Vitriol is not a virtue. The Union home minister, Amit Shah, seems to have realized this. He acknowledged recently that the vitriolic slogans that were used gleefully by the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party — Mr Shah was not an exception — had led to its downfall in the assembly elections in Delhi. The polls, indeed, pitted the BJP’s polarizing rhetoric against the Aam Aadmi Party’s agenda of welfarism. Mr Shah himself led the charge of divisive politics, vilifying those supporting the movement against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act as ‘anti- nationals’. Some of Mr Shah’s colleagues did not disappoint him in this campaign of hate. Another Union minister had exhorted that betrayers of the nation — dissenters fighting for the cause of pluralism — should be shot. The BJP, unlike the people of Delhi, has chosen not to act against such deliberate provocation.
Indeed, there is no reason for either the BJP or Mr Shah to contemplate on the frightening implications of polarization. Cleavages — social, religious and cultural — have been the BJP’s potent weapons in electoral battles. In fact, a segment of the party believes that the improvement in the BJP’s vote share in Delhi — by over 6 per cent— can be attributed to its aggressive support for the CAA, a legislation that has split the nation. Mr Shah’s rare admission notwithstanding, it is improbable that the BJP would refrain from indulging in the politics of division in the elections that are to follow. The BJP’s opponents have tasted very little success when it comes to neutering this policy of engineering chasms. To view the result in Delhi as a rejection of polarization would be a mistake. The assault on India’s pluralistic traditions is not limited to incitement; it is being played out on multiple fronts. The resistance, therefore, must be manifold. The electoral discourse, for one, must be weaned off sectarian attractions and made to confront the failings of the BJP on public welfare. Key institutions, the vanguard of the constitutional spirit, must be invigorated. The ideological momentum in favour of inclusion and accommodation must also be reclaimed. Electoral victories against the BJP would not suffice in accomplishing all these goals. The antidote to the venom of hate and bigotry lies in a tangible resurrection of that tolerant, humane, Old India.