For a shining example of the Narendra Modi-era BJP's ability to be two things at once, look no further than the parivartan
rally in Allahabad that effectively launched the Uttar Pradesh election campaign. At practically the same time you could hear, with unusual clarity, the two sides of the BJP: Narendra Modi, the "development-minded" Prime Minister, declare that UP just needed to grow once to catapult India into the first world; and Amit Shah, the "tough-guy" party president, further the party's core agenda of ensuring that every Hindu remembers that they are constantly threatened by Muslims.
Almost simultaneously with Modi reminding his party to be committed to "service, balance, restraint, coordination, constructiveness, sensitivity and dialogue", Shah gleefully broke several of these Seven Commandments by warning the voters of UP that they had better sweep the BJP to power in Lucknow unless they wanted a repeat of the "exodus" of Hindus from the town of Kairana. It was an "eye-opener", he said, "no ordinary event".
What earth-shattering event was Shah talking about? Well, the sequence of events is instructive. More than a week ago, the local member of parliament for the west UP district where Kairana is located, one Hukum Singh - watch the name, he's both villain and hero of this story - declared that Hindus were leaving the area, changing its demography permanently. The BJP set up a fact-finding mission to investigate Hukum Singh's startling claim. (With the attention to institutional strength for which the party is justly celebrated, it was reported at first that the team examining Hukum Singh's claims would be led by - Hukum Singh.)
Singh's accusations certainly were startling. He said Hindu families had been forced to sell their property at reduced rates; that some were outright grabbed by Muslims; and that this process, which certainly sounded like ethnic cleansing the way he told it, was spreading from the town of Kairana to the surrounding countryside.
Naturally, the Internet went mad.
#StopHinduExodus and various other such phrases trended on Twitter. Tens of thousands of young men online had simultaneous aneurysms at the thought that this ethnic cleansing was being ignored by the mainstream media. Except of course for the television channel Zee News, which, with its trademark restraint and accuracy, spread the news far and wide. "You've heard of the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits," began the award-winning anchor. "But can you believe that Hindus are being forced to leave their homes barely 124 km from the nation's capital? The national media is ignoring it." He went on to claim that the proportion of Hindus in Kairana had dipped from 32 per cent to just eight per cent. I literally lost count of the number of times he said "Hindu" in a seven-minute segment. As is appropriate in a well-functioning republic, once something trends on Twitter, the awesome majesty of the Government of India steps in. The Union Minister Shripad Naik declared that Modi was watching matters himself, and that three Union Ministers would shortly travel to the small town to discover what happened (presumably by talking to Hukum Singh). The National Human Rights Commission, hated by the BJP during the previous government as being full of Congressi meddlers, but now of course proudly independent, demanded an explanation from UP's Chief Secretary and its Director General of Police, etc, etc.
You see, for the BJP, this was a godsend. It fit perfectly into the narrative they prefer to craft: of Muslim thugs and terrorists intimidating good Hindu families and making "their own country" unsafe for Hindus. So the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Joint Secretary declared that it was "jihadi elements" who were behind the exodus, and that they were protected by the "anti-Hindu" leadership of the Samajwadi Party. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's leading intellectual, Rakesh Sinha, went further, and blamed Jinnah, according to news agency ANI: "Any intervention would be welcomed to rehabilitate Hindus there. It is not only the question of rehabilitation but also fighting the mindset of Jinnah. It is a vestige of Jinnah which is creating such a situation. It is this ideology which parted the country in 1947." Kairana, he added helpfully, in case any newspaper was short of a sensational headline, was "becoming Kashmir". (Frankly, we should all be glad both Kairana and Kashmir start with K, given how compulsory alliteration is for the BJP these days.)
Worst of all, to my mind - because it came from a man directly responsible for law and order in India - is the statement of the junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju, who spoke of people having to leave their villages "in their own country".
So the message was so clear it doesn't even deserve to be called subtext: Hindus "in their own country" are under threat from aggressive jihadi
Muslims who want to turn Western UP into Kashmir. (And pinko liberal media in Delhi doesn't want you to know.)
Unfortunately for the junior Home Minister, the BJP president, various functionaries of the Sangh Parivar, and all those apoplectic tweeters, the story soon fell apart. The first few reporters to reach Kairana discovered that the place was in fact in the grip of various local gangs, and the law and order situation was terrible - but there wasn't really a Hindu vs Muslim angle to it. According to one report, at least 150 Muslim families had moved out of the crime-hit town too. Then the list of ethnically-cleansed Hindus that Hukum Singh released was discovered to have various cringe-inducing errors - people who were dead, or still in the town, or had left a decade earlier. News reports began to be filled with delightful quotes from locals, along the lines of "What, him? No he hasn't gone anywhere, unless it's the liquor store. He's bound to be back after dark", and that kind of thing.
The upshot of all this was that just as a high-powered BJP team arrived in the area, poor Hukum Singh had to bend to the facts and say that he was shocked - shocked! - that people were giving a "communal angle" to things. "This is not a question of Hindus and Muslims," said the poor MP. "It is about law and order."
This, incidentally, is why Hukum Singh is both villain and hero of this story - for, after all, who in today's politics is actually willing to change their mind when presented with facts? Not Twitter, which, when I last checked, was trending #MediaLiesOnKairana.
A warning, though. Indian political history is backwards - it can frequently repeat itself - the first time as farce, but the second time as tragedy. The farce that was the BJP's attempt to create a Kashmir out of Kairana has genuinely dangerous implications for the future. Because the fallout of the Muzaffarnagar riots a few years in ago is indeed a move towards ghettoisation in Western UP. Communities that were once integrated are separating from each other - which is, of course, just what the BJP wants. A time may well come, unless action is taken soon, when Muslim and Hindu-majority localities actually become homogenous in terms of religion, no-go areas for people of the other creed.
What we just saw was the harbinger of what will in fact happen unless UP politics reverses course. Both the BJP and the SP benefit from polarising voters. The SP needs to keep Muslim voters on its side and prevent them from defecting to Mayawati - which means they need to feel insecure, and confined to their own ghettoes.
And the BJP needs to remind Hindus that they are constantly under threat, and that only the Sangh Parivar is awake to the dangers posed to Hindus in "their own country". Shah's party will carry this message aloft on their trishuls
through India's largest state - the world's fourth-largest democracy - as it prepares for its election.
And in the middle of it all, Narendra Modi will talk serenely about development.(Mihir Swarup Sharma is a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.