It has been somewhat disconcerting to see the reactions of all those who, in the wake of Rajnath Singh’s comment that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) “unambiguously" supported the re-criminalization of gay sex, now find themselves unable to vote for the party in the general election to come. This has been a repeated refrain of the past few days, but it troubles me: Surely this is not their first intimation that the BJP’s stance on most issues of personal freedom is shaped by a determined religious nationalism? Unlike the more nimble—or is it pliant?—Congress, the BJP’s insistence on its own religious-cultural code as a prerequisite to full nationalism is impossible for the party to escape, even if its leaders wanted to, because much of its most committed support derives from that very ideology.

What I can glean from online and offline conversations over the past few days is that there are many people who feel the BJP’s stance on homosexual love is antiquated, that it displays a crucial lack of understanding about the choices young people want to live with today. These people, both homosexual and straight, have publicly declared that the BJP has now lost their vote. Of course there is a lot to admire about this stance. Perhaps anyone who believes in equality and freedom should applaud it. Yet it concerns me deeply, maybe more than anything else this election season.

An individual’s voting choice is based on their personal hierarchy of political desires. We might do this unconsciously, but we create a sort of ladder of aspirations, and make our choice about whom to vote for based upon it. Of course different people want vastly different things, and each person has his own prioritization of where each of those things should figure; your basket of desires could comprise anything, and in a democracy, it usually does. If industrial development is highest on your list, followed by the desire to clean up cricket, and then that item numbers are banned, you will vote for the candidate most likely to forward those desires, in that order. This is how choice works in a pluralist democracy.

The 2014 general election is all the more remarkable because the dismal second tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) seems to have set in stone a certain set of desires among the middle-class and upper-middle-class populace, most crucially with those who voted the other way last time around: to return to the pre-recession rate of economic development; to stop political corruption; to rid the nation (and its largest party) of a seemingly endless succession of Nehru-Gandhis; to once more have a vocal and muscular leader at the helm of the nation, one who would not bow to “regional" interests on issues like FDI and so on; to challenge the welfare-ism that is said to characterize Congress politics. This I think is a loose but adequate representation of the political desires that look to be propelling the BJP and Narendra Modi to success in 2014.

I had some time ago made peace with the fact that many friends and acquaintances would vote for the BJP and Narendra Modi in the coming election. In fact, the reasons listed above make a pretty compelling case for his immediate elevation. Whether they can deliver on these desires or not, Modi and the BJP have many people believing that they can, and it is this perception that is vital in politics. Yet it is because of this that I was so troubled by the reaction after the BJP’s stance on Section 377 was made clear.

You see, I thought it was clear that matters such as personal freedoms were not a priority in this election. If our media and citizenry were genuinely interested in personal freedoms for all its peoples, then we would have to now examine Narendra Modi and the BJP’s long record in dealing with minorities. We would have to discuss why Narendra Modi will not accept that he was guilty of at least negligence as hundreds of Muslims died under his stewardship. We would have to look at why Muslims in Ahmedabad are being ghettoized into a township called Juhapura, in many parts of which the state abjures responsibility for provision of basic facilities. We would have to look at the BJP’s sister organization, the Bajrang Dal, and their Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) parent, and discuss their role in such disparate horrors as the Kandhmal violence, the torching to death of Graham Staines and his two sons, aged 10 and 6, the Mangalore pub beatings, a host of others. We could ask our PM-in-waiting at least a question or two about how quickly the Muzaffarnagar violence followed his appointment of Amit Shah as the BJP poll manager in Uttar Pradesh.

I had assumed, since all of these matters were no longer an important part of the debate, that this election was about something else—the economy, ascendancy, battling corruption, ridding our politics of dynasty. All worthwhile goals, and let us hope if the BJP wins the mandate that it does in fact drive away the dissatisfaction and ennui. Yet now, after the fallout over 377, I’m hearing that the upper-middle class is horribly shocked by how retrograde the BJP is, as if they do not remember that the critical factor in its rise in electoral strength was a mass movement based on a 3,000-year-old claim.

If we’re voting Modi in because we think he’s going to muscle-manage us to prosperity, so be it. But Modi comes with a party, and a party that is bolstered by religious and cultural chauvinism is bound to have a certain vision of what being Indian means. And if that vision allows for a Muslim’s patriotism to be repeatedly questioned, deems the priest a proselytizer and Dalit beef-eaters anti-national, that vision certainly does not have room for “alternative" lifestyles like homosexuality. As the BJP becomes more confident of assuming power, it will display this reactionary chest-thumping more often. Yashwant Sinha’s comment on Wednesday, after the arrest and alleged mistreatment of an Indian diplomat in the US, is apt illustration: He exhorts the Indian government to put behind bars all US diplomats with same-sex companions in the country. This is his considered response.

Perhaps too many people, in their eagerness to quick-fix the stagnating economy, were unwilling to examine what majoritarian privilege truly means. They were willing to pretend that the religious and cultural chauvinism that characterizes the BJP’s approach on so many issues would not affect the freedoms of the numerically disempowered, whether in matters of sexual, religious, dietary or social choice. Let us at least be clear that it will. We can ride into the moneyed sunset knowing this.

Prayaag Akbar is a journalist with The Sunday Guardian.

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