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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bihar Elections: Religious Census Betrays BJP's Strength

By M H AHSSAN | INNLIVE

The party does not seem to be sure of its Modi magic working by itself and is likely to use the census data to fuel fear of a Muslim upsurge to consolidate its Hindu vote.

The decision of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government to release the country’s population figures on the basis of religion has raised doubts about the real intentions of the ruling alliance.

The census figures for 2011 show that the while the proportion of Hindu population to total population in 2011 has declined by 0.7%, the proportion of Muslim population to total population has increased by 0.8%.

The growth rate of population in the decade 2001-2011 was 17.7 %, whereas for different religious communities, the rates of growth were: Hindus: 16.8%; Muslim: 24.6%; Christian: 15.5%; Sikh: 8.4%; Buddhist: 6.1% and Jain: 5.4%.

The timing appears to suggest that the Modi government made this move with an eye on the  the forthcoming Bihar assembly polls with the specific purpose of polarising the electorate. Ironically, the very same reason in reverse, so as not to polarise the electorate, was attributed to the United Progressive Alliance government for deciding to hold back the release of these figures in March last year, when they were ready on the eve of Lok Sabha elections, as the Times of India reported in January.

Another reason for the UPA to be apprehensive last year was that the 2001 census figures too had sparked off a controversy over the increase in Muslim population because the numbers for them had shown a jump as these included the Muslim-dominated state of Jammu and Kashmir, while the 1991 census had excluded the militancy-hit state.

The battle for Bihar
While banking on the Modi magic to help it cruise to a victory in this do-or-die battle, the Bharatiya Janata Party has continuously maintained  that development is its primary agenda in the upcoming Bihar elections.

Its leaders point to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rs. 1.25 crore package for the state to underline that this grand gesture has resonated with the people of Bihar who want to break out of the vice-like grip of caste. At the same time, it is drumming up support by constantly reminding the voters about the “jungle raj” which prevailed when Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav was chief minister and warning that Bihar’s development will suffer if the RJD- Janata Dal (U) combine is voted to power.

However, the release of the census data on Tuesday tells a different story. The party does not seem to be sure if the development card or the Modi factor alone will do the trick. Despite its public declarations to the contrary, the BJP has not given up on caste equations or its Hindutva agenda.

As far as the caste combination  is concerned, the BJP believes it has an edge over its opponents. Party insiders never fail to point out that besides enjoying the unstinted support of the upper castes (Brahmins and Bhumihaars), its allies like Ram Vilas Paswan, Jitin Ram Manjhi and Upendra Khuswaha, will fetch them the backing of  the Paswans, Khushwahas and the Dalits. In addition, the BJP is also banking on the trends thrown by the last Lok Sabha polls which showed that sections of the Yadavs were deserting their hero Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Fuelling fears
Although the crowds at Modi’s public rallies have been  impressive and are encouraging , the BJP’s internal assessment is that there is no definite swing in favour of the party or the Prime Minister so far. The election momentum is yet to build up.

The BJP , therefore, does not want to take any chances and can be depended upon to use the latest data to fuel fear of a Muslim upsurge to consolidate its Hindu vote.

“You can be sure that the census data will become the talking point in the BJP’s election campaign. And as electioneering picks up, the figures of the Muslim population will gradually get exaggerated,” remarked a Congress leader from Bihar.

The RJD- JD(U)-Congress combine is depending heavily on the support of the 17% Muslims and 18% Yadavs who have traditionally combined to hand a thumping victory to RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. At the same time, this alliance is also banking on Kurmis and Mahadalits who have backed Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar in earlier assembly polls.

But these caste combinations may be rendered superfluous if  the communal agenda catches the imagination of the voter. JD(U) insiders maintain that the BJP game plan is not to go in for large-scale communal conflagrations but to  keep the Hindutva pot boiling at the local-level by creating a religious divide among the people.

The BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has already despatched its cadres to spread the word in Bihar’s hinterland. Three workers have been assigned  to each assembly segment to influence the voter by familiarising him with their ideology and also provide feedback to the party about any loopholes in its campaign which need to be plugged.

At the same time, volunteers from the Durga Vahini, affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, have also started doing the rounds of Bihar villages where they seek out  women at kirtans and community meetings and speak to them about cultural and nationalist issues, a subtle form of  using religion to lure them to vote for the BJP.
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