Poverty has many uses. One is that the poor can be made vote banks easily. Many political parties have ascended the stairs of power by bribing the poor with gifts during election time. The Congress is one party that now carries the charge of having used the entire poor of the country as vote banks through what is rather imaginatively called “appeasement”.
When the Congress and other political parties stand accused of having “appeased” the poor, the new dispensation is proving that it is indeed “a party with a difference.” It is not using the poor as a vote bank; it is wrenching their religious identity from them.
Rulers with imperial ambitions have always used the strategy of stripping people of their religious identities. The Muslim conquerors and the Christian imperialists found their own unique ways of implementing religious conversion in regions captured by them. While the former relied on brute force, the latter made use of gentler missionaries.
The reigning BJP and its allies are now employing a mix of both force and lure to convert the poor belonging to minority communities into Hinduism. A few hundred (the number varies in the media reports) Muslims in Uttar Pradesh have been converted with the lure of money, residential flats, aadhar cards and other enticements. The strategy is also being employed in Bihar and West Bengal. Soon it will spread its tentacles to other states where poverty is rampant.
The BJP is not hankering after votes since it already enjoys a “brute majority” (an interesting phrase) in the Lok Sabha and is confident of winning such majority in coming elections thanks to the popularity of the Prime Minister who is all set to become the Time’s Man of the Year. What the BJP wants is not votes but identities. Ever since the inception of the Jana Sangh, the Sangh Parivar’s primary concern has always been the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra in India. The infinity of social identities (religious, cultural, linguistic, regional, and even racial) in India always circumscribed such an irrational ambition.
Empires overcome obstacles through marauding strategies. The religious conversions sponsored by the Parivar belong to those strategies and effectively utilise the imperial ambitions that underpin Mr Modi’s personality. Mr Modi and the Parivar feed on and nourish each other.
Will they be successful, however? The poor are as malleable and ductile as gold. Their identity can be placed on the anvil again and again and beaten into many shapes and designs (and distortions too). Such works of craftsmanship may help to inflate certain figures in the country’s Census. Will it create any genuine Hindu or Hindustani? Can people’s hearts and souls be reshaped under the hammer?
More importantly, will the Parivar actually succeed in its ambition to create a Hindu Rashtra with a monolithic Hinduism? Already south Indian leaders like Vaiko have raised the banner of dissension. He has made it clear that he won’t support the Parivar’s plans to Sanskritise India and impose one region’s culture over the entire country. Will Kerala embrace the Parivar’s dreams? What about the North-east?
Ultimately, a few thousand poor people mostly in North India will end up struggling to absorb a new religious identity. That’s the only major difference that “the party with a difference” will make, it seems.