Will gods take centre stage in the 2019 polls in Uttar Pradesh?
Lucknow: If you thought the 2019 Lok Sabha elections would be fought by politicians on issues concerning the common citizen, think again! For, the politically-crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, with a population of 220 million people, is all set to see a keen contest of affection for Hindu gods in the mother of all battles in 2019 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a second term for himself. Yes, you got it right, read on.
This time, it is Lord Ram yet again for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Lord Shiva for the Congress and Lord Vishnu for the Samajwadi Party (SP) who will spearhead elections in the interesting times that lie ahead of the general elections. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) too is not averse to drumming up support by taking names of Hindu gods and positioning itself beyond the cliched image of being just a party of Dalits.
And so it's not just the saffron camp which is sharpening its armory with the name of Lord Ram for 2019. All parties relevant to the contest are on the drawing board trying their best to project themselves as the champions of soft Hindutva and trying to wash away the image of being "pro-Muslim", something that hit their image hard in 2014, when Modi, riding on this perception, romped home with a big mandate in the state.
While the BJP has once again started the drum-beating on its commitment to the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya and has set its eyes on the team of holy men to help it sail through once again, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliate units like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) are working on the ground to ensure a "repeat of the Hindu wave of the 90s" when the Ram temple issue was at its peak, paying political and electoral dividends to the BJP.
The Congress, which was hurt the most by being portrayed as a party of Muslims, this time is trying very hard to shrug off its image. And so the prefixes of "Thakur, Pandit, Hindu Hriday Samraat" can be seen against names of its political stalwarts in hoardings and posters. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, thanks to his many visits to temples in recent times, is now being portrayed by the party cadres as a "Shiv Bhakt" who has just returned from the divine abode of the deity -- Kailash Mansarovar.
During a recent visit, the Gandhi scion was welcomed in his Amethi parliamentary constituency with hundreds of posters showing him as a Shiv Bhakt. Small-time party workers and leaders can be seen delivering speeches on how great a Hindu Rahul is and how much he follows the rituals of the religion he belongs to but does not flaunt it on his sleeve. Overzealous Congress supporters seem to be going overboard as well.
This week, the Congress president looked annoyed when he was greeted by party men at the Bamrauli airport in Allahabad with slogans of "Bum, Bum Bhole" (glory to Lord Mahadev). Last time these slogans became part of campaigning were in Varanasi in 2014 when Modi began his campaign in the holy town. Rahul Gandhi was greeted with slogans of "Jai Shri Ram" at Chitrakoot when he visited a temple recently.
The BSP has in the past dabbled with slogans like the "Haathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu Mahesh hai" (It is not just an elephant [the party symbol] but the trinity of Hindu Gods). This is part of the BSP's effort to break the image of being a Dalit-run dispensation and of working for the "sarv samaj" (entire society).
"We will certainly use this slogan again to our benefit," a senior party strategist averred.
Surprisingly, and interestingly, the SP this time is trying the hardest to maintain its distance, at least overtly, from the Muslim community and not come across as their champions at the cost of Hindus.
"We were wrongly portrayed as a Muslim-appeasing party. This time we are careful and will reply to the rumors of the BJP deftly," a senior party leader told IANS. SP chief and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has publicly announced that he is getting a temple of Lord Vishnu constructed at his native village Saifai.
Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya of the BJP chuckled at this "change of heart".
"I am happy that he missed no opportunity to appease Muslims but is now chanting the name of Hindu gods... it shows the power of the Hindus," he said. Rajya Sabha member and former SP general secretary Amar Singh, however, trashed the "hriday parivartan" (change of heart) of the SP president and dubbed it a "drama for votes".
Whom the gods will side with and who will get the blessings of the voters is for time to tell but, for now, the gods are going to be busy in the election season as everybody is wooing and propitiating them for electoral and political dividends.