Technically, I shouldnít even be here, at the†anti-CAA protest†in Uttar Pradeshís Kanpur, a stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Entering the Mohammad Ali Park, I hear Faiz Ahmad Faizís ďHum DekhengeĒ from a distance. To my surprise, thereís a sea of people here. The turnout is even greater than I expected on a freezing winter day.
Despite the sombre reason for the assembly, thereís this strange euphoria about the place ó Indian flags, portraits of Gandhi and Ambedkar,†azaadi slogans, thumping tambourines. Kanpur has a rich history; it made an important contribution to the freedom struggle, with Peshwa Nana Saheb leading the revolt in the city during the 1857 uprising. It is evident that the rebellious streak hasnít faded with time. Itís overwhelming.
At the back of my mind, I feel as though Iím sticking out like a sore thumb. As a†Hindu Brahmin, educated, middle-class young male, I am, in fact, part of BJPís most-hallowed voter base. My opposition to the CAA isnít as vehement as the crowdís. In fact, when it was initially passed, I tried to defend it in a couple of altercations with my friends. I had voted for the BJP, after all ó thatís what I was supposed to do, right? I thought the GST was a good reform which was needed to streamline taxation in the country. And I supported the abrogation of Article 370, which was not a permanent clause at the time of its inception. So it was natural that Iíd think the intent behind CAA was positive. But as the anti-CAA voices grew louder, I started asking questions. But could I switch sides? You canít just go from a BJP supporter to a critic overnight, can you?
Gradually, as I read experts and understood the Act more, the thing that leapt out as the most troubling was its unconstitutional and discriminatory nature. Itís one thing to have an ideology and work towards it, another to thrust an agenda which does injustice to the idea of India. Itís one thing to pass a law and another to curb protests against it.
The truth is, the imposed Section 144 has affected me in the same manner as it has impacted a liberal. The suspended internet hamstrings my work just as it does a Muslimís. The whizzing lathi of the police inflicts a similar injury upon me,†a BJP voter, as it does upon a Congress loyalist. This crowd is incredibly diverse ó college students, working professionals, young girls, old folks. Thereís this unprecedented sense of unity and comradeship permeating every interaction.
Am I the only one here? There must be, just like me, some BJP voters in this crowd too. Actually, a lot of them.
In the 2019 general elections, a total of 49 per cent of the voters in urban areas and 44 per cent in rural areas went with either the BJP or its allies, according to post-poll†studies. To add to that, out of a total of about 900 million eligible voters, only 67 per cent cast their vote. Out of those who did make it to the polling booth, nearly half of them had the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as their pick in 2019.
But as the anti-CAA voices grew louder, I started asking questions. But could I switch sides?
Thereís no way then that the entire crowd at Mohammad Ali Park consists exclusively of left-leaning people, Congress supporters,†Modi haters, and the like. There must be those who voted for the BJP, but disagree with the governmentís push for CAA and NRC, to a degree that they have had to take to the streets to make their disapproval known.
In the defence of the BJP, the party had promised a pan-India NRC in their 2019 election manifesto. They have come to power with a landslide win, and in theory, they now have the democratic right to deliver as promised. This is a fact that has also been hammered over the heads of BJP voters like me, who are now faced with the unpleasant reality of having voted for a party thatís taking steps we donít support.
But was it highlighted as one of their major agendas? I donít remember coming across repeated references to CAA or a nationwide NRC in the umpteen speeches that PM Modi delivered across the country. Rural electrification, doubling farmersí income, and two crore jobs per year (hopefully including one for myself) was the deal for me. If†CAA-NRC†wasnít among the BJPís core promises, is a bullish attempt on the governmentís part toward a conceivably divisive act warranted? And that too, within the first few months of the partyís second term?
I, for one, do not feel obliged to agree.
When I voted for the BJP, I did so for a party which put some of its energy behind development schemes during its first term. I voted for a party that always had an†Atal Bihari Vajpayee†for every LK Advani and a Sushma Swaraj for every Sadhvi Pragya. Politicians like Manohar Parrikar and†Arun Jaitley, who are unfortunately no longer with us, did have the decency to entertain a contrary opinion. I could have voiced my gripe then and not run the risk of obliteration. But that delicate balance has been disturbed by a new, different breed of leaders taking over the party.
As someone who contributed in bringing the BJP to power, I now feel torn.
As someone who contributed in bringing the BJP to power, I now feel torn. I canít, for the sake of it, defend a fundamentally wrong move because of a choice I once made.
A mere look at the faces of the protestors ó from the†dadis of Shaheen Bagh†to the determined students of JNU and Jamia†Ė and their drive to fight any and every assault on the cultural fabric of the nation, inspires me to join the ever-increasing caravan.
I will fight the government tooth and nail for legislation that entails the polarisation of the country, even as I laud rural electrification, free LPG cylinders, the push for sanitation, and digital transfers. Because I am no blind supporter. I will voice slogans in unity with the†protesters, while the government employs its entire machinery to push through a bill at a time when it should actually focus on the†ailing economy.
I will then reassess and take stock of the situation in the next general elections. I am not a blind sheep in a herd of millions. I am not merely a fraction of the uniform mob. And more importantly I am no†bhakt. And the party would do well to remember: I may have been a BJP voter onceÖ but that doesnít mean I canít change my mind.
This article was originally published in Arre
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