Pakistan’s neighbour India is entering the election season as the country is scheduled to have its next general elections in April-May, 2019 with a lot at stake for the political rivals in what is considered as the largest democracy in the world. The upcoming Indian elections would be of great consequence not only for the main contestant parties but also would determine the nature of the Indian state and, more importantly, the minority religious groups in the Hindu-dominated country.
In the next general elections in India, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) would try its utmost to cling to power, which it has been enjoying in the last four-and- half years. Whereas, the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC) would attempt to throw the BJP from the saddle. The rule of the current BJP government, which is heading towards the conclusion of its constitutional tenure, has been the worst period in modern Indian history. This is so because the BJP and its prime minister Narendra Modi, instead of fulfilling its previous election promises specifically to provide the highest number of jobs and improve the lot of the common Indian, resorted to oppression of religious minorities and transformation of the fundamental avowed secular character of the Indian Union. Resultantly, the religious minorities in India have developed a deep sense of insecurity and fear for their lives, properties and honour.
Thus, the most important aspect of the next elections in India would be the identity of the Indian state. It is important to note that the BJP has been doing its utmost to make India constitutionally a “Hindu” state. It is only the constitutional bar which has prevented the BJP government from declaring India a Hindu state with Hinduism as the state religion. However, practically the BJP government has taken every step to implement Hindutva. This includes consistent dissemination of messages through its propaganda machines to tell the members of religious minorities, particularly the huge Muslim population of nearly 200 million, that the community might be one of the biggest Muslim concentrations in the world, but India, to all intents and purposes, is a Hindu state where members of religious minorities do not have equal status.
The INC on its part has been opposing the BJP attempts, at least ostensibly, to prevent it from declaring India as a Hindu state and also criticizing the ruling party for its treatment of religious minorities. Whether the INC has been earnest in its opposition to the BJP to practically transform India into a Hindu state is anybody’s guess. Although the INC has a history of promoting Muslims and even appointing them to important state positions, however, it has never made any Muslim a prime minister of India. This time round, the INC has only two key points with which to oppose the BJP: it would try to appease the Muslims and other religious minorities to get their votes. The main point upon which the INC has started trying to build its anti-BJP electoral narrative is that the ruling party has failed to fulfill its economic promises which it made to Indians before the 2014 elections. Second, as mentioned above, the INC would try to prove the BJP as anti-state, as a strategy aimed at securing the votes of as many Indian Muslims as possible. Because the party knows that the Indian Muslims votes could be instrumental in the win of the INC.
Indian Muslims, for their part, having been treated extremely oppressively by the BJP government has a natural tilt towards the INC, which at least in words speaks for the Indian minorities. This would pose a challenge to the BJP.
However, the BJP has a well thought-out strategy to win the next elections. The party knows that the incumbency factor may put it in trouble. In order to overcome this factor the BJP leadership has considered that the party has the best chance to cling to power by appealing strongly to its huge extremist Hindu constituency. Therefore, by mistreating Muslims in particular and other religious Indian minorities in general, the BJP during its present rule has tried to “respect” the sentiments of its radical Hindu constituency. This may work again for the BJP. It is important to note the BJP was formed by the extremist Hindu leadership with a very important aim in mind. The BJP did not join the political arena and electoral system just to have power to demonstrate that it could run the country more efficiently than the traditionally ruling INC by having high economic growth rates and improving the lot of the common Indian. Instead, the idea behind the formation of the BJP and pushing it into electoral politics was obviously to have state power in order to ultimately achieve the ideal of Hindu Rashtra. In this process the BJP had to employ the ideology of Hindutva that is tantamount to Hindu revivalism. The BJP, it must be noted, was formed as a political wing of the Hindu revivalist movement of the RSS. The ultimate aim, thus, of the BJP and its forerunner organization has been to transform India into a completely Hindu state either having no place for Muslims or one only of subjugation with pariah status. Short of winning elections and assuming political and state power the BJP and the RSS cannot think of doing away with whatever superficial secular façade and veneer of Indian constitution and state structure. Thus if the BJP would win a landslide victory in the 2019 elections, it would attempt to transform the basic secular character of the Indian constitution and would take measures and steps to push the Muslims to the wall in every field resulting in aggravating the communal and religious conflict in Indian society.
In case the BJP retains power after the next general elections, the secular character of the Indian state would be in jeopardy as the party would regard it as a chance to fulfill its traditional agenda and the long-cherished demand of its supporters to make Indian an exclusive state for Hindus. On the other hand if the INC wins elections, the margin of win would be quite thin because it could not convince the Hindu majority of its credentials and service to them. Therefore, once in power the INC could not be expected to improve the lot of the Indian Muslims or, for that matter, other religious minorities. It remains to be seen which party would carry the day in the next general elections, but in case of the win of any party the elections would be profoundly consequential for the ideological basis of the Indian state.