On Wednesday, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Vinay Katiyar said that Muslims must leave India. “They have been given their lands,” he said. “They should go to Pakistan or Bangladesh. What are they doing here?”

On Twitter, Mohandas Pai, a prominent right-wing commentator, described Katiyar as a “loony”. Reacting to the MP’s demand on Monday that the Taj Mahal be demolished and a Hindu temple erected in its place, Pai asked, “Why do you take them seriously?” But Katiyar is no fringe element. He is a member of the party that rules at both the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh.

For Katiyar to deliver such an incendiary statement without inviting censure from his party, which has a highly centralised structure, would seem to indicate that the BJP endorses his politics. Katiyar’s rhetoric is yet another sign that as the 2019 Lok Sabha election approaches, the BJP will depend heavily on hard Hindutva for votes.

Constant communalism

It is not hard to discern a pattern here. In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, senior BJP leader Giriraj Singh had said anyone opposing Narendra Modi should be shipped to Pakistan. Singh’s remark resulted in the Election Commission barring him from campaigning. Yet, when the BJP won, Singh’s statement was seen as a profitable model to be followed in future campaigns.

Indeed, the constant communal rhetoric of the past four years should force a re-evaluation of our understanding of the 2014 election result. It is frequently argued that it was a vote for development – a word that in India stands for economic matters. Yet, it is now clear that the BJP’s pitch was based on economics as well as religious identity. It was not a choice between development and Hindutva – it was development and Hindutva.

Party line

Since taking power, the BJP has kept the Hindutva pot boiling. The cow has occupied centre stage, with a spate of lynchings by vigilantes targeting Muslims. States ruled by the BJP in particular have done little to prevent such attacks; indeed, in most instances, criminal cases have been registered against the victims.

State elections too have been fought with communalism as the main plank of the BJP’s campaigns. In the campaign for the Gujarat assembly election last year, for example, a video advertisement asking people to vote for Modi showed a young women expressing fears for her safety as the azaan, the Muslim call to prayer, is heard in the background.

Modi himself has played the Hindu-Muslim card. In Gujarat, he raised the Ayodhya dispute, asking whether the Congress wanted a Ram temple or a mosque at the site where the Babri Masjid once stood. At an election rally in Uttar Pradesh in February 2017, the prime minister made the unsubstantiated claim that the authorities in the state – then ruled by the Samajwadi Party – provided uninterrupted electricity supply for Muslim festivals but not Hindu ones.

Development and Hindutva

In 2018, while the “development plus Hindutva” formula of 2014 still holds, the balance of the equation has changed. The BJP’s economic promises of 2014 were too bold. Far from the BJP government ushering in “achhe din”, or good times, as it had promised to do, little has changed materially for most Indians. If anything, things have become worse. The unemployment rate, for one, has risen after Modi took over from Manmohan Singh. Private investment is falling, which means few new jobs will be created in the near future.

Add to this demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax – both disruptive measures that have harmed vast swathes of the population – and it is easy to see why an economic pitch for 2019 would be a tough sell.

Hence, Katiyar. The BJP faces a growing difficultly of credibly selling development and has little time to crank up the economy before the next election. India should brace for even more communalism from its ruling establishment as it heads to the polls.