Conflicting ideas can coexist peacefully in the mind. But when put out in cold print, the contradictions will be manifest. The struggle within the BJP between those trying to retain the core support base of the organisation through a Hindu nationalist agenda and those attempting to reach out to wider sections of the population through a more inclusive development programme is clear in the party’s Lok Sabha election manifesto. If the delay in its release until the day of the first phase of the election was symptomatic of the struggle, the contents of the manifesto reveal the face of a party that wants to be seen as being both modern and traditional at the same time, and as having both retained its essential character and moved beyond its core agenda. The stress on growth and development, corruption-free governance and delivery of services is unmistakable, and even the core Hindutva issues are couched in non-Hindutva language. The opposition to caste-based reservations is now dressed up as a turning away from identity politics and tokenism. The only reference to reservation relates to 33 per cent quota for women in Parliament and legislatures. Affirmative action is promised in terms of taking steps to create an “enabling ecosystem of equal opportunity” for education, health and livelihood.
Also, the call for a uniform civil code is no longer a Hindu-Muslim issue, but a question of gender equality. Although the manifesto does not state why equality and justice can come only through uniformity, the emphasis on protecting the rights of all women while pushing for a uniform civil code is a welcome departure from the BJP’s default position on this issue. On Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP reiterates its commitment to the abrogation of Article 370, but promises discussions with all stakeholders. Similarly, on Ayodhya the BJP takes care to mention that it would explore possibilities of facilitating the construction of the Ram temple within the framework of the Constitution. Ram Sethu and the Sethusamudram project are now issues of cultural heritage, not of religious faith. While the Ganga is described as a symbol of faith in India, the project for the purification of its waters is also justified by pointing to its importance for agriculture, fodder production and drinking water supply. The protection of the cow, another core Hindutva agenda item, is now seen in the context of the contribution of cattle to agriculture, and socio-economic and cultural life. There is no mention of secularism, but the manifesto commits the BJP to the preservation of the “rich culture and heritage” of India’s minority communities. The manifesto thus is an attempt to appeal not only to the core Hindutva supporters but also to the larger populace. But this attempt essentially represents the papering over of serious contradictions.