Core Agenda As A Election Strategy

For the uninitiated, an introduction to the Core Agenda can be found here. This blogpost is motivated by two articles, one published in Swarajya and the other in OpIndia, and several twitter discussions. In brief, the Core Agenda is aimed at ensuring constitutional equality to all Indians and countering the machinations of the “Idea of India” gang that exerts a mafia like influence over policy making at all levels of government in India. In most civilized countries, there wouldn’t even be a need to articulate something like the Core Agenda. But not in India, where denying equal constitutional rights to the majority Hindu community has been deemed a necessity to maintain communal harmony and ensure safety of the minorities.

Our constitution and its various later amendments have sanctified discrimination of Hindus to such an extent that anyone venturing to challenge this system is labelled a reactionary and a religious fundamental. BJP’s rise as a political force in the late 80’s can be ascribed directly to the exploitation of resentment among the Hindus against this step-motherly treatment by the Indian state. That was the period when Advani coined the term “pseudo-secularism”, Shourie exposed the Leftist agenda and Vajpayee spoke against the injustice to Shah Bano. But the “Idea of India” gang has been so successful in ingraining this anti-Hindu doctrine into the Indian psyche that even staunch BJP supporters find it hard to challenge. So much so that the most stringent opposition to the Core Agenda today comes not from Congressis or the Leftists but from self proclaimed diehard supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There are two often repeated points by the critics of the Core Agenda that I’ll take up here and discuss how they might be wrong.

That PM-candidate Modi never promised to correct the discriminatory, anti-Hindu, provisions of the RTE act or to free Hindu temples from government control. It is true that repeal of RTE or freeing of temples were never explicitly part of Modi’s stated agenda during 2014 elections. In fact, I don’t remember him ever talking, positively or negatively, about the RTE act and its contentious provisions. He is still a trustee of the Somnath Temple Trust; so, probably is not opposed to political interference in temple administration. But it is also equally true that Modi’s most prominent slogan during the campaign was, and still is, Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas. I understand the first part of that slogan (the part that I have highlighted) to mean discrimination of none. Such a slogan cannot be driven by honesty and conviction if it means continuation of political and government interference in the affairs of only Hindu places of worship. Or if only the Hindu-run private-funded schools have to bear the financial burden of educating the under-privileged.

That the Core Agenda has no electoral relevance outside the social media echo-chamber. The author of the OpIndia article I referred to at the beginning asks, “Ladies and gentlemen of the ‘core’, why was a manifesto that promised “proper utilization of temple funds” rejected in Karnataka? Is it not weird that you want BJP to fulfill the Core agenda and at the same time, you reject a manifesto that wants to test ‘Core’ waters? ” The author, it has to be said, is being dishonest in framing his questions. Proper utilization of temple funds or even the “utilization of revenue from temples only and fully for expenditure on temples and related religious activities”, as promised in BJP’s Karnataka manifesto, is not really the demand of the “ladies and gentlemen of the ‘core'”. It is complete freedom from “secular” government’s interference in running our religious affairs.

Even if we accept that what has been promised is a partial acceptance of the core agenda in order to test the waters, BJP did not highlight this promise at any point of time during their Karnataka campaign. Modi did not even once refer to it in his 21 or so well attended rallies. Neither did Amit Shah or Yeddyurappa in the meetings that they addressed. First and only time this promise is mentioned is as a nondescript point hidden inside the manifesto. All it needed to become a national talking point was for Modi to mention it just once in any one of his election speeches. Instead, it ended up as a talking point among BJP’s twitter supporters.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Keeping all the issues relevant during the 2014 election campaign the same – corruption, policy paralysis, economic stagnation, security threats, etc. – would the BJP be able to win 282 Lok Sabha seats if its PM candidate was not Modi but Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitley or even L K Advani? Would the numerous people who volunteered for the campaign, sometimes leaving their day jobs, been still prepared to do that? What was that X-factor that Modi as PM candidate brought into the campaign? That is what a commitment to act on even a single point from the Core Agenda can do.

The real electoral contribution of the Core Agenda is not in terms of the number of votes it gets for BJP or for NOTA. It is in how it can transform the morale and energize the party cadres in the run up to a crucial election. Almost every BJP supporter agrees that a verdict from the Supreme Court in the Ram Janmabhoomi case will definitively tilt the scales in favour of the party. Considering how desperate Kapil Sibal was to get the case postponed till after the next general elections, Congress party also seems to agree with this. However, the Ram Janmabhoomi issue does not hold much relevance anymore to a majority of Hindu constituency. So, then, who is it going to influence to tilt the scales in favor of BJP? It is the ordinary grassroots party worker who will work that much harder in the summer heat conducting door-to-door campaigns. It is what spurs them to bring voters to the booth and to ensure that every vote for the party is cast. It is what motivates them to dare murderous assaults in Bengal and Kerala.

Imagine the effect of Modi declaring that he’ll ensure, if elected back, that Hindus, and only Hindus, will have total control of Tirumala or Puri temples. How will it influence the Andhra voters who are currently angry with BJP?  Imagine him promising that educational institutions under SC, ST or OBC managements will have the same protections as minority institutions. How would that move the Ezhava votes in Kerala? Imagine him promising to enforce reservations for Dalits in admissions and employment at government-aided minority institutions. What would that do to the Dalit atrocity propaganda being peddled by the left-libbers?

At this point, you might think I am advocating old style, manipulative political machinations. Far from that, what I am pointing out are the positive political side-effects that could be accrued by showing a little courage to do what is right. The Core Agenda needs to be acted upon, not because it’ll get you a few additional votes or help you outsmart the opposition. Rather, because that is the right thing to do, ethical thing to do and just thing to do. Because that is what adherents of Dharma would do.

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