The Bharatiya Janata Party’s massive victory in the 2019 general election was its second consecutive win in the Lok Sabha, with an absolute majority. This is a remarkable achievement for a party that was pushed to the margins of Indian politics in 1984, when it won just two seats in that year’s general election. In the following years, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement enabled the BJP to gradually acquire political dominance over a span of three decades. It won 282 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 303 seats in 2019.
The BJP’s exponential growth testifies to the growing appeal of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, propagated by its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, ever since it was formed in September 1925. Yet, for much of India’s post-Independence history, Hindutva did not yield as rich a harvest of votes for the BJP or its earlier incarnate, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The BJP’s current dominance suggests that the Indian collective consciousness has dramatically altered to embrace Hindutva—an exclusivist and homogenising ideology.
Following the electoral verdict, Ajaz Ashraf, an independent journalist, spoke to Ashis Nandy, a political psychologist and an honorary fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, to analyse why the Indian psyche has embraced Hindutva. “I think people are nervous about violence,” Nandy said. “Their anxieties have people think that a centralised state will restore order.”
Ajaz Ashraf: What meaning does the BJP’s stunning victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections have for you as a political psychologist?
Ashis Nandy: Given their performance over the last five years, I did not expect such a big victory, which had a lot to do with their brilliantly orchestrated campaign. Everything they did over the last five years was oriented towards electoral victory. That is why they did not have the time to do anything else. The projection of [Narendra] Modi as the saviour of India was a vital aspect of the BJP’s campaign.
AA: Do we need to look at the victory in the larger frame of a changing India?
AN: I am embarrassed to say that the BJP’s campaign and victory is based on the political theory of state that they borrowed from [the Hindutva ideologue] Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. This theory has dominated the thinking of the RSS for a long time.