BJP's rising star: Why Tejasvi Surya’s brand of bigotry works for them

BJP's rising star: Why Tejasvi Surya’s brand of bigotry works for them
Speaking at a pro-CAA rally on the steps of Bengaluru’s Town Hall, Tejasvi Surya had infamously said, “People of Bengaluru’s IT sector, BT sector, those contributing to the nation’s economy like lawyers, bank employees, ordinary citizens including auto-rickshaw drivers have gathered here today. Only the uneducated, illiterate puncture shop wallahs are against it.” He was making a not-so-veiled jibe at the Muslim community, but his communal remark was welcomed with applause and cheers. This was neither his first nor last controversial remark, as an unfazed Tejasvi Surya went on with his vitriolicism, even getting rewarded by his party.  Up until a few months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Tejasvi was barely known outside of Karnataka, though he was popular among BJP supporters for quite some time. Just about 20 days before the elections, it looked like the wife of the late Union Minister and Bengaluru South six-time MP Ananthkumar will get the BJP ticket. The BJP office for Bengaluru South had been inaugurated with Tejaswini Ananthkumar’s photos splashed across. But at the last minute, Tejasvi Surya was named as the BJP candidate, taking everybody by surprise. Bengaluru South has been a BJP bastion since 1989. The last time Congress won in the ‘educated, upper caste’ (an estimated literacy rate of 88.9%) constituency. With less than a month to campaign, Tejasvi managed to win with a margin of almost 3 lakh votes. He emerged, rapidly, on the national stage, as the BJP’s representative for the youth, from the south. Read: BJP MP Tejasvi Surya booked for trespassing at Hyderabad's Osmania University But in the run up to the elections, his past was dug up by his opponents, some even within the party who felt he had not earned his ticket. His problematic views on women’s rights, and comments on minority community to name a few. But for those who chose him over several veterans, none of this mattered, because Tejasvi checked many boxes on their list. Tejasvi had been flagrantly professing his loyalty and admiration for both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in his speeches, and on his social media handles. He ruthlessly attacked anyone who questioned them or their policies. At every step, he made his undying loyalty to the duo clear, and it seemed to have its desired effect evidenced by Amit Shah, the Union Home Minister, inaugurating his local office in Bengaluru South.  Read: Tejasvi Surya alleges Rohingya obtained voter IDs, Ramalinga Reddy hits out But most importantly, he espoused the idea of India becoming a Hindu Rashtra where, “Muslims can live, but must live in harmony with larger Hindu identity.” Tejasvi has always worn his Hindu identity on his sleeve; around the Lok Sabha elections, several WhatsApp forwards of Tejasvi chanting mantras were circulated to emphasise the same to his upper caste electorate. But he did all this in a relatively suave manner. Many in both the BJP and RSS say that the furthering of the Sangh agenda from a young man, a lawyer by education, who speaks fluent English and is social media savvy, appeals to a younger, urban audience. Tejasvi Surya's dressing sense also apparently holds appeal to supporters. Tejasvi has been unleashed by the BJP in many states staring at elections. He spent time in West Bengal much before the BJP bigwigs landed for the election campaign. There, he took on CM Mamata Banerjee with a perilous mix of rhetoric, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and protests that verged on flouting the law. His combination of hyperbole and nationalism was put to use to make an already volatile state even more edgy.  Read: BJP MP Tejasvi Surya cries foul over Trump social media ban for inciteful posts In Tamil Nadu too, Tejasvi, alongside several other party leaders, is one of the star campaigners. His recent statement of, “If Tamil has to survive, Hindutva has to win,” raised many eyebrows, was even guffawed at but grabbed headlines. He is expected to address several gatherings in Tamil Nadu and Kerala over the next few days.  So what makes an MP from Bengaluru a star campaigner for India’s most powerful election machinery?  Many observers say it is the aspirational value he brings. Malavika Avinash, BJP’s national spokesperson and someone who has personally known Tejasvi for many years agrees. “He is a case in point of how a boy from the middle class, educated and a lawyer is found to have both the talent and tenacity to sustain both electoral politics as well as electoral warfare in terms of campaigning. He appeals to the youth. This is a classic example of how leaders in BJP are shaped. After becoming an MP, he did not rest. He continued to do well in Parliament. Both Kerala and West Bengal are high-voltage elections for us, so the role of a young leader like Tejasvi is important,” she adds.  Though his middle-class background does provide an aspirational value to many across the country, his family has been in politics. His uncle, Ravi Subrahmanya is a three-time MLA from Basavanagudi, a fact often overlooked. Moreover, Tejasvi is also a powerful orator with an ability to polarise with his unabashed and often-times communal views. And this talent at public speaking was one of the most prominent reasons for his elevation as the President of the BJP’s youth wing — Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha. “In the past as well, youth leaders like Poonam Mahajan and Anurag Thakur were similar. Oratory skills play a big role in communicating both the ideology of the party as well as the achievements of the government. Narendra Modi has fulfilled many of our long-standing promises — abrogation of Article 370 to building of Ram Mandir — all this can be communicated only through good oratory skills,” says Malavika Avinash. Professor Muzaffar Assadi, a senior political observer, says Tejasvi’s growing importance on the national political landscape has an important utility for the BJP. “His statements help BJP consolidate the narrative of “the other”, which is why he uses idioms like puncturewalas. Such statements are meant to create a reaction. They (BJP) believe that it will help the ruling party when “the other” is consolidated. In terms of saying, look at how these people are coming together, how Hinduism is in danger and how the “other side” is getting more aggressive. It helps them say that we as Hindus should come together,” says Prof Assadi.  He argues that while the polarisation and the deliberate targeting of minorities in India serves a political purpose, on the world stage, the Prime Minister wants to maintain an image of inclusiveness. “When Modi is in Indonesia, he will visit a mosque but won’t do the same in India.”   Also read: Plan to name a few Bengaluru roads after Muslim leaders to be dropped While Uttar Pradesh CM Adityanath has been a star attraction for the BJP for several years now, in the southern states, his appeal seems to be limited. In Tejasvi, the BJP has found a south Indian face who is ideologically committed. Someone who is not opposed to Hindi unlike many south Indian politicians. Someone who is not afraid even to be called a ‘bigot or a communal fanatic’ for his views against minorities. Someone who is a self-professed ambassador for Modi and Shah — and politically, not a threat to the top two leaders of the BJP.  “If you see his debates, they are full of critiques of Marxist and Communists. West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are seen as intellectual states. Someone like a Yogi Adityanath will not appeal much there so you need someone who can make intellectual arguments as an equalising force,” says Prof Assadi.  While the BJP leadership intends to utilise him nationally, there is no plan to bring him into Karnataka politics, says a source in BJP. Tejasvi has had conflicts with the state leadership by speaking out of turn against his own party, which is in power in Karnataka. From talking about NRC and CAA without consulting the state leaders to dubbing Bengaluru as a terror hotbed, putting CM Yediyurappa in a tight spot, Tejasvi has, several times, created difficult situations for the state leaders mostly because of his over enthusiasm, the source adds.  His mercurial rise has also earned him a lot more enemies both within the party and outside. But his proximity to the RSS has given him a cushion so far to continue growing. But his growth will now start slowing down, adds the source. He will have to slowly mellow and be less brash if he wants to stay in the game long-term.  Despite winning the Lok Sabha elections emphatically, Tejasvi still lacks grassroots organising experience as his campaign was short-lived and his victory was almost a given. Because he has not faced a tough electoral battle till date, he lacks the street-fighter-like streak many youth leaders possess. But for now, he is making up for lack of experience with his brand of bombastic Hindutva.

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