Can Hindutva win votes?
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Finally, let me conclude where I began, by highlighting some implications of this discussion for the case of Gujarat. When thinking about Hindu nationalism, our national preoccupation with Gujarat is an understandable consequence of the BJP's exceptional success in the state. However, it is precisely this exceptionality that should make us cautious about the degree to which lessons from Gujarat apply elsewhere. Second, even within Gujarat, we should avoid easy generalisations about Hindutva's role in facilitating the BJP's dominance. Currently, there are two such arguments: that Modi's success has accrued from a "post-Hindutva" strategy based on "development", or conversely, that this electoral dominance was produced and maintained through Hindutva's most militant form of coercion and hate. Yet both arguments are usually proven by assumption, rather than rigorous evidence, and fail to explore more complex possibilities: the use of both coercion and claims of good governance with different segments of the Gujarati electorate, or even the blending of coercion, development rhetoric and unprecedented campaign pageantry into a distinctly Gujarati version of Hindutva. Whatever the context, we would do well to avoid the simplifications often used in discussions of the electoral salience of Hindutva, and pay a complex phenomenon the careful attention it deserves.
The writer, assistant professor of political science at Yale University, is completing a book on support for the BJP among Dalit and adivasi communities
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