Will the BJP’s Politics from Conflict to Consensus Payoff?
Syed Ali Mujtaba
There is a moral dilemma some Indians are facing choosing to vote for the BJP led National Democratic Alliance. The dilemma is over the chameleon character of the BJP, the main constituent of the NDA. The party has undergone a sea change in its political strategy since 1996, that was, since the debacle of the 13-day rule by Vajpayee government.
Two images of the BJP since then remain encrypted in minds of the people. One, ‘Ram temple’ which it sold as an article of faith and other which is now trying package as ‘India Shining’ and ‘feel good’. The political edifice of the first was based on hate campaign while the second is based on a consensus campaign which tells NDA has done common good to all. The political managers of BJP are trying hard to erase the first image and trying to replace it by the good image of the party.
However, a voice of consciousness is pricking the electorates as the first image fails to get blurred and second image finds hard to gain general acceptance. Irrespective of the opinion polls which already has placed the BJP led NDA on the podium, there is a moral dilemma among the electorates which continues to haunt as the dates of general elections approaches nearer.
The BJP which advocated its parental party Jansangh’s political agenda; Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan, abrogation of article 370 (giving special privileges to Jammu & Kashmir) anti Pakistan, anti -cow slaughter and ‘swadeshi’ campaign was unable to polarise the society to extract any political mileage all through the 60’s and the 70’s. The main reason was strong leadership of Mrs Indira Gandhi who pre-empted any such move even before it was placed into operational politics. The BJP remained a pigmy, a political pariah under her rule and had just two parliamentary seats in 1984 polls.
The rise of the BJP, synchronises with the ascendance of Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister of India. The young leader had no clue how to handle the inter-community tensions in the country and when Rajiv Gandhi, played into the hands of Muslim communalists and annulled the Supreme Court judgement in the famous “Shah Bano” case, BJP built a potent case of minority appeasement against the Congress and mobilised majority Hindu community on this issue by digging out the Babari masjid, controversy which remained a closed chapter since 1948, following placing of an idol by some Hindu zealots there. The BJP went on to play upon the sentiments of the north Indian Hindus who nurture grudge against the Indian Muslims for the medieval rule by some of their co-religionist from Afghanistan and Central Asia. They also remain angered by the way Muslim league in pre independence era mobilised Muslim masses on anti – Hindu campaign for the creation of Pakistan.
These latent hatred against the Muslims which all along had been there, became the basis of street mobilisation by the BJP which saw its meteoric rise since its campaign managers chose to sharpen the Hindu -Muslim divide unprecedented in independent history of the country.
Three events, one, Pakistan’s covert support to terrorism in Punjab and later in Kashmir, second the emergence of the Muslim majority Central Asian republics after the fall of the Soviet Union, third some confronting statements by some Muslim leaders over Ayodhya helped the BJP in generating a mass hysteria against the Indian Muslims.
The party confined itself to north India and the campaign mangers beat aloud the plank on cultural nationalism centring on construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya. This particular issue somehow caught the imagination of the masses. This political strategy of the BJP was a two edged weapon, one separated the Hindu and Muslims and second united the divided Hindu house, playing on their religious emotion and making the innocuous Muslim minority as their perceived adversary.
The electoral muscle which BJP tend to acquire made it a partner in the VP Singh led National front government. Its new found campaign fetched political dividends and the BJP was able to gain political power in Uattar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. VP Singh tried to break the growing clout of the BJP by implementing the recommendation of the Mandal Commission report of 27 per cent reservations to other backward categories. This made the BJP to further intensify its political campaign.
The BJP pitched its two part political campaign, one centring on the construction of a Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, second on strident anti- Muslim propaganda. The party reached the height of its political crescendo when LK Advani converted a Toyota, truck into an ancient rath (chariot) and took a horizontal route on Indian map from Somnath (Gujarat) to Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh). The choice of Somnath, was symbolic because there lay an ancient temple which was looted, destroyed and then converted into mosque by a medieval Afghan ruler in the 11th century. It was reconverted into a temple shortly after independence.
All along the route, which Advani took during his ‘rath yatra’ sloganeering was done to take pledge to construct a temple on the very spot where Babari masjid stood (saugandh ram to khate hain mandir wahin banaegye). Another slogan denounced Babri masjid not as a mosque and called it a skeleton over a temple. (masjid nahin hai dhancha hai). Then, there was anti Muslim slogan which said progenies of Babar should be beaten with shoes; (Babar ke auladon ko, juta maro salon ko).
Advani’s rath yatra which was undertaken to evoke Hindu nationalism and to humiliate Muslims became a chariot of fire and triggered a spate of communal riots all over north India. It resurrected the scene that was witnessed at the time of India’s partition. More than three thousands Muslims perished in that bout of communal riots and there is no account of their loss of property. The BJP withdrew support to the VP Singh government when Advani was arrested in Bihar in the middle of his yatra on the charges of fomenting communal trouble.
The BJP continued its Ram temple campaign even after the fall of the National Front government. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 however deprived the party from capturing power in the general elections held that year. BJP went ahead with exciting communal passion and its storm troopers pulled down the 16th century mosque, in a pre-planned operation providing a great spectacle to the nation and the world.
The hate campaign of the BJP mellowed since 1996 because the party could not get a political majority even though it tried all the tricks in its bag. No doubt the party emerged as a single largest party in that general election but since it was tied to its principles and was untouchable to alliance partners, and the 13-day Vajpayee government could not produce a majority on the floor of the house.
The party since then made turn around and compromised in its core ideology, forging alliances of convince with parties of all shades and characters. This eventually made the party to capture power in 1998 and again in the general election held in 1999. The Vajpayee led NDA government shelved all its contentious issues and evolved a common minimum programme of governance to run the full course in office.
After coming to power the BJP compromised on its swadeshi agenda, and gave full nod to liberalisation, except making periodic noises, ram temple issue was put on the backburner, the issue of article 370 to Kashmir was shelved too, the NDA government opened negotiations with militant organisation Hizbul Mujhadeen and later called the All Party Hurriyat conference for the negotiations. The final turn around was to have a rapprochement with Pakistan and to decide all contentious issues including Kashmir through dialogue.
What is seen, the BJP which differentiated itself from others, as a party of Hindi heartland doing upper caste oriented politics centring on Ayodhya planks likes Hindutva, anti- minorities, Akhanda Bharat, tough stand against Pakistan, opposition to article 370 to Kashmir, formed the core of its agenda till 1996. Their main intention was to mobilise the majority vote to capture power but being unable to do so they changed their strategy since 1996 and pegged their politics confrontation to consensus.
The BJP had no other go then to take stock of the ground situation, having known the limitations of the politics of confrontation and having tested power with a multi-party coalition under the NDA.
The marked change could be seen in choosing of Advani’s “Bharat Uday Yatra”, route in March 2004 which began from Kanyakumari in south of India to terminate at Amritsar in the north. In contrast to the 1989 rath yatra which covered the horizontal landscape of India from Somnath to Ayodhya, the “Uday Yatra” covered India in a vertical manner. Contrary to the rath yatra, which catered to sentiments of the Hindus, the ‘Uday Yatra’ began from Kanyakumai by invocation from Christian and Muslim persists and visits to a Christian home by Advani. During the course of the Uday yatra, Advani addressed several rallies which included Muslim women as well. There was no anti- Muslim sloganeering and no anti- Pakistan venom was spilled. Advani, on the contrary talked about rapprochement with Pakistan has helped in improving the Hindu- Muslim relation in India. He called Gujarat communal riots as blot of NDA rule.
What is seen is that the BJP owes its ascendance to power by polarising the society. Now when it is trying to retain its position by seeking to get re-elected, it is harping on the consensual politics. The campaign mangers of the BJP know that democracy is a fine art of fooling the people and having milked their ram temple campaign dry, their pied pipers are playing the tune of “India shining” and ‘feel good factor’ in their campaign.
In India, public memory being short, the new campaign launched by the BJP led NDA may entice the gullible Indian masses. However, despite the best efforts by campaign mangers to repackage the BJP in a new wrapper, the chameleon character of the party remains exposed.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a television journalist based in Chennai,India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org