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More Hindutva, not less, harmed the BJP
August 04, 2004
Mullah ki daud masjid tak!
The above aphorism, popular across North India, means that whenever there is a crisis of any kind, a mullah will inevitably seek refuge in a mosque.
Tragically, today the Bharatiya Janata Party and its affiliated organisations are behaving like the apocryphal mullah. Except that they are running towards the Ram temple and extreme Hindutva.
Ever since the BJP's shock defeat in the election, cries have been raised that the party paid the price for turning away from Hindutva, for not committing itself to the Ram temple, for forgetting its core ideology and issues.
It makes for tragic reading. And should the BJP, against conventional wisdom, actually go back to its destructive Hindutva ideology, it will lose even more.
No ideological party can win beyond a certain level; the best example is the many Communist parties that have been reduced to being the perpetual peripheral players in India's polity. A hard-right ideology will enjoy some committed support, but it will lose many more general supporters, making it virtually impossible for the party to ever return to power.
Moreover, it would be apt to refer to the Mahabharata here. In this great epic, Karna is gifted the Brahmasastra, but he can use it only once.
The lesson is clear: a potent weapon can never be used twice. Hindutva was BJP's brahmasastra from the 1980s till it came to office in the 1990s; but this weapon cannot be used again.
Vajpayee clearly realised this and sougth to make the BJP into a right-of-centre party, concerned about national security; investment and lower taxes; and good relations with Pakistan, a subject in which the NDA's record is A+. Any democracy needs such a two-party (or two-formation) system, one left-of-centre and the other, right-of-centre. With such broad ideologies, one balances out the other; both help the country and the citizens.
It is believed the NDA's lack of concern for the poor and agriculture hurt it in the election; but after hearing the UPA's Budget, one thing is clear: the party may make promises to the poor and the farmers, but where will they raise the money from remains unclear. And if they keep raising taxes, sooner or later the UPA will be booted out!
What the NDA, and the BJP in particular, need to understand is that it needs to be patient. The aspirations of Indians today are so high that no political party can ever satisfy them, and so must pay the price. Already there are enough people upset at the UPA and over the years, more will join their ranks and seek a right-of-centre BJP. Ironically, it is only in poor Bengal and Bihar where one party rule seems virtually entrenched.
Coming back to Hindutva, for the RSS, the VHP and the likes to say that the party lost because it betrayed Hindutva is understandable; do they even know any other subject? But why is the BJP buying this ridiculous argument? If anything, it is too much Hindutva that hurt the BJP in the last elections.
For instance, in Gujarat, just because Narendra Modi swept the assembly election in December 2002 by harping on Hindutva (more precisely, he played on the Hindu Gujarati's fears and persecution complex in the immediate aftermath of Godhra), he believed an encore was in order (wonder if he has read the Mahabharata?). The BJP were able to win just 14 (out of 26) seats because Hindu Gujaratis were also concerned about water, roads, and power.
If Modi had only concentrated on these areas, promising to redress the people's grievances (remember, he had become chief minister barely two years earlier), he might have done better.
The bigger Hindutva blunder was in Tamil Nadu. The BJP disliked Jayalalithaa for bringing down the Vajpayee government in April 1999 by one vote. After returning to power in Tamil Nadu in 2002, Jayalalithaa decided to build bridges with the BJP. She shrewdly played the Hindutva card: banning conversions, helping out temple priests, speaking out against Sonia Gandhi (her ally till recently).
The gullible BJP bit her Hindutva bait! Against conventional wisdom, the BJP tied up with Jayalalithaa, literally pushing the DMK into the waiting arms of the Congress. Even though the DMK is accused of latently backing the LTTE whose members killed Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi showed rare political wisdom, cared too hoots for ideology, and tied up with DMK. Victory in Tamil Nadu made a huge difference to who ruled Delhi.
To rub salt into the BJP's Hinduva wound, soon after the election, Jayalalithaa quickly scrapped her anti-conversion law, clearly showing how shallow her newfound faith in Hindutva was.
Comments have also been raised that the BJP sought to woo Muslims, and in doing so turned away its core Hindu supporters. But such Hindus, who have a pathological hatred of Muslims, will always go more to the right. If tomorrow, the VHP enters the political fray, they will back the VHP. Also, what is the number of such extreme right Hindus? Why do they matter?
Today, with so many political parties in the fray, every vote, every community, and every caste counts. The BJP cannot afford to ignore the Muslims, who comprise 12 percent of India, or any other segment of India. If they do, it means that in any election, the BJP is seeking 50 percent of votes from just 88 percent of India; in contrast, the Congress with assured Muslim votes needs just 38 percent of the 88 percent. It is not rocket science that this makes the BJP task very difficult if not impossible. It is not a question of wooing the Muslims but of giving them an alternative.
There are enough Muslims who know that putting all their eggs in the Congress basket can, and has, hurt the community since the party then takes them for granted. There are enough Muslims willing to back a right of centre BJP, but no Muslim will back an extreme right BJP. The same argument applies to the other castes. A narrow base of mere Brahmins will never help the BJP win. If the Congress can win support from so many sections, surely the BJP too can?
But does it want to appeal to all Indians? A mosque-breaking BJP, a BJP that harps only on Hindutva to the exclusion of other pressing issues, will never be a party that inspires confidence among all Indians, Hindu and Muslim.
One hopes that for the sake of India, and for the sake of the party's future, the BJP leaders follow the Vajpayee line, and not succumb to the likes of the VHP and RSS.
Amberish K Diwanji