Posturing to stay in power?

After the BJP National Council's Nagpur session, it is clear that the party has kept its options open. It is certainly not giving up on its core Hindutva ideology, says NEENA VYAS. But, the emphasis has changed for now.

EVEN IF Mr. Bangaru Laxman, new BJP president, meant what he said about Muslims being the ``flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood'', party leaders, if they are honest with themselves, will admit that it is going to be an uphill task to change the attitude of not only its karyakartas but also its netas.

The fact is that the large majority of BJP members see Muslims as pro-Pakistan and potential ISI recruits, and privately they say this. The Kashmir problem is also seen by the BJP as essentially a Muslim issue. If only the Government had allowed non-Muslim Indians to settle in the Valley over the last few decades, the problem could have been contained. So runs the argument.

It is also a fact, as almost admitted by Mr. Laxman, that in all its 20 years the BJP never made any sincere efforts to attract the Muslims. In fact, the calculation was that Muslims voting for a non-BJP candidate in any constituency would help consolidation of the Hindu vote in its favour.

In his first press conference, Mr. Laxman emphasised that his task over the next three years - which will coincide with the remaining tenure of the Thirteenth Lok Sabha - was to make the BJP ``the preferred party of governance''. Perhaps, the BJP has realised that if it ever wants to come to power on its own, it will have to get the votes of the minorities who constitute about 20 per cent of the population. In the numbers game of electoral politics, no party can afford to begin with a minus-20 mark.

The contradictions in statements coming from senior party leaders are too many to allow one to take Mr. Laxman at face value. While Mr. Laxman in his written address to the Nagpur National Council said the party had failed to become the preferred party of governance, Mr. L. K. Advani, Union Home Minister, asserted during the concluding address that the BJP had replaced the Congress(I) ``as the preferred party of governance''.

Mr. Laxman himself has been swinging from an almost anti-Hindutva stance to a pro-Hindutva attitude. On his way to Nagpur he said the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation never played a major role in boosting the party's growth, that in fact numerous other people's struggles taken up by the party had paid electoral dividends. He also said that people were no longer attracted by the party's Hindutva ideology, and when these issues were taken up it had not been able to garner votes. And now in the latest issue of the RSS mouthpiece, Panchjanya, he has asserted that ``there is no question of giving up Hindutva. After all, I am inside a Hindutva party. I have never said that we are giving up our core ideology''.

What is clear is that the party has kept its options open. For now, naturally with a coalition Government at the Centre, the party stands committed to its NDA agenda. But it is certainly not giving up on its core Hindutva ideology. The emphasis has changed ``for now''.

The problem the party faced during its Chennai National Council session in the last week of last year was exactly this. The party virtually revolted when asked to put its stamp on the line: ``The BJP has no agenda other than the common agenda of the NDA'' and every worker of the party ``must fully understand this''. The Council's open session forced the leadership to drop this, the BJP was not prepared to lose its identity altogether.

Mr. Laxman has been stressing that the BJP never was a ``one issue party'', but the fact is that between 1990 and 1996 the party had almost given up every issue but the three core Hindutva ones. Its politics centred around attacking ``pseudo-secularism'' and what it called ``appeasement of the minorities'' without bothering about the fact that let alone being pampered the Muslims had fallen behind both in literacy and employment and had become prey to their own illiterate and fundamentalist leadership. If the old mantra was Hindutva, the new virtue is flexibility, a euphemism for being practical to suit the new political climate.

A major concern for the party is not to allow its old ideological moorings to come in the way of forging and consolidating ties with allies. For this, it has to keep Hindutva in check. After all, when the issue became too hot, did it not direct its Ministry in Gujarat to withdraw the order allowing Government servants to participate in RSS activities?

Mr. Advani has even said that ideology has no place in governance, and good governance alone is the aim of the party. There is awareness that in the next elections, whenever they take place, the BJP will win or lose not on the basis of its ideology but on how its Government's performance is evaluated by the people.

There is also no denying that having made Mr. Laxman its first Dalit president, the BJP is keen to take advantage of this and draw larger support from the weaker sections.

Ironically, the Nagpur session saw all senior party leaders pay homage at the ``Deekshabhoomi'' of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, where he embraced Buddhism and marked his protest against the caste-ridden Hindu society. The BJP, which has not accepted the fact that in India many have converted to Christianity to get away from the terrors of untouchability, was proud to be seen praising Dr. Ambedkar's act of denouncing Hinduism. The party wanted to declare that it did not believe in Manuwadi Hindutva.

After having opposed the economic reforms initiated by the Narasimha Rao Government as a sellout to the United States- dominated WTO and the World Bank, the Vajpayee Government and the party today are singing praises of reforms. In fact, party leaders today say that it was the Congress(I) which had turned topsy-turvy its socialist economic agenda, and that the BJP now was only going back to its old Jana Sangh stance against the ``licence-permit raj, quota system''.

And cleverly the party has tried to meet the criticism of the Government's economic policies from its own RSS family, by re- defining `swadeshi.' The path to self-reliance, that is `swadeshi,' will be achieved through the WTO and through faster liberalisation and globalisation which are expected to push the pace of growth in India to a healthy nine per cent, the party's economic resolution seems to suggest.

The Union Finance Minister, Mr. Yashwant Sinha, virtually demolished `swadeshi' arguments against disinvestment, against foreign direct investment and a host of other contentious issues, pointing out that FDI had less than five per cent share in the total capital investments in the country, and as for disinvestment, it had yielded Rs. 18,000 crores since 1991 against which Rs. 61,000 crores had been spent by the Government as budgetary support to PSUs.

At Nagpur the party travelled a little further down the road it had taken in Bangalore and Chennai, and which has been clearly mapped out by the Vajpayee Government. Neither RSS criticism nor scepticism in the party were to be allowed to come in the way. But, the option to go aggressively back to Hindutva has not been given up. Who knows what new turn the polity may take?

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