Why did Modi’s ‘400 paar’ slogan fizzle out?

The BJP’s defensiveness springs from OBC/Dalit pushback on its leaders who continuously say that they want to change the constitution – read as finish reservations.
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Defence minister Rajnath Singh has again been forced to say the BJP will not change the basic structure of the Indian constitution nor finish reservations should it return to power.

Rajnath Singh, senior cabinet colleague of Narendra Modi, has again been cornered on reservations, telling The Hindu in an interview on Thursday (April 25) that “There is no question of ending reservations. I firmly believe that we need reservations. I also firmly hold that we will never feel the need to change the basic structure of the constitution.”

On April 23, Amit Shah was forced to go out of his way while campaigning in Maharashtra’s Akola and say, “SC/ST, OBC reservation will not be scrapped with [the] BJP in power”.

Why is ‘BJP will scrap reservations’ gaining traction?

There are good reasons why the belief that the BJP intends to change the constitution has caught on and is threatening to snowball.

There are even better reasons why they need to worry, as with a pure upper caste vote, there is no Modi government.

The success of the BJP is a product of the increasing hold, since 2009, on the OBC vote.

CSDS figures speak of how the BJP has been successful in securing a very significant section of the OBC vote. From 17% of the OBC vote in 2009, it has managed to go up to securing nearly 47% of the OBC vote share in 2019.

But this share is set to be drastically reduced if the BJP is suspected of wanting to scrap reservations if it returns to power.

But BJP leaders say, 400 = ‘change constitution’

The BJP’s own leaders, across the length and breadth of the country, have spoken of calling for 400 seats as they want to change the constitution.

Now, all talk of “400 paar” (‘beyond 400’) has gone missing as concerns have snowballed amongst the BJP’s potential Dalit, tribal and OBC supporters that a larger majority to the BJP would mean that reservations would be nixed.

• The ball was set rolling by none other than a key Modi appointee: the chairman of the PM’s Economic Advisory Council, Bibek Debroy, in his newspaper article on August 14, 2023 titled, ‘There’s a case for ‘we the people’ to embrace a new constitution, leaving no room for ambiguity.

He went as far as to say, “amendments won’t do”. The PM’s Economic Advisory Council tried to backtrack, saying it was his “personal opinion” in a public post, as did Debroy, but the seed took root.

That it was coming directly and explicitly from someone who was Modi’s handpicked choice made it tough for the party to shake it off.

• On March 11, 2024, a BJP MP from Karnataka, Anantkumar Hegde, declared a “400-seat target to amend the constitution”. Hegde is seen as rabid, close to the Sangh.

That confirmed how it was not just some technocrat like Debroy but a Sangh man speaking. Hegde did not get nominated to contest the Lok Sabha polls, but the video of him clearly saying this continues to circulate.

• Weeks after that, on April 2, 2024, Jyoti Mirdha, a recent defector from the Congress, piped up at a public meeting. She implied that her party would need a large majority to make changes to the constitution. Mirdha was targeted sharply by the Congress, and then quietened.

• It was the turn of another seasoned UP MP, twice MP from Faizabad and longterm MLA from Ayodhya, Lallu Singh, to speak and say that a two-thirds majority was needed to change or make a new constitution.

Lallu Singh made the remarks at a public meeting at Milkipur assembly constituency. News reports pointed out how he was the third leader to make such statements in the last two months.

• Arun Govil, the BJP’s candidate from Meerut, then chimed in on April 15, being heard in a clip that went viral, asserting that there have been changes in the constitution over time and that there was “no harm in it.”

Govil was responding to allegations that the BJP would change the constitution if it returned to power in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. 

“The constitution has witnessed changes over a period of time. Change is a sign of development. It’s not a bad thing. Situations were different at that time; the current situation is different, so if changes are to be made … the constitution doesn’t change with one person’s intention. It can be changed with everybody’s consensus,” he said.

The belief that the BJP, a party with disciplined MPs and leaders, a coherent ideological line and its leaders in diverse parts of the country would not say this unless it was a firm decision taken centrally, has only gained in strength over the past few months and weeks.

Historically, RSS/BJP opposed the constitution

Added to this is the background score of the RSS/BJP’s track record on the constitution (read as shorthand for finishing reservations).

Four months after the RSS mouthpiece Organiser began publication in July 1949, the publication came down heavily on the constitution days after its adoption on November 26, 1949.

In its issue dated November 30 that year, the periodical left no ambiguity and stated:

“The worst about the new Constitution of Bharat is that there is nothing Bharatiya about it. The drafters of the constitution have incorporated in it elements of British, American, Canadian, Swiss and sundry other Constitutions. But there is no trace of ancient Bharatiya constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclature and phraseology in it…

In our Constitution, there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s Laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day, his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti, excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”

The Manusmriti “has been a go-to treatise for a large number of Hindutva votaries”, wrote journalist and author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay. V.D. Savarkar made the following assertion about it:

“Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worshipable after Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. 

Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu Law.”

The primacy to the Manusmriti over the Indian constitution is the long-held belief of the Sangh and makes OBCs, Dalits and tribals anxious about the intentions of the BJP should it manage to scramble back to power.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was cited in an interview in RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya in 2015 as saying that reservations ought to be revisited (code for making fundamental changes in the constitution).

Analysts attribute the BJP’s rout to the Mahagathbandhan in the Bihar state assembly polls that followed later that year to that statement.

This article has been republished from The Wire with permission. Read the original article here.

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