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Home > India > News > Columnists > Amulya Ganguli

Has the BJP become pseudo-secular?

February 21, 2008

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Has the anti-north Indian violence in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra made the Bharatiya Janata Party wake up to the values of Indian pluralism? Such a presumption is possible if one reads the latest editorial in the RSS journal, Organiser, for it suggests that the party is veering dangerously close to the pseudo-secular line. Arguing that Raj Thackeray has 'got his priorities wrong', the editorial says 'any attempt to divide the country in the name of caste, region, language or religion strikes at the root of Indianness and politicians who play such a divisive game to further their obnoxious self-interest should be abhorred.'

Well, well, well. Wonders will never cease. Or has L K Advani been re-reading Mohammed Ali Jinnah's peroration on how everyone can do his own thing where religion is concerned and that politicians have no business to interfere? In what can sound like music to the ears of secularists, Organiser goes on to say that 'for centuries it (Mumbai) has been the confluence of cultural streams, it beckoned people from all walks of life and created a proud, glorious tradition.'

Either the writer got carried away his own eloquence or the party is in for a serious rethink. The most interesting passage, of course, in this paean to multiculturalism relates to the attempts to divide the country in the name of religion. Yet, this is exactly what the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have been doing all their lives. Their entire focus has always been on widening the Hindu-Muslim divide and mocking those favouring a composite culture as bleeding heart liberals and Muslim appeasers.

The reasons, however, for the dawning of sense -- if it is really that and not a temporary lapse into sanity -- are not far to seek. First, there is no way that the BJP can endorse Raj Thackeray's agenda -- as his estranged cousin Uddhav has done -- because, as an essentially north Indian party, the BJP has to take up the cudgels against those attacking the migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, even if the assailants belong to a saffron outfit.

Secondly, while Raj and Uddhav are guided by local compulsions, the BJP has to take a wider view, not least because it has convinced itself that it has a fair chance in the next general election to reach the corridors of power in Delhi. The party cannot afford to give the impression, therefore, that its vision is as restricted as that of the two Senas.

Arguably, even if the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants were the targets of Raj and Uddhav Thackeray's ire, the BJP would still have had to tread carefully, for it is aware how an attack on Bangladeshi Muslims can turn into an attack on Indian Muslims as well. And that would have angered the BJP's 'secular' partners like the Janata Dal (United), which is engaged in weaning away the Muslims in Bihar from Lalu Yadav's grasp.

There is yet another reason for the BJP's latest posture. It knows, for instance, that Raj Thackeray's antics have given the entire saffron brotherhood a bad name, especially among the burgeoning middle and upper classes, whose loyalty has acquired greater importance than before in the age of liberalisation.

They may not mind an occasional riot, as in Gujarat, to teach the Muslims a lesson. But street-level violence against other Hindus for the sake of establishing a base is not something which will go down well with these classes, even in Maharashtra.

A fourth reason why the BJP may have become so enamoured of the 'confluence of cultural streams' is that it has realised from the Gujarat verdict that development pays political dividends. The mayhem in Maharashtra is obviously anti-growth for it will drive away investors if it continues for any length of time. Businessmen in Nashik are already feeling the impact of the exodus. The BJP may not hope to come to power in the state in the near future, but it cannot afford to be seen in the company of an outfit with such a scary reputation.

Although there is no indication of a genuine change of heart, what is probably happening is that the BJP is slowly undergoing a process of becoming acclimatised, as it were, to India's diversity. There is little doubt that the process has been accelerated by its stints in power at the Centre and in the states. Earlier, as a marginal party of the Opposition, it was happy to latch on to the one-point agenda of the Ram temple to increase its tally of Lok Sabha seats. But as the leader of the National Democratic Alliance, it has had to broaden its outlook.

Advani's Jinnah misadventure was the first sign that the party was becoming aware of a world outside Hindutva. But even if the Ram temple has been dropped -- there was no mention of it at the last meeting of the party's national executive in Delhi -- it still keeps harping on similar issues, such as the Ram Sethu in the hope of garnering votes.

But the Mumbai disturbances have shown the BJP the pitfalls of sectarianism, for divisive sentiments can easily turn from religion to region to caste to language or whatever may suit a local political buccaneer.


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