by Prashant Kishor, the wunderkind seen as the architect of the RJD-JD[U]- Congress combination in Bihar, since he is now the official counsel to Rahul Gandhi in matters pertaining to the UP elections. Kishor is also incidentally a cabinet ranker in Nitish’s current ministry in Bihar. There are thus the loose and inchoate networks that are forming in an almost organic manner to take on the tight BJP organizational structures with their different layerings – the BJP as a party, the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the so-called saints known for their brash statements as well as the vigilante lumpens as the remedy of last resort, not to forget the voluble spokesmen occupying the TV panels on a daily basis, as well those elements of the media that have turned into loyal foot soldiers.
To claim that Mandir VS Mandal is likely to be the reigning paradigm in 2019 is not to minimize other fault lines and divides in Indian politics. But if one has to look for clarity in the political cloudscape in India today, the simplification helps. We live in times when even the former mammoth Congress is willing to meekly join forces against the BJP as the basic enemy for its attempt to redefine the Indian political system and the democratic vocabulary. Which is why recently Digvijay Singh, the Congress stalwart spoke approvingly of Nitish Kumar’s ambition and moves in the national arena, instead of seeing in it a challenge to Rahul Gandhi’s leadership! While the Congress awaits passively for the voter to be disillusioned of Narendra Modi, leaders like Nitish and Kejriwal have been tackling the BJP on a daily basis for some time in the most active and vocal fashion possible. As Digvijay Singh put it ‘… it takes a little time for the people to understand the false promises made by Mr.(Narendra) Modi and BJP’. What Singh does not admit is that it will take far longer for the voter to accept the Congress as a frontrunner after causing the mother of all disillusionments since 2009 which brought down its parliamentary seats from 206 in 2009 to 44 in 2014.
On the whole thus the Mandir vs. Mandal rather inescapably provides the only political pathway for Indian politics. The interesting thing about the Mandalite part is it allows several variations, unlike the BJP monotone that insists on one voice and a singular course of action. Mandalite politics shows signs of greater inclusiveness day by day, even as the Mandir logic shrinks to a narrowing set of agendas.