State Assembly Elections 2018: Where Do BJP Bhakts Go From Here?


State Assembly Elections 2018: Where Do BJP Bhakts Go From Here?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

To the surprise of political pundits and WhatsApp unkils across the land, the BJP faced a humiliating series of defeats in this month’s state assembly elections. The Congress is now poised to form governments in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, three states that form a part of the BJP’s core Hindi-speaking base. Those of us who are not Arnab Goswami are left wondering: If the ruling party can’t even win areas with such large cow populations, have they really got their act together for 2019?

It gets worse for the BJP. After months spent doubling down on hardline Hindutva, hoping to stir up the masses with the same brand of fiery nationalism that has proven so successful in the US, Brazil, and many other democracies, their pet strategy has fallen flat – along with the pet himself. Uttar Pradesh CM and BJP poster boy, Yogi Adityanath, had been a star campaigner for the BJP, leading 74 incendiary rallies in four states prior to the elections. Far from having a positive effect, however, results suggest that constituencies in which he campaigned, were where the BJP saw some of their most crushing losses.

Overall, it’s an unenviable situation for a government hoping to secure a consecutive term. And yet, few of us have spared a thought for the stalwarts of the BJP. No, not good old NaMo and Amit Shah – even if they are the most iconic desi power couple since #Virushka – but the bhakt, whose tireless hours banging away at keyboards has proven to be a bigger waste of time than the last season of Bigg Boss.

Not many political parties are lucky enough to enjoy that kind of support. Like a naive lover or a doting Indian mother, the bhakt is blind to the BJP’s faults and deaf to their lies. Where the rest of us can barely commit to a Tinder date, the bhakt is a ride-or-die: Loudly supporting the BJP through its saffron ebbs and flows, alienating family, friends, and indeed, entire communities in their zeal to save the nation’s soul.

Whether you agree with the bhakt or not, it’s hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for these people (and, indeed, bots) who ignore power cuts and defend multi-crore statues. Unlike for the Congress, whose lukewarm voters tend to be crossing their fingers and praying that Pappu doesn’t live up to his epithet, being a BJP bhakt is a full-fledged lifestyle choice.

The psychology of the bhakt is not as irrational as it seems at first glance. According to several studies, including this one in The Scientific American, most people react poorly to evidence that contradicts their opinions – usually doubling down on what they believe. It’s called the “backfire effect”, and social anthropologists posit that this close-minded approach to newness is a form of collective protection against the potential threat of change.

Where the rest of us can barely commit to a Tinder date, the bhakt is a ride-or-die.

So it’s little wonder that bhakts, seeing themselves as society’s moral keepers, have spent years trolling social media, as watchful sentinels on the lookout for any hint of government criticism, always primed for a fight. They carefully coordinate talking points and gather for massive rallies; they tie themselves into knots of whataboutery to dismiss any librandu argument; they organise between their respective VHP, RSS, or regional right-wing groups, all for the greater good of the BJP.

But what becomes of the bhakts now? There’s every chance that the party will tone down the nationalist agenda that has failed them this month. Whether it was the attempt to hunt the legendary Urban Naxal, or their tacit approval of gau rakshak lynchings, brainwashed voters have now been left out to dry by the BJP. Will the Right-wing trolls, who have by now become an indelible part of the country’s fabric, be forced to spend less time yelling on network news, and more time discussing infrastructure and healthcare yojanas? Will Yogi rallies make way for productive meetings with local panchayats, and can we finally say “Modiji is a suxx” without receiving a barrage of death threats?

Unlikely. Because even though the BJP might be forced to soften their name-changing, statue-building, mandir-heavy grandstanding in favour of some actual policy work, their bhakts, as we should have predicted, refuse to concede. Already, the BJP IT cell is working overtime, and memes and forwards are flying. Some claim that the Indian voter does not understand the massive economic gains that have actually been made under the Modi administration, others point to anti-incumbency. The more poetic souls have circulated memes suggesting that the BJP is not buried, but planted so that their lotus may grow again, and of course, the conspiracy theorists are out in full force, insisting that Congress is being funded by the global Left.

Until 2019, there’s no telling if the bhakts, in their denial, will be proved right. But what we do know for sure is that, however staunchly they stand behind the worst excesses of the government, however loud their rallying cries, and however hard they try to convince us otherwise, they will no longer be taken seriously.