BJP sweeps Uttarakhand polls riding on communal polarisation plus ‘Modi magic’, a replica of ‘Gujarat Model’
Dehradun, March 10
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has created a record of coming back to power again in the hill state of Uttarakhand riding high on ‘Modi magic’ and communal polarisation. The BJP has broken the myth of alternately sharing power after every five years with Congress party since the formation of the state this time.
The party had scored a record victory in the last assembly polls riding on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi by winning 57 seats out of total 70 seats and this time also did very well by winning 47 seats despite the fact that the party had it’s back to the wall due to massive anti-incumbency, non-performance resulting in change of it’s three Chief Ministers within a span of few months in the last year before the state assembly polls.
Interestingly all the three aspirants of the chief ministerial post belong to ruling BJP main opposition Congress and AAP lost the election. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami himself lost the elections from his assembly segment of Khatima in Kumoan region while Harish Rawat of Congress lost from Lal Kuan and Col Ajay Kothiyal (retd) of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) from Gangotri.
It was not the performance of the BJP government which did them in but the highly charged communal campaign and appeal of Narendra Modi which worked for the saffron party. The party had to change three chief ministers in the run up to the state assembly elections due to their non-performance. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami who was billed as one of the most hardworking and developmental oriented Chief minister himself lost his seat.
Apart from the appeal of the BJP’s narrative of robust nationalism in a upper caste Hindu dominant state of Uttarakhand, having a large number of service personnel and ex-servicemen, the highly virulent communal anti-Muslim campaign by the party did help them at the hustings. The campaign which was carried out by the state party leaders, workers and RSS functionaries was finely supported by party big wigs including the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister.
In a state, where nearly each house has a youth serving in the armed forces where bodies of jawans who lay down their lives in J&K, Siachin glacier and North-East are frequent, the issue of robust nationalism espoused by the BJP has a profound appeal. The BJP this time has peppered it with dose of threat of Muslims including that of Rohingya Muslims to create ‘fear’ amongst the majority community as has been seen in the state of Gujarat in the past two decades where the party has won elections on communal planks. The Congress party was blamed for appeasing the Muslims and being pro-Muslim during the poll campaign which has struck.
The attempt by the saffron brigade to polarise the election campaign on the lines of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in the neighbouring state has bore fruit. It was for the first time in Uttarakhand during the fifth state assembly elections in 2022 this time that a vicious attempt was made to communally polarise the elections.
Interestingly, it was a self goal by Harish Rawat, who three months ago said that he was wrongly targetted by his political opponents for favouring a particular community and he did not permitted “Juma” prayers as was alleged. He said that it did cause him to lose the 2017 state assembly elections and dared his opponents to show any such government notification of leave for Muslim employees for ‘Juma’ prayers during ‘Ramzan’ month.The ruling BJP which had been on the defensive due to its’ acts of omission and commissions in the past five years, latched on to the issue with state as well as the national BJP leaders calling him and Congress party as being pro-Muslim.
A vicious campaign has been launched by the ruling BJP and its’ crony media against former Chief Minister and chairman of the Congress Campaign Committee Harish Rawat for allegedly promising a ‘Muslim University’ to a small time Muslim Congress leader.
The BJP picked up the issue in a big way when Mohammad Aaquil, a small time Congress leader of Sahaspur ,assembly segment who had filed his nomination papers as a rebel candidate but later withdrew it, announced that he has withdrawn his candidature in favour of the official candidate, on some promises for the area which Harish Rawat has accepted which included opening a ‘Muslim University’ in the area.
The word ‘Muslim’ was enough for the BJP and ‘Sangh Parivar” to start their game of communal polarisation and started targeting Harish Rawat and Congress party. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami charged that the Congress party has been trying to appease the Muslims. The entire BJP took up the issue and blasted the Congress and went after it’s Chief ministerial face Harish Rawat.
A morphed superimposed photo of Harish Rawat showing him as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was circulated by BJP IT cell which was taken down following notice by Election Commission.
Amidst allegations of promising a Muslim university, the BJP came up with the said order issued during the Harish Rawat tenure making him sheepish. The entire crony media was let loose on Harish Rawat and Congress to answer on these issues. Harish Rawat said that he has given permission for many such vacations for many communities. Earlier also, Chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami had targeted Harish Rawat by charging that while the BJP gives vacation for “Chhaath” puja , a festival of people from Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Harish Rawat gives vacation for “Juma” prayers. As polling date came near, senior BJP party leaders went a step further and charged that it was a Congress conspiracy to encourage “Land jehad” in Uttarakhand hills which is considered as a ‘Devbhoomi’.
The entire campaign was very well orchestrated by the BJP on social media having penetration up to the far off villages in the hill.
The permission by Election Commission to hold rallies in the last five days was also utilised by the BJP in a smarter way. Two election rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi were held in Garhwal and Kumoan regions with senior BJP leaders including their Chief Ministers carpet bombing the state. Except for a lone rally by Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress went blank during those last five days.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah during his election rallies, charged that Congress has been trying to settle Rohingya Muslims in the hills which did create a scare amongst the majority community.
Apart from his developmental agenda, Prime Minister Modi did sent a highly communal message in a subtle manner. Without naming Muslims, he asked the audience whether they know what the Congress party is going to do to damage their culture, heritage, religion and “Devbhoomi”. He also asked them whether they will stop the Congress from doing so.
The final straw was provided by Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami who promised to implement Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the state on the lines of Goa.
Earlier, ahead of state assembly polls in September 2021, Uttarakhand government had come up with an order to target the minority community on the issue of alleged “Land jehad”. Although the Uttarakhand state government did not termed it as a measure against “land jihad”, the order targets the Muslim community with an aim to create communal polarisation.
The government order in question said that there has been an “unprecedented” increase in population in some parts of Uttarakhand, by a certain community which has led to migration of the “members of a certain community”.
The state government has ordered the police and administrative officers from all the districts to set up peace committees, track “illegal land deals” and prepare a list of outsiders with criminal antecedents. A government press release said: “Due to unprecedented rise in population in certain areas of the state, the demography of those areas has been majorly affected. And due to this demographic change, members of a certain community are forced to migrate from those areas. Also, there are possibilities that the communal harmony in those areas may be disturbed.”
The district authorities have been asked to keep a check on illegal land purchase deals and ensure that nobody sells his or her land “under duress”. The district authorities have also been told to identify foreign nationals who are using forged voter identity cards and other government ID proofs.
Interestingly, all this started after a BJP leader with close ties to RSS, Ajendra Ajay, wrote to the Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami in July 2021 claiming that the Muslims in the state have started what he called “land jihad”. In his letter, he alleged that Muslims are not only purchasing land in bulk, but are building their places of worship and urged the CM to look into the matter.
In the past nearly five years, since the BJP came to power in the state after the Assembly elections in 2017, there had been nearly a dozen incidents where members of the minority community were targeted by RSS, BJP and other right-wing groups. Recently, in July 2021, following the Id-ul-Zuha prayers by migrant Muslim labourers at an under construction site in Badrinath, right-wing groups had demanded action. Rumours were spread on social media that the prayers took place at the Badrinath temples to fan communal tension in the region. As a number of media outlets ran a campaign to put the onus of the COVID-19 spread on Tablighi Jamaat members, Mahendra Bhatt, a BJP legislator had advised Hindus to avoid barber shops and beauty parlours owned by the minority community members.
In April 2018, six shops belonging to Muslim shopkeepers were burnt in Augustmuni town of Rudraprayag district of Garhwal. The members of the right-wing groups including those allegedly belonging to Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) took out a procession and targeted these shops following a rumour that claimed a Muslim youth has raped a minor girl. Rudraprayag District Magistrate, in a statement, clarified that it was a mere rumor which was spread on social media. In October 2017, Hindu groups attacked and ransacked Muslim shops and homes from Rishikesh to Haridwar, following a murder at Raiwala. The accused in the murder case were Muslims
On September 8, 2017, two Muslim boys from Kirtinagar town in Tehri Garhwal were caught roaming with two girls belonging to the majority community in Dehradun by the police. The police promptly reported the matter to Kirtinagar, where members of the right-wing groups vandalised shops belonging to the Muslim boys. The boys were sent to jail.
In July 2017, right-wing members attacked Muslims’ shops in Satpuli town of the Pauri Garhwal district after an “offensive” Facebook post purportedly made by a Muslim boy. After a man was arrested for allegedly having sex with a cow, there was tension in Satpuli town with ABVP members forrcing a shutdown in the town market.
In July, 2017, Kashmiri traders were targeted by a few right-wing groups in the Hill station of Mussoorie and given an ultimatum to pack up and leave Mussoorie by March 2018. The provocation for this was alleged raising of pro-Pakistan slogans after an India-Pakistan Champions Trophy match. The Kashmiri traders, however, had nothing to do with it.
Apart from the native Garhwali Muslims, who hail from Nandprayag and Tehri Garhwal districts, some Muslims from neighbouring districts of Uttar Pradesh run vegetable stalls, fruit shops, barber shops or other small businesses. The Garhwali native Muslims have been living in the hills for generations. The plain districts of Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar already have a sizeable Muslim population living in the areas since before the formation of the state Uttarakhand in 2000. The Muslim population adds up to about 10% of the total population in the state and is mainly concentrated in the three districts.
The Uttarakhand state government has failed to give any concrete data on the alleged demographic change cited in the order. It has also failed to specify the areas where such “worrisome” demographic changes have occurred leading to migration of a “certain community”.
On the other hand, the region has witnessed out-migration for many years due to an array of issues such as tough geographical terrain, lack of civic and health facilities, fewer opportunities for education and employment, etc. Former BJP Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had even set up a Migration Commission to look into the issue and suggest corrective measures. The Commission headed by S S Negi, a retired IFS officer, has submitted its report to the BJP government, but has not mentioned any reason of coercion or forcible migration due to the alleged demographic change cited in the order.
Since the order was passed, the district administrations have failed to find any cases of “land jehad” in the state. Even before the elections, a group of social activists had written to the Governor against such an attempt to communally polarise the state on the issue of land laws. They charged that a false narrative of a community buying land in the hills is being built.