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But the more visible, dramatic, and violent tactics associated with Hindu nationalism has received

more attention, feels Tariq Thachil.

Seema Sirohi croll.in May 24,2016


Tariq Thachil, assistant professor of political science at Yale University, has the rare
quality of making dry theory come alive with living, breathing examples from the
always rich treasury of Indian politics. His first book, Elite Parties, Poor Voters: How
Social Services Win Votes in India, explores the reasons for the Bharatiya Janata
Partys success among marginalised Indians. Thachil backs his research with

empirical data to show how and why the BJPs strategy worked. And perhaps because
he grew up in India, his feel for the subject is natural and instinctive.
Thachil was born in Delhi and after finishing high school from Vasant Valley in the
capital, he completed his bachelors degree in economics at Stanford, followed by a
masters and doctorate in government at Cornell. His PhD dissertation won three
awards. Last week, Thachil spoke at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington on the
churn in Indian politics the decline of the Congress Party and the rise of the BJP and
regional parties.
Your book shows how the BJP may have come up with the ultimate winning
strategy for political parties: how to appeal to Dalits and Adivasis without
sacrificing upper caste elites. What was the genesis of the strategy?
The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have sought to reach out to
marginalised groups for decades through a variety of strategies, most of which have
delivered very limited successes. The party has always been highly aware of its
reputation as a Brahmin-Bania party, and therefore the necessity of expanding its
appeal among non-elite voters. In the book, I emphasise one particular strategys
efficacy in improving the BJPs performance among lower castes: the provision of
basic social services by seva [service] wings of the Sangh Parivar.
Of course, the Sangh has a long history of social service, but many of its earlier efforts
were episodic, specifically relief efforts for natural (cyclones and earthquakes) and
man-made disasters (the violence around Partition). The groups I focus on Sewa
Bharati and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram are involved in providing everyday service to
marginalised communities. Both wings were established many decades ago, but their
organisational footprint was quite small. It was only in the 1990s that they proliferated
substantially. In the book, I argue that this expansion was a key part of the BJPs
expanding support among Dalits and Adivasis in central India. Equally important, I
show why the strategy failed to produce similar successes in other Indian states.

Did party stalwarts debate the issue at length and arrive at the idea of providing
services to the marginalised and winning hearts and minds? Or was it something
that emerged and was noticed as a strategy worth pursuing on a wider scale?
In the early 1990s, Hindu nationalists tried a number of strategies to expand the
profile of their party and movement, only one of which was the expansion of service.
The most famous and well-studied strategy was the use of communal agitations,
which came to national attention with the so-called Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
There was hope that agitations against perceived Muslim aggressions would serve to
unite Hindus across castes divisions, and bring lower castes into the fold. LK Advanis
rath yatra even made symbolic gestures towards Dalits, such as choosing a Dalit
citizen to lay the foundation stone for the Ram temple.
But the limitations of this approach became clear in the state assembly elections of
1993. The party lost badly across five states in which it had expected to do well. A
senior BJP leader confessed to me that the party was so confident of victory they
hadnt chalked out a strategy for defeat. These setbacks made clear that the mandir
agitations had failed to resonate with most lower caste voters.
KN Govindacharya, another senior party leader at the time, told me that it was at that
time that many within the BJP realised the participation of lower castes in the
Ayodhya movement had been merely ceremonial, because the strategy provided no
tangible material gains for these disadvantaged communities.
In response, the BJP tried other tactics, most notably social engineering that is,
promoting candidates from marginalised communities such as Bangaru Laxman and
Uma Bharti. But this approach was hard to sustain because it was too threatening to
upper castes. It also wasnt popular with the RSS because it was a strategy that
acknowledged caste divisions between Hindus. The Sangh dislikes explicitly
politicking on caste identities, because this is seen as a betrayal of Hindutvas central
message of Hindu unity.

So the BJP faced a real dilemma: how to recruit lower castes while retaining upper
castes? And how to balance the electoral needs of democratic competition with the
ideological needs of its Sangh partners. Service, I argue in my book, helped balance
these demands.
First, a service strategy provided tangible benefits to the poor. Yet it didnt involve
changing candidate lists or the official party platform in ways that threatened upper
caste interests. At the same time, seva was very amenable to the RSS because it was
framed as a counter to Christian missionaries and their conversion efforts. Yet despite
its importance, this strategy has received far less scholarly and public attention than
the more visible, dramatic, and violent tactics associated with Hindu nationalism.
While the strategy worked this time around and seems like the best of both
worlds, is it sustainable over the long term? How long before the Dalits and
Adivasis begin to demand real representation in terms of seats?
The heyday of these organisations may have already passed. First, service
organisations were more useful in helping the BJP win office than retain it. Now the
BJP is entrenched as an incumbent in many states and in the central government. As
an incumbent, voters will judge you based on what you have done in government.
Consequently, the successful BJP units are those that used the breakthroughs enabled
by service work to implement policies that broaden the partys appeal. For example, in
Chhattisgarh, where service groups have been very active, Raman Singh has now
consolidated support by expanding or improving particular government schemes for
the poor.
Second, the tenuous coalition that service helped build is riddled with internal
tensions. In particular, service networks have helped incorporate more Dalits and
Adivasis within movement and party, but many of these personnel have greater
political ambitions to serve as candidates and political leaders.

These demands are tricky for the BJP to meet, especially outside of reserved
constituencies where my analysis found the party still rarely fields Dalit and Adivasi
candidates. Some of these tensions were articulated to me by the first Adivasi state
president of the BJP. According to him, senior leaders wanted him to be a rubber
stamp, and when he refused to be one, they asked him to step down. How the party
will accommodate assertive lower caste and tribal leaders remains to be seen.
Since you are one of the few academics to study the BJP phenomenon, how do
you see Narendra Modi, his rise, his seeming control over the party apparatus,
his detractors?
As someone who has studied the BJP, let me focus on two points regarding the
implications of Modis rise for his own party.
First, Modis rise to becoming a candidate for prime ministership within the BJP was
far from inevitable. In fact, the first impressive feature of his ascent was how he
sidelined other contenders and dissenters within his own party. Remember, the BJP
had a number of successful state-level leaders, including multiple-term incumbent
chief ministers in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Further, there were real concerns
about Modis viability in a national campaign, even within his own party.
Following the BJPs 2004 defeat, there was talk that the 2002 violence in Gujarat, and
Modis polarising stewardship at the time, had hurt the partys image nationally. From
that moment, Modis ability to manouevre into pole position was impressive. In large
part, his success stemmed from the support of rank and file for him at party conclaves.
His appeal for BJP karyakartas was strong enough to vault him over less polarising
contenders, and even the opposition of a party giant like Advani.
Second, the implications of Modis rise for his own party are quite mixed. While he
has delivered impressive short-term victories, the long-term consequences of his
remarkable centralisation of power are less clear. I dont think we have seen this much
centralised control within either the Congress or BJP since Indira Gandhis tenure.

Senior leaders within his own party and even members of his cabinet are completely
sidelined and reduced to figureheads. Such concentration of power is not in the BJPs
best interests in the long term.
Part of the BJPs organisational advantage came from having a broad base and a
relatively deep bench, but under Modi, this bench has narrowed considerably. Such a
narrowing strategy is dangerous, because it is highly reliant on the popularity of a
single individual. If that individual falls from grace, the party finds itself far less
equipped to recover. Once again, the Congress experience under Indira Gandhi
should be instructive for the BJP.
You said during your talk at the Carnegie Endowment that the rise of Modi is
viewed with ambivalence within the Hindutva movement. Can you elaborate?
I think that ambivalence principally has to do with his personal appeal, his cult of
personality. On the one hand, the RSS all the way up to [chief] Mohan Bhagwat
respects Modis grassroots popularity. They also see him as a committed
swayamsevak. At the same time, Modis popularity is deeply personal, which is
threatening to the RSS. Such direct personal appeal suggests that the BJP under Modi
can succeed without RSS assistance. In this way, Modis reliance on a presidentialstyle public relations campaign that connects him directly to the voters can be seen as
a threat to the RSS. After all, the RSS main source of leverage against the BJP has
always been that without our organisations, you cannot win elections.
Modis cult of personality has helped the BJP to a historic victory. But what are its
long-term implications, not just for the RSS, but the wider BJP party as well? What
are the consequences for the party if its workers primary allegiance is to Modi and
not the kamal [lotus]?
I was reminded of this danger when watching Nakul Singh Sawhneys
documentary, Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai. One of his clips shows grassroots workers

for the BJP declaring that they are only with the BJP because of Modi, that they are a
Modi sena. How loyal will such workers be to the party beyond Modi?
Modis rise has also begun to shift the nature of power within the BJP and broader
Sangh Parivar. It is well known that historically, the RSS had loyal and well-placed
personnel within the BJP organisation. These workers would keep tabs on what was
happening within the party and report back. With the rise of workers who favour Modi
over the party and the movement, this dynamic is being inverted. So Modi has brought
a great surge of electoral support for the BJP, but the rise of his personal cult does not
only have positive implications for the party.
How do you assess the overall communal situation in India since Modi became
prime minister? Is the equilibrium (if one can call it that) in danger of being
disturbed to a degree that it cannot return to the way things were not perfect,
but not erupting with a frightening regularity?
I should preface these comments by saying that my intensive study of the BJP ended
in 2014, and so many of these comments are made as an engaged observer rather than
through deep scholarship. As an Indian citizen, I am of course extremely concerned
with the normalisation of high levels of intolerance and violence within our country,
especially towards minority and marginalized communities. It signals an acceptance
of violence by the state or by private citizens as an appropriate response to
difference, be they in cultural customs, religious rituals, dietary habits, and perhaps
most perniciously, in political opinions. Such vicious majoritarian bullying is a sign of
democratic dysfunction, not of vitality.
As a social scientist, I believe it is important to understand the relationship between
this frighteningly regular violence and our elected government. In 2014, it was
fashionable to interpret Modis campaign as purely development-oriented, and to
suggest that the new governments reign would be marked by a laser-like focus on
implementing economic reforms and infrastructural improvement. The implication

was that communal violence would be forced to the sidelines by Modis


technocratic BJP.
This interpretation felt somewhat simplified at that time, as the 2014 campaign tactics
used by the BJP varied significantly across states and even districts. Casteist and
communal rhetoric was far more central in the Amit Shah-led campaign in western
Uttar Pradesh than in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. Beyond the campaign, many of
us remained concerned with the wider implications of how a Modi victory would
embolden Hindutva hardliners. We worried that hardliners would read his victory as
validation of their views and perspectives, and as proof that they could act with
impunity. I believe the past two years have largely justified these concerns. Much of
the majoritarian violence we have witnessed since 2014 has to be read in that light.
It is also critical for us to ask why our prime minister has remained silent against such
majoritarian violence? For all the talk of his reinvention from a hardline RSS
activist to a development-oriented PM, his reluctance to admonish intolerance and
violence against minorities has remained remarkably consistent over the past several
years.
There are two explanations that have been offered for Modis reluctance to speak out.
The first is that his silence is being forced upon him by hardliners within the BJP-RSS
nexus. This argument fails to explain how a prime minister who was seen as allpowerful in delivering a 2014 victory is now suddenly so enfeebled and constrained
within his organisations. The other explanation is that Modi doesnt see any reason to
speak out against majoritarianism and majoritarian violence, because he sees them as
ideologically justified actions.
Silence can be seen as tacit approval, given in a way that allows his own public
rhetoric to remain oriented towards a development-oriented personal brand. If true,
this strategy risks further emboldening majoritarian nationalism, and in doing so
possibly derailing Modis own rebranding efforts as a development-oriented

technocrat. This approach could damage his long-term electoral ambitions. After all,
available survey evidence suggests the BJPs support in 2014 had little to do with
support for Hindu nationalism among most voters, especially new supporters.
What was your experience dealing with the BJP hierarchy and workers in the
field as someone with a Muslim name? Were they puzzled or professional enough
to deal with you as an academic?
I am an atheist and a son of atheists. Coming from a secular background, my parents,
who are academics, gave me a Muslim name as a gesture to the inclusive potential of
Indian secularism. And because they liked the name.
Yet, of course, in a practical sense, my name marks me as a Muslim. I cannot
immediately offer an explanation of how I got my name to everyone I talk with, and
nor is such an explanation always readily understandable to all of them.
Senior party leaders, who are very busy people, tended not to care very much about
my personal background. But of course I received questions about my background
from many people I interviewed. Most often, I was regarded as a curiosity. A couple
of times I did get questions that veered towards hostility. I remember one occasion
where I was repeatedly asked by a party worker in Raipur, Why arent you doing
your field work in Hyderabad?
Other times, their disapproval took mildly amusing forms one interviewee kept
calling me Tarun. When I clarified my name was Tariq, he just smiled and said,
For me, you are Tarun.
And of course, as with many forms of research, you have to be careful in how you
approach certain conversations. But I have to say most BJP workers were very willing
to talk openly and were kind about having me to their homes. Personally, I owe a great
deal to them for being willing to talk to me. I wouldnt have been able to do this work
if they were uniformly hostile towards someone they (at least first) perceived to be

Muslim. Of course, I am also heavily protected by my economic and social privilege,


and my status as a professor at a US university.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
But the more visible, dramatic, and violent tactics associated with Hindu
nationalism has received more attention, feels Tariq Thachil.

Seema Sirohi croll.in May 24,2016


Tariq Thachil, assistant professor of political science at Yale University, has the rare
quality of making dry theory come alive with living, breathing examples from the
always rich treasury of Indian politics. His first book, Elite Parties, Poor Voters: How
Social Services Win Votes in India, explores the reasons for the Bharatiya Janata

Partys success among marginalised Indians. Thachil backs his research with
empirical data to show how and why the BJPs strategy worked. And perhaps
because he grew up in India, his feel for the subject is natural and instinctive.
Thachil was born in Delhi and after finishing high school from Vasant Valley in the
capital, he completed his bachelors degree in economics at Stanford, followed by a
masters and doctorate in government at Cornell. His PhD dissertation won three
awards. Last week, Thachil spoke at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington on the
churn in Indian politics the decline of the Congress Party and the rise of the BJP
and regional parties.
Your book shows how the BJP may have come up with the ultimate winning
strategy for political parties: how to appeal to Dalits and Adivasis without
sacrificing upper caste elites. What was the genesis of the strategy?
The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have sought to reach out to
marginalised groups for decades through a variety of strategies, most of which have
delivered very limited successes. The party has always been highly aware of its
reputation as a Brahmin-Bania party, and therefore the necessity of expanding its
appeal among non-elite voters. In the book, I emphasise one particular strategys
efficacy in improving the BJPs performance among lower castes: the provision of
basic social services by seva [service] wings of the Sangh Parivar.
Of course, the Sangh has a long history of social service, but many of its earlier
efforts were episodic, specifically relief efforts for natural (cyclones and
earthquakes) and man-made disasters (the violence around Partition). The groups I
focus on Sewa Bharati and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram are involved in providing
everyday service to marginalised communities. Both wings were established many
decades ago, but their organisational footprint was quite small. It was only in the
1990s that they proliferated substantially. In the book, I argue that this expansion
was a key part of the BJPs expanding support among Dalits and Adivasis in central
India. Equally important, I show why the strategy failed to produce similar successes
in other Indian states.
Did party stalwarts debate the issue at length and arrive at the idea of
providing services to the marginalised and winning hearts and minds? Or
was it something that emerged and was noticed as a strategy worth
pursuing on a wider scale?
In the early 1990s, Hindu nationalists tried a number of strategies to expand the
profile of their party and movement, only one of which was the expansion of
service. The most famous and well-studied strategy was the use of communal
agitations, which came to national attention with the so-called Ram Janmabhoomi
movement. There was hope that agitations against perceived Muslim aggressions
would serve to unite Hindus across castes divisions, and bring lower castes into the
fold. LK Advanis rath yatra even made symbolic gestures towards Dalits, such as
choosing a Dalit citizen to lay the foundation stone for the Ram temple.
But the limitations of this approach became clear in the state assembly elections of
1993. The party lost badly across five states in which it had expected to do well. A
senior BJP leader confessed to me that the party was so confident of victory they
hadnt chalked out a strategy for defeat. These setbacks made clear that the mandir
agitations had failed to resonate with most lower caste voters.
KN Govindacharya, another senior party leader at the time, told me that it was at
that time that many within the BJP realised the participation of lower castes in the
Ayodhya movement had been merely ceremonial, because the strategy provided no
tangible material gains for these disadvantaged communities.

In response, the BJP tried other tactics, most notably social engineering that is,
promoting candidates from marginalised communities such as Bangaru Laxman and
Uma Bharti. But this approach was hard to sustain because it was too threatening to
upper castes. It also wasnt popular with the RSS because it was a strategy that
acknowledged caste divisions between Hindus. The Sangh dislikes explicitly
politicking on caste identities, because this is seen as a betrayal of Hindutvas
central message of Hindu unity.
So the BJP faced a real dilemma: how to recruit lower castes while retaining upper
castes? And how to balance the electoral needs of democratic competition with the
ideological needs of its Sangh partners. Service, I argue in my book, helped balance
these demands.
First, a service strategy provided tangible benefits to the poor. Yet it didnt involve
changing candidate lists or the official party platform in ways that threatened upper
caste interests. At the same time, seva was very amenable to the RSS because it
was framed as a counter to Christian missionaries and their conversion efforts. Yet
despite its importance, this strategy has received far less scholarly and public
attention than the more visible, dramatic, and violent tactics associated with Hindu
nationalism.
While the strategy worked this time around and seems like the best of
both worlds, is it sustainable over the long term? How long before the
Dalits and Adivasis begin to demand real representation in terms of seats?
The heyday of these organisations may have already passed. First, service
organisations were more useful in helping the BJP win office than retain it. Now the
BJP is entrenched as an incumbent in many states and in the central government.
As an incumbent, voters will judge you based on what you have done in
government. Consequently, the successful BJP units are those that used the
breakthroughs enabled by service work to implement policies that broaden the
partys appeal. For example, in Chhattisgarh, where service groups have been very
active, Raman Singh has now consolidated support by expanding or improving
particular government schemes for the poor.
Second, the tenuous coalition that service helped build is riddled with internal
tensions. In particular, service networks have helped incorporate more Dalits and
Adivasis within movement and party, but many of these personnel have greater
political ambitions to serve as candidates and political leaders.
These demands are tricky for the BJP to meet, especially outside of reserved
constituencies where my analysis found the party still rarely fields Dalit and Adivasi
candidates. Some of these tensions were articulated to me by the first Adivasi state
president of the BJP. According to him, senior leaders wanted him to be a rubber
stamp, and when he refused to be one, they asked him to step down. How the party
will accommodate assertive lower caste and tribal leaders remains to be seen.
Since you are one of the few academics to study the BJP phenomenon,
how do you see Narendra Modi, his rise, his seeming control over the
party apparatus, his detractors?
As someone who has studied the BJP, let me focus on two points regarding the
implications of Modis rise for his own party.
First, Modis rise to becoming a candidate for prime ministership within the BJP was
far from inevitable. In fact, the first impressive feature of his ascent was how he
sidelined other contenders and dissenters within his own party. Remember, the BJP
had a number of successful state-level leaders, including multiple-term incumbent

chief ministers in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Further, there were real
concerns about Modis viability in a national campaign, even within his own party.
Following the BJPs 2004 defeat, there was talk that the 2002 violence in Gujarat,
and Modis polarising stewardship at the time, had hurt the partys image nationally.
From that moment, Modis ability to manouevre into pole position was impressive. In
large part, his success stemmed from the support of rank and file for him at party
conclaves. His appeal for BJP karyakartas was strong enough to vault him over less
polarising contenders, and even the opposition of a party giant like Advani.
Second, the implications of Modis rise for his own party are quite mixed. While he
has delivered impressive short-term victories, the long-term consequences of his
remarkable centralisation of power are less clear. I dont think we have seen this
much centralised control within either the Congress or BJP since Indira Gandhis
tenure. Senior leaders within his own party and even members of his cabinet are
completely sidelined and reduced to figureheads. Such concentration of power is
not in the BJPs best interests in the long term.
Part of the BJPs organisational advantage came from having a broad base and a
relatively deep bench, but under Modi, this bench has narrowed considerably. Such
a narrowing strategy is dangerous, because it is highly reliant on the popularity of a
single individual. If that individual falls from grace, the party finds itself far less
equipped to recover. Once again, the Congress experience under Indira Gandhi
should be instructive for the BJP.
You said during your talk at the Carnegie Endowment that the rise of Modi
is viewed with ambivalence within the Hindutva movement. Can you
elaborate?
I think that ambivalence principally has to do with his personal appeal, his cult of
personality. On the one hand, the RSS all the way up to [chief] Mohan Bhagwat
respects Modis grassroots popularity. They also see him as a committed
swayamsevak. At the same time, Modis popularity is deeply personal, which is
threatening to the RSS. Such direct personal appeal suggests that the BJP under
Modi can succeed without RSS assistance. In this way, Modis reliance on a
presidential-style public relations campaign that connects him directly to the voters
can be seen as a threat to the RSS. After all, the RSS main source of leverage
against the BJP has always been that without our organisations, you cannot win
elections.
Modis cult of personality has helped the BJP to a historic victory. But what are its
long-term implications, not just for the RSS, but the wider BJP party as well? What
are the consequences for the party if its workers primary allegiance is to Modi and
not the kamal [lotus]?
I was reminded of this danger when watching Nakul Singh Sawhneys
documentary, Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai. One of his clips shows grassroots workers
for the BJP declaring that they are only with the BJP because of Modi, that they are a
Modi sena. How loyal will such workers be to the party beyond Modi?
Modis rise has also begun to shift the nature of power within the BJP and broader
Sangh Parivar. It is well known that historically, the RSS had loyal and well-placed
personnel within the BJP organisation. These workers would keep tabs on what was
happening within the party and report back. With the rise of workers who favour
Modi over the party and the movement, this dynamic is being inverted. So Modi has
brought a great surge of electoral support for the BJP, but the rise of his personal
cult does not only have positive implications for the party.

How do you assess the overall communal situation in India since Modi
became prime minister? Is the equilibrium (if one can call it that) in
danger of being disturbed to a degree that it cannot return to the way
things were not perfect, but not erupting with a frightening regularity?
I should preface these comments by saying that my intensive study of the BJP
ended in 2014, and so many of these comments are made as an engaged observer
rather than through deep scholarship. As an Indian citizen, I am of course extremely
concerned with the normalisation of high levels of intolerance and violence within
our country, especially towards minority and marginalized communities. It signals
an acceptance of violence by the state or by private citizens as an appropriate
response to difference, be they in cultural customs, religious rituals, dietary habits,
and perhaps most perniciously, in political opinions. Such vicious majoritarian
bullying is a sign of democratic dysfunction, not of vitality.
As a social scientist, I believe it is important to understand the relationship between
this frighteningly regular violence and our elected government. In 2014, it was
fashionable to interpret Modis campaign as purely development-oriented, and to
suggest that the new governments reign would be marked by a laser-like focus on
implementing economic reforms and infrastructural improvement. The implication
was that communal violence would be forced to the sidelines by Modis
technocratic BJP.
This interpretation felt somewhat simplified at that time, as the 2014 campaign
tactics used by the BJP varied significantly across states and even districts. Casteist
and communal rhetoric was far more central in the Amit Shah-led campaign in
western Uttar Pradesh than in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. Beyond the campaign,
many of us remained concerned with the wider implications of how a Modi victory
would embolden Hindutva hardliners. We worried that hardliners would read his
victory as validation of their views and perspectives, and as proof that they could
act with impunity. I believe the past two years have largely justified these concerns.
Much of the majoritarian violence we have witnessed since 2014 has to be read in
that light.
It is also critical for us to ask why our prime minister has remained silent against
such majoritarian violence? For all the talk of his reinvention from a hardline RSS
activist to a development-oriented PM, his reluctance to admonish intolerance and
violence against minorities has remained remarkably consistent over the past
several years.
There are two explanations that have been offered for Modis reluctance to speak
out. The first is that his silence is being forced upon him by hardliners within the
BJP-RSS nexus. This argument fails to explain how a prime minister who was seen as
all-powerful in delivering a 2014 victory is now suddenly so enfeebled and
constrained within his organisations. The other explanation is that Modi doesnt see
any reason to speak out against majoritarianism and majoritarian violence, because
he sees them as ideologically justified actions.
Silence can be seen as tacit approval, given in a way that allows his own public
rhetoric to remain oriented towards a development-oriented personal brand. If true,
this strategy risks further emboldening majoritarian nationalism, and in doing so
possibly derailing Modis own rebranding efforts as a development-oriented
technocrat. This approach could damage his long-term electoral ambitions. After all,
available survey evidence suggests the BJPs support in 2014 had little to do with
support for Hindu nationalism among most voters, especially new supporters.

What was your experience dealing with the BJP hierarchy and workers in
the field as someone with a Muslim name? Were they puzzled or
professional enough to deal with you as an academic?
I am an atheist and a son of atheists. Coming from a secular background, my
parents, who are academics, gave me a Muslim name as a gesture to the inclusive
potential of Indian secularism. And because they liked the name.
Yet, of course, in a practical sense, my name marks me as a Muslim. I cannot
immediately offer an explanation of how I got my name to everyone I talk with, and
nor is such an explanation always readily understandable to all of them.
Senior party leaders, who are very busy people, tended not to care very much about
my personal background. But of course I received questions about my background
from many people I interviewed. Most often, I was regarded as a curiosity. A couple
of times I did get questions that veered towards hostility. I remember one occasion
where I was repeatedly asked by a party worker in Raipur, Why arent you doing
your field work in Hyderabad?
Other times, their disapproval took mildly amusing forms one interviewee kept
calling me Tarun. When I clarified my name was Tariq, he just smiled and said,
For me, you are Tarun.
And of course, as with many forms of research, you have to be careful in how you
approach certain conversations. But I have to say most BJP workers were very
willing to talk openly and were kind about having me to their homes. Personally, I
owe a great deal to them for being willing to talk to me. I wouldnt have been able
to do this work if they were uniformly hostile towards someone they (at least first)
perceived to be Muslim. Of course, I am also heavily protected by my economic and
social privilege, and my status as a professor at a US university.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.