Monday, February 16, 2009

Saffron intact in BJP's pot-pourri

The Bharatiya Janata Party offers a confused mixture of policies, but anchors itself firmly on its Hindutva base on the eve of parliamentary elections.

Incoherence and posturing has always characterised the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP). Owing to the limitations of the exclusivist ideology that it depends upon, the BJP has tried to camouflage its Hindutva base, to win over alliances in the fractured polity that is India's. Such a strategy has paid the party dividends in the past as well as in assorted state elections across the country, wherever its adversaries have been lacking in governance/administration or ability in forming the right identity-based alliances. But every now and then, in order to keep its ideological mentors in the Sangh Parivar impressed and to foster the hard-line impulses of its activist base, the party goes back to the Hindutva theme.

One such occasion was its recently held national executive and council meetings in Nagpur. The party yet again performed its trapeze artistry of swinging between Hindutva and a modern vision for itself and the nation. In essence though, it offered no coherent alternatives and responses to livelihood issues of the day as a contrast to the ruling alliance's, beyond putting forth a string of grouses.

As an opposition party, the BJP repeatedly disrupted proceedings in Parliament on the slightest pretext. The meaningful oppositional space had been usurped by the left parties, even when they were supporting the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and after the withdrawal of support. After five years of rabble rousing and harping on agendas such as minority appeasement and “soft state”,the BJP had more of the same in its political resolution for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

There was therefore a return of the hackneyed slogans on Ram, “Ram temple in Ayodhya” and Ramarajya from its president Rajnath Singh, and which received some lip-service from its prime ministerial candidate L.K.Advani. And Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi stayed true to his hard-line image by alluding toward “inside help” for the Mumbai terror incidents. And while waxing eloquent on its strategy to fight terrorism at all costs, the party president dismissed the investigations to the Malegaon blasts' suggesting that Hindus are being maligned in the name of terror. All in all, the party chose the proximity of its national executive meeting to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's headquarters as an excuse to burnish its Hindtuva credentials, harping yet again on minority bashing and other obscurantist agenda.

The economic road-map chartered by the party promises a employment oriented policy of growth and a determination to address the agrarian crisis in the country. But beyond pointing fingers at economic mismanagement by the UPA, the BJP has little to offer on how it plans spur the economy through “recapitalisation of the financial sector” and “spend on infrastructure”. While the BJP criticises fiscal spending and suggests that this had resulted in high inflation in the country, it insists on “massive” infrastructure spending on a “war-footing” as part of its core agenda in the same breath in its resolution. Interestingly, Rajnath Singh in his address invoked Gandhian swadeshi economics as well to pitch in yet another economic vision in the resolution's hotch-potch of neoliberalism (pension reforms), Keynesianism (infrastructure spending), self-reliance and what not.

The situation that the BJP finds itself today is not encouraging for the party. Its insistence on retaining its Hindutva extremist fringe has seen it reap highly polarising gains in Gujarat, Karnataka and Orissa. In other states, however, despite the rhetorical shift to an agenda of efficient governance, it has only got mixed returns, as the wins in the assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Chattisgarh have been juxtaposed with losses in Rajasthan and Delhi. The party's polarising ideology has assured that the party stands bereft of an alliance partner and of a base in most states in the south and east of the country. And the language used by the party in it's run-up to the elections only suggests a further isolation on that count.

The rise of the BJP to the centre-stage of Indian politics and as one of the two biggest political forces, has had disastrous consequences on the nature of the Indian state. Be it in the weakening of the welfare state, or the vitiation and communalisation of the body politic,the rise in disenchantment among myriad sections (minorities in particular), the BJP's legacy has been malignant. That the party has stuck with Hindutva as a core and basic political philosophy even after years in opposition, suggests the threat that the cancerous influence of communalism continues to pose to India's polity.

Editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly. Cartoon courtesy, The Hindu newspaper

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