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November 25, 2002

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Praful Bidwai

Hindutva vs Sanity

Hindutva is now playing for broke: all or nothing! In Gujarat, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has launched a vicious confrontation with the Election Commission. It has defiantly announced a series of inflammatory meetings to be addressed by Pravin Togadia after the Commission banned its Hindu Patpadshahi (supremacy) Yatra. Its allies on the extreme right, like Bal Thackeray have unleashed a hysterical campaign maligning the BJP's national leaders, including L K Advani, no less, as 'pseudo-secular traitors' to Hindutva. All these moves, like Narendra Milosevic Modi's Gaurav Yatra, are calculated to further inflame communal passions during India's most sectarian election campaign ever. For the Sangh Parivar, the coming election in Gujarat has a 'make or break' character. That's why both Vajpayee and Advani have decided to campaign for the BJP -- despite the attacks on them.

This time around, the Gujarat BJP has made no effort whatever to distance itself from the VHP's incendiary and openly anti-Constitutional, anti-secular politics. Being critically dependent on the VHP to garner votes, the BJP doesn't have much of a choice. It too has attacked the Commission in intemperate language and in ways which put a big question mark over its state government's willingness to comply with the Commission's directives. Legally, the Commission is supreme as regards the conduct of all election-related matters once the poll process is formally put in place. Politically, however, the state government can play mischief with the code of conduct and the Commission's directions -- if it chooses to be bloody-minded.

In Gujarat, the next two weeks will see an ugly tussle between Constitutional legality, the politics of consensus, decency and sanity, on the one hand, and crass sectarianism, and self-serving, partisan and intimidatory politics and hysterical communalism, on the other. A lot will depend on the integrity of the state's civil servants. If they capitulate to the dictates of their political bosses, as many of them did during the pogrom of March to June, they will disgrace themselves, and bring further ignominy upon their state, which has already acquired a vile reputation. If they stand up for the rule of law and act impartially following the Commission's statutory authority, they could still redeem themselves. The Commission is going to have to monitor the whole election canvassing process in Gujarat very, very closely to ensure that it is not hijacked by inflamed passions and crude partisanship.

The contest in Gujarat is totally bipolar: between the Congress, and a BJP which has metamorphosed into a virulent adjunct of the VHP, itself nourished by the poison of the post-Godhra violence. The VHP, which has branches in more than one-half of Gujarat's 18,600 villages, more or less controls the BJP at the grassroots level. The second most important minister in the Modi cabinet is the VHP's Gordhan Zadaphia, with the home portfolio. Without the VHP, the BJP's election campaign would be lifeless. The VHP behaves like a movement, a neofascist form of mass mobilisation, much in the way the precursors to the Nazis did in Germany, spreading hatred against the Jews, stoking intensely militarist and national-supremacist ideas, and building up the cult of authority.

It is not an accident that Milosevic Modi consciously fashions himself as 'Chhote Sardar,' a pitiful, super-communalised caricature of Vallabhbhai Patel, in order to consciously create the image of the Fuehrer. It is around Modi's authoritarian and despotic personality, his politics of outright confrontation and communal extremism, and his vicious, violent, stormtrooper tactics, that the BJP is being radically reshaped in Gujarat. Modi has firmly refused to moderate his style despite legal reprimands and injunctions. He maintains a steady outflow of venomous rhetoric about 'Italian dogs' and 'Mian Musharraf's progeny' even as he attacks the very notions of reconciliation, inter-religious tolerance and social harmony. Modi believes himself to be a messianic figure who is about to capture the hearts of the Hindu masses, and not just in Gujarat. Should Modi lead the BJP to electoral victory in Gujarat, he will have a profound impact on the party nationally.

As things stand, and contrary to propaganda, the BJP will not find it easy to win the election -- despite Gujarat's communal polarisation and its own all-out efforts to whip up Hindu-supremacist sentiments and play on the issue of asmita and gaurav (self-esteem), a revolting form of identity politics. If the 1998 pattern repeats itself -- a big if, this -- the Congress' vote (35 percent) combined with Shankarsinh Vaghela's (13 per cent) will easily outweigh the BJP's 45 per cent. But then, the pogrom had not happened. However, equally, the Patels -- fully one-fourth of the population, and economically and socially, upwardly mobilised -- were solidly behind the BJP in 1998, thanks to Keshubhai. Today, Keshubhai is a bitter man, unreconciled to Modi's takeover and wholesale transformation of the party.

Going by all available reports, the Gaurav Yatra was not a major crowd-puller. It probably did a lot for the RSS-VHP-BJP cadre, but little for the masses. All recent local elections have seen the BJP lose heavily. Following the pogrom, there is reportedly an 11.6 percent vote swing against it. This may have intensified somewhat after the Akshardham episode: despite its boasts, the BJP could not protect people against terrorism. Many of the party's leaders feel shaky. More than 20 MLAs, including 11 ministers, are changing their seats. Modi himself has moved from Rajkot-2 to Maninagar (Ahmedabad). Opposing the BJP is the combative Vaghela with his energetic campaign emphasising shanti, salamati and samriddhi (peace, security and prosperity).

The Gujarat election is a contest not just between two parties, but between two rival agendas: governance and development-related issues vs issues of identity and insecurity. The BJP is focused exclusively, obsessively, on the second, while the Congress is struggling with the first, as well as with OBC mobilisation. Logically, in a 'normal' election, governance issues should count significantly. If the BJP loses in Gujarat, after raising the stakes sky high, it will experience the rudest shock of its political life after the 1999 Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh. Indeed, that loss will be even more damaging.

The BJP's defeat in Gujarat will continue and accelerate its downturn nationally. It has lost every single state, municipal and panchayat election in the past 4 years (barring, with qualifications, Goa, where too it failed to win a clear majority). This will prove to the Indian public that the party is unfit to rule, that it is utterly bankrupt on policy, organisational qualities and governance. Its claim to be a 'party with a difference' stands badly exposed -- witness the obscene show, with splits and naked struggles for ministerial berths in Uttar Pradesh. Also exposed are its empty boasts about safeguarding national security. Following a Gujarat defeat, the BJP will lose heavily everywhere and probably shrink in the next Lok Sabha to well under 100 seats.

However, if the BJP wins in Gujarat -- not necessarily on the Hindutva identity platform, but because of its relatively large social base and a long history of communal and caste polarisation -- it will see this as the triumph of its hate-based politics at the core of which lies the original programme of the RSS' most important ideologue, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. The Golwalkar programme consists in unleashing a frontal attack on all modern-liberal ideas and institutions, and using coercion to politically disenfranchise the religious minorities and to turn them into second-class citizens without rights. This will create a situation of a permanent near-civil war. In this enterprise, Modi is backed by apex-level leaders, including L K Advani, and also young, super-ambitious men without a base, like Messrs Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley.

If Modi triumphs in Gujarat, it is a safe bet that he will ride on the Golwalkar programme to make a bid for the BJP's national leadership and the top job in its central government, nothing less. The new Fuehrer will not allow 'effete,' aged, 'spent' leaders like Vajpayee to obstruct the programme's implementation. One immediate gainer from Modi's ascendancy will be Advani, who has linked his own upward career movement to Gujarat: in fact, it is almost inconceivable that he would have been promoted to deputy prime minister in the absence of a power struggle in the Goa conclave, focused on Gujarat. But Advani too will probably have to play second fiddle to the Fuehrer.

A Modi victory could thus unleash an intense, furious inner-party power struggle. This can have one of two consequences. The Vajpayee leadership, already dispirited and compromised, could collapse under the extreme-right's onslaught, yielding to a new, aggressively communal, adventurist and ultra-sectarian dispensation -- a kind of Hindu Taliban, which will push India back towards the Middle Ages. This will be a social and political nightmare. Or, alternatively, the BJP, and with it, the NDA, will come tumbling down like a house of cards, leading to a mid-term general election. We must all devoutly hope for the second outcome -- in the interests of secularism, democracy, political decency and social sanity.

Praful Bidwai

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