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Options Before The BJP

By Valson Thampu

19 June, 2004
Deccan Herald

General Election 2004 seems to have infected the BJP with a crisis in confidence. Given the smug self-confidence it entertained and the massive jolt it received, this is understandable. But the BJP is still the second largest single party in the country and it is necessary for the health of our democracy that it plays a constructive role as the leading Opposition party. Crisis is part of electoral politics. The mettle of a party is proved by the way it responds to the given crisis and turns it into long-term profit.

If the truth of the crisis is not heeded, there is every chance that irrelevant, even suicidal, remedies are resorted to. This happens in panic reactions. L K Advani's apparently composed press conference, in which he reaffirmed the party's commitment to the Hindutva core, came through as such a reaction. He is right in saying that Hindutva is the heartbeat of the Sangh Parivar. But he is wrong in assuming that Hindutva as cultural nationalism, equated with Ram temple and minority bashing, can rejuvenate the party or endear it to the masses in this day and age. Surely, Advani knows that in UP the BJP lost in all constituencies of Hindu religious significance.

The strategies the party evolves for the days ahead must pay heed to the most significant fact revealed by Verdict 2004. And that fact has a double focus. On the one hand, people throughout the country have rejected communal politics and voted for secular and liberative ideologies, such as they are. No matter how loudly Laloo is decried, in the eyes of the masses he is the most daring votary of secularism. To a majority of voters, besides, communalism is a greater problem than corruption. That was what a taxi driver said in Chennai soon after Jayalalitha's landslide victory in the Tamil Nadu assembly elections, when she was seen to be the BJP's adversary. Explaining why he preferred her to Karunanidhi, he said: "Corruption cuts my pocket, but communalism cuts my throat." For most citizens, the subversion of the rule of law by communalism is a trauma that they are no longer willing to accept.

The rising popular preference for secularism over communalism is not an accident. It results from the secularisation of our society and individual outlook that is in progress now. Prior to globalisation, the rural masses would have seen their suffering due to drought and famine as supernatural afflictions for which the politicians were not to be directly held responsible. They would have counted their destitution and misery as their fate. Clearly, this is no longer the case. They have shifted from a religious to a secular reading of their plight. Consequently, they hold governments responsible and punish them for their failures. Communal diversionary tactics will not persuade them to the contrary. The secularisation of our social imagination, in the wake of globalisation, has expectedly escalated the "anti-incumbency" factor.

A factor the BJP needs to note is that the aggressive pursuit of Hindutva as tried out in Gujarat will have at least two adverse consequences: one for the party and the other for the country. Post-elections, the Modi Experiment of Hindutva has turned the BJP into a coalition
pariah. From Jayalalitha to Mamata, from Naidu to Chautala, all of them have come to grief by aligning themselves with the BJP. The party that prided itself on its genius to cobble up and run a coalition now stands exposed as a party with which others are unwilling to do business. It is
hard to see how the BJP can lift itself out of this quagmire by harping on Hindutva.

The second danger of belligerent Hindutva is its potential to accelerate and aggravate the upper caste vs. lower caste polarisation. From 1993, there has been a clear correlation between the rise of Hindutva and the Dalit political ferment in this country. The more aggressively the Sangh Parivar - seen by the Dalits and OBCs as an upper caste conglomerate - pursues its agenda, the more it will provoke the thirst of the oppressed classes and castes for power. As of now, the merchants of Dalit political aspirations remain bitterly disunited. That will not be the case forever. Any violent pursuit of the Hindutva agenda on a larger scale, seen as a conspiracy to
perpetuate upper caste hegemony, is sure to polarise our society as never before. The fallout of this could be highly detrimental not only to the BJP but also for the country as a whole.

The think-tank of the BJP will be wide off the mark if they assume that "cultural nationalism" - an ideology of foreign origin - can keep the masses excited for any length of time. Indeed, the very fact that Advani had to re-cast this agnostic ideology into an emotive cocktail of communal sentiments tells its own story. Cultural nationalism has, and can have, nothing to do with religion. Too much should not be read into the fact that the Advani brand of Hindutva swayed a section of the people in the '80s and '90s. Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. Communalism is quaintly anachronistic in a globalising world. If Hindutva is to appeal to the masses at all, it has to take on a new spirit and substance altogether.

There are enough indications in the pattern of the electoral outcome as to what that new avatar should be. It is not one more temple that we need. India has 2.4 million places of worship already. Gods have enough real estate in this country; it is people who are homeless and hungry. The Hindutva of the future - if it is to have a future at all - must be predicated on the pride of India. This calls for an all-out war on the hydra-headed monster of under-development: poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, exploitation and injustice.

Courtesy Harsh Kapoor/SACW