The Platform

Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2022.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) aims to capitalize on religious sentiments and polarization to consolidate its power base.

In the lead-up to India’s Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party is intensifying its efforts to sway public opinion and secure the majority Hindu vote through a barrage of unsubstantiated narratives and propaganda tactics.

Harnessing its Hindu nationalist ideology, the BJP aims to capitalize on religious sentiments and polarization to consolidate its power base. By perpetuating false narratives and manipulating information, the party seeks to foster a climate of fear and division, wherein it can position itself as the sole guardian of Hindu interests. Through a combination of social media manipulation, jingoistic rhetoric, and psychological manipulation, the BJP is relentless in its quest to shape public discourse and tilt the electoral scales in its favor.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, entrenched in power and propelled by its Hindu nationalist ideology, has been at the center of contentious debates surrounding its use of religious sentiments to galvanize support and secure electoral victories. Despite claims of being the sole representative of Hindu interests, a comprehensive Pew Research study conducted in 2021 revealed a nuanced picture of the BJP’s voter base. Contrary to the party’s assertions, only a fraction of Hindu voters, approximately 49%, lent their support to the BJP in the 2019 elections. Nonetheless, this level of support proved pivotal in granting the BJP a majority in the Lok Sabha, thereby affording Prime Minister Narendra Modi a second term at the helm of the nation.

Notably, the BJP’s appeal varied across different regions of India, with its highest vote shares recorded in the Northern and Central regions, including the national capital Delhi, and the populous state of Uttar Pradesh, where support peaked at 68% and 65%, respectively. In contrast, the BJP’s influence was comparatively weaker in the East and South regions of the country, garnering support from 46% and a mere 19% of Hindu voters, respectively, as per the Pew Research findings. These statistics underscore the intricate dynamics of Hindu voter sentiment and the BJP’s multifaceted electoral strategy, which continues to shape the political landscape of India.

The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party to power in India has been deeply intertwined with its campaign for the construction of a Ram Temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The mosque’s demolition in 1992 by Hindu nationalists, who claimed it stood on the birthplace of Lord Ram, became a focal point for the BJP’s mobilization of Hindu sentiment. Leveraging this issue, the BJP was able to solidify its support base among the Hindu community, culminating in its ascent to political prominence. The recent inauguration of the Ram Mandir just before the elections exemplifies the BJP’s strategic maneuvering to capitalize on religious fervor and secure the Hindu vote bloc, showcasing its adeptness at psychological manipulation tactics.

However, the party’s close association with Hindu nationalist organizations and the ideology of Hindutva has drawn criticism from international quarters, including the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Hindutva’s exclusionary principles, which regard non-Hindus as foreign to India, have raised concerns about religious freedom and communal harmony. Moreover, the BJP’s social media and propaganda machinery have come under scrutiny for spreading fake news, hate speech, and inciting violence. Nonpartisan media circles have highlighted the party’s use of bots to create a false impression of support on social media platforms, exacerbating societal divisions and undermining democratic discourse. The rampant use of political sentiments for partisan gain has been decried for fostering a culture of hate and intolerance, ultimately eroding the foundations of democracy and the rule of law in India.

The Indian Supreme Court, long regarded as the bastion of justice and impartiality, has faced mounting criticism for its perceived support of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s anti-Muslim and minority policies. Despite its historical commitment to neutrality, recent rulings seem to align with Hindutva politics, hinting at tacit support for the BJP. The case of Yasin Malik, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), exemplifies this trend. Malik, a vocal critic of Indian government policies in Kashmir, has faced repeated arrests for his dissenting views. His recent incarceration under vague charges of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) has been condemned as politically motivated and a violation of human rights.

This is not an isolated incident, as the Supreme Court has been accused of bias in the past, notably during the Emergency in 1975 when it surrendered its autonomy to the government, compromising citizens’ liberties. In 2019, the court’s ruling in favor of the construction of a Hindu temple at the Babri Masjid site drew criticism for its perceived bias towards the Hindu community. Similarly, its handling of the Delhi riots case in 2020 was accused of favoring the ruling party and neglecting the rights of victims. The BJP’s exploitation of Malik’s case for political gain, urging the court to convict him as a means of mobilizing Hindu hardliner votes, underscores the erosion of judicial independence and the dangerous fusion of politics and justice. The international community must take heed of these alarming developments and hold India accountable for its violations of human rights and democratic principles.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has consistently relied on anti-Pakistan sentiments as a potent tool to sway public opinion and garner votes, a strategy that has been ingrained in its election campaigns since its inception. The party’s utilization of the Pulwama attack during the 2019 general elections stands as a stark example of this approach, where it capitalized on the tragic incident, which claimed the lives of 40 Indian soldiers, to vilify Pakistan and rally support for its cause. By projecting a strong stance against Pakistan, the BJP successfully galvanized nationalist fervor and secured a landslide victory in the elections. However, this exploitation of anti-Pakistan sentiments has drawn sharp criticism from the Indian intelligentsia, who have denounced the party’s jingoistic agenda and its detrimental effects on minority religious groups. India’s collective consciousness must shift focus towards substantive issues that truly matter to the populace, rather than succumbing to divisive tactics employed by the BJP and its allies. In this vein, it becomes crucial for citizens to remain vigilant and discerning, opting to support candidates who prioritize addressing pressing concerns over perpetuating polarizing narratives.

The sudden resignation of Indian Election Commissioner Arun Goel, just before the anticipated announcement of the Lok Sabha election schedule, has sent shockwaves through the political landscape, prompting widespread speculation regarding the underlying reasons for his abrupt departure. Reports suggest that internal discord within the commission, particularly concerning issues of professionalism and electoral impartiality, may have played a pivotal role in Goel’s decision to step down. Allegations have surfaced regarding disagreements between Goel and the BJP-backed Election Commission, notably regarding the conduct of elections and the deployment of excessive force. The controversial Election Commission of India (ECI) law enacted in December 2023, granting Prime Minister Modi the authority to appoint the Chief Election Commissioner, further exacerbates concerns over the commission’s independence.

Within the commission itself, dissent appears to have been tolerated, with Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar acknowledging Goel as a “distinguished team member” and advocating for the importance of diverse perspectives in managing elections. However, this acknowledgment also raises questions about whether Goel’s dissent led to his resignation, potentially indicating internal power struggles within the commission. The resignation of Arun Goel underscores the delicate balance between political influence and institutional integrity within India’s electoral machinery, highlighting the need for transparency and accountability in safeguarding democratic processes.

The Bharatiya Janata Party faces mounting criticism and scrutiny for its questionable tactics and erosion of democratic norms in India’s political landscape. The sudden resignation of Arun Goel has raised serious concerns among politicians and leaders, who fear the implications of his departure on the integrity of the commission. The Congress Party, in particular, has voiced deep apprehensions over Goel’s resignation, expressing fears that he will be replaced by a handpicked appointee loyal to Prime Minister Modi, thus compromising the commission’s independence.

Rahul Gandhi, the chief of the Congress Party, has sounded the alarm, warning against the systematic dismantling of independent institutions, cautioning that unchecked power could lead to the erosion of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism under the BJP regime. Moreover, the BJP’s utilization of electoral bonds as a means of corruption to manipulate public opinion and skew electoral outcomes has drawn widespread condemnation.

The party’s aggressive persecution of political opponents, exemplified by the freezing of dissenter’s bank accounts and the apprehension of figures like Arvind Kejriwal, reflects a disturbing trend of using coercive tactics to stifle dissent and intimidate political adversaries. These actions undermine the principles of democracy, erode institutional integrity, and threaten the foundations of India’s democratic system, necessitating urgent action to safeguard the country’s democratic institutions and ensure accountability within the political sphere.

Muhammad Zain Ul Abdin is a lawyer based in Islamabad, Pakistan. Muhammad holds a Master's degree in International Relations. His areas of interest include India-Pakistan relations, South Asia, Afghanistan, and China.