BJP leaders in general and Narendra Modi himself in particular have sought to turn the 2019 Lok Sabha elections into a contest on the issue of “nationalism” and national security. The means they have adopted to do so completely exposes how false their claim to nationalism is and how hollow their make believe commitment to national security.

That they have brazenly sought to invoke the country’s armed forces in this endeavour shows the depths to which they are prepared to sink in a desperate attempt to keep the real issues facing the Indian people out of focus in these elections. Adityanath openly referred to the army as “Modiji ki sena” and Modi himself has repeatedly invoked the Pulwama martyrs and the air force strikes in Balakot to exhort voters to vote for him and his party. So brazen have these attempts been that over 150 senior retired armed forces officers including former chiefs of services felt compelled to write to the President seeking his intervention to prevent this politicization of the armed forces.

But the BJP dragging the armed forces into a political battle is hardly the worst of its crimes. Far more damaging is the manner in which all those opposed to the government have been labelled “anti-national” and the “tukde tukde gang” and the manner in which there have been insidious attempts to portray the minorities as owing allegiance to Pakistan and not India.

Consider for example Modi’s recent speech in Bagalkot in Karnataka. In the course of that speech, he accused the Karnataka chief minister H D Kumaraswamy of pandering to a “vote bank” which was situated in Balakot and not Bagalkot. Obviously, he wasn’t trying to suggest that Pakistanis living in Balakot were being wooed by the JD(S) as a vote bank. The imputation was clear – that the JD(S) was trying to woo local Muslims by questioning the Indian version of Pulwama and Balakot and supporting the Pakistani version. To suggest that Indian Muslims can be or are wooed by supporting Pakistan is to suggest that their loyalty to India is suspect, which is exactly what was intended and has always been a favourite ploy of the sangh parivar. Modi’s Bagalkot speech is just one instance of this. Hardly a day goes by without some BJP leader or the other making a similar statement or speech.

This is of course hardly surprising for a party that comes from an ideological fraternity that regards Muslims, Christians and Jews as “internal threats” as their ideological guru Golwalkar unabashedly characterized them in his Bunch of Thoughts. But such a blatantly divisive and sectarian ideology obviously is the very opposite of nationalism. An ideology that treats sections of a country’s population as being inherently questionable in their loyalty can hardly be a nationalist ideology.

Apart from the minorities, Modi himself has repeatedly accused the opposition of deliberately trying to weaken and demoralize India’s armed forces. He has even accused individual opposition leaders of hatching conspiracies with the Pakistani establishment to unseat him. He did this during the course of the Gujarat state elections and has done so on other occasions too. As with the minorities, the attempt is to drive home a sectarian message – only Hindus and a party that ostensibly promotes their interests can be nationalists, all those opposed to such a party and its government are anti-national.

In the same vein, Modi, Amit Shah and other BJP leaders have accused the opposition of being soft on terrorism while projecting the BJP as the only force willing to take a tough line against terror. Just how laughable this claim is became clear when the BJP nominated Pragya Thakur to contest the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat. The self-styled sadhvi is an accused in the Malegaon bomb blasts case, where the trial court refused to let her off despite the attempt by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to close the case against her. The court directed framing of charges holding that there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed against her. Despite this, both Modi and Shah have defended her with Shah even making it clear that it was precisely because of her status as a terror accused that she is being fielded. She has thus become the first terror accused to be nominated by any major political party in India to contest elections. So much for the BJP’s tough line on terror.

In blatant disregard of the ongoing cases, the prime minister and the president of the ruling party have been repeatedly proclaiming that there is no such thing as Hindutva terror and Modi has even gone so far as to claim that no Hindu has ever committed an act of terror. This is despite the fact that police even in states run by BJP governments, like Maharashtra, have found organisations like the Sanathan Sanstha to be behind the killings of rationalists in Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Clearly, for Modi, Shah and others of their ilk, terrorism like nationalism is determined by the religious colour it wears. Given that evident fact, their claims of being tough on terror are just as hollow as those of nationalism. The truth is that by dividing society along communal lines they are undermining the nation’s interests and serving the interests of terror groups that thrive on such divisions to recruit young blood for their murderous campaigns. If there is a tukde tukde gang in India, it is Modi, Shah and company.