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    Beyond Binaries | Building cultural narratives in Indian politics: Why BJP trumps others?

    Beyond Binaries | Building cultural narratives in Indian politics: Why BJP trumps others?

    Beyond Binaries | Building cultural narratives in Indian politics: Why BJP trumps others?
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    By Badri Narayan   IST (Published)


    BJP has invented icons such as Raja Suheldeo, Samrat Mihirbhoj, Jat Raja Suraj Mal and Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh as part of its project of cultural politics.

    Politics creates its own cultural landscape, developing and nurturing a mosaic of historical icons, cultural heroes and social memories. These are then used by the political parties to woo the public in their mobilisation and political messaging. This landscape produces cultural resources for democratic electoral politics.
    In India’s current politics, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a step or even two ahead of its rival in creating and continuously pushing the cultural landscape of its politics.
    The puranic heroes like Ram, saints and seers such as Kabir, Ravidas and Swami Vivekanand, or historical icons of the national movement such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, local deities of various marginal communities such as Mata Sabari, Mari Mai are already part of BJP’s cultural-political package.
    Of late, a new trend in BJP’s strategy of cultural politics has been to appropriate a range of local heroes from a long list of Hindu kings mostly from the pre-medieval, medieval and modern periods of Indian History.

    The party has invented icons such as Raja Suheldeo, Samrat Mihirbhoj, Jat Raja Suraj Mal and Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh as part of its project of cultural politics.
    The party has been carefully building social narrative via its various actions around these icons, rekindling interest in them in social life. The icons contain memories and memories motivate communities to mobilise around the political agency that invents and celebrates them.
    The icons, in turn, also provide self-respect to the targeted communities, nurturing and building their social confidence.
    To put into perspective, Raja Suheldeo is best remembered as the king of the Bahraich region who defeated Saiyyad Salar Masud Gazi in Bahraich. A few years ago, Union home minister and former BJP president Amit Shah inaugurated a train named Suheldeo express which runs between Bahraich to Delhi.
    Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a life-size statue of Raja Suheldeo in Bahraich which is going to be developed and promoted as a holy and tourist site.
    The PM also inaugurated the statue of Jat King Surajmal who is known to have fought bravely against the Muslim expansion in his region.
    A few weeks earlier, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Aaditya Nath unveiled a huge statue of the ninth century King Samrat Mihirbhoj in Dadri near Greater Noida, who is known as an iconic king of the Gurjar- Pratihar dynasty in India.
    He built a huge empire that expanded to Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh and Panchal in Uttar Pradesh. PM Modi too had recently laid a foundation stone of a university in the name of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh who belongs to the Jat community and is a well-known freedom fighter.
    These icons are aimed at nurturing three kinds of pride – Hindu pride, national pride and caste and communitarian pride. All these pride in the narrative of BJP are not conflicting with each other but rather interact and support the cause of a broader goal of Hindutva nationalism.
    Raja Suheldeo is narrated as a great Hindu ruler who defeated a Muslim akranta (intruders) and proposed as a great hero of Indian nationalism (rashtravad). This icon has also social roots.
    In Uttar Pradesh, Rajbhar and Pasees, two important communities belonging to other backward castes, believe that Raja Suheldeo was king of their community.
    Similarly, Samrat Mihirbhoj is remembered in the narrative proposed by BJP as a great Hindu ruler of the pre-medieval time who is an icon of our national pride. Interestingly, two social communities Rajput and Gujjars both simultaneously claim their lineage from the Gurjar-Pratihar dynasty.
    It is not difficult to see that how these icons carved in BJP’s narratives blend well with the party’s strategy to push its culture of Hindutva nationalism. These icons produce caste pride, national pride and Hindutva pride which dovetails well in the larger narrative of Hindutva politics pushed by the BJP.
    While these icons provide a sense of pride and facilitate cohesive mobilisation either based on caste, religion and nation, the same can produce competition leading to conflict between social groups.

    For instance, there have been reports of youths from Pasees and Rajbhar castes in Uttar Pradesh competing and contesting on social media to prove their links with the icon of Suheldeo.
    Likewise, violent clashes were reported between Rajput and Gujjars in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh over competing claims of the origin of the caste King Mihirbhoj.
    Clearly, to resolve such a situation, a narrative that erases conflicts while etching the memory of these heroes in the public mind is needed.
    On that front, the BJP seems ready in building carefully crafted narratives around these heroes which extend from caste roots of the icons to the national sentiment, serving the greater cause of Hindutva unity. Other parties, on the other hand, seem to be lagging far behind especially the main opposition Congress in presenting its alternative culture of politics to the people.
    — Prof Badri Narayan is Director at the G B Pant Social Science Institute (A constituent institute of the Central University of Allahabad). Views expressed are personal.
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