Sunday, March 08, 2009

Fighting the BJP in the national elections

Article written for the student magazine, "Students' Struggle" on request.

An array of secular forces realise the efficacy of a robust platform against both the Congress and the BJP, therefore to neoliberalism and communalism before the 15
th Lok Sabha elections

As elections to the 15th Lok Sabha are around the corner, it is becoming increasingly clear that the mandate is going to be fragmented. This is no surprise for watchers of Indian politics, who have long seen a gradual but deep federalisation, regionalisation and greater democratisation of India's polity. More than ever, national elections in India are a derivative choice of the aggregation of state related electoral results (Yadav, Palshikar 2009). Consequently, the national parties are having to adopt state specific strategies or tie up with state specific forces across the country.

That has the seen the gradual polarisation of the polity into three poles – the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (the UPA), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Left Front anchored Third Front which includes several regional parties spread across various states; and the Bahujan Samaj Party charting its own independent course, but pledging support and participation to a non-Congress led, non-BJP led formation post the polls. Of the aforementioned, the biggest of the three alliances, the UPA and the NDA have both set off to a rocky start in their ability to form a cohesive union before the elections. While in the case of the UPA, its' the Congress' arrogance and oneupmanship1 that is the greatest hitch, in the latter, its the presence of the huge elephant in the room – Hindutva2.

After its loss in the 2004 parliamentary elections, the BJP has gone back to an aggressive re-orientation to its core ideology, Hindutva. Particularly in states, where they have an organisational presence, the BJP, buttressed by other elements of the Sangh parivar have used the Gujarat model of creating a religious polarisation and to play on majoritarian sentiments -eventually paving the way for electoral success using these means.

The cases in point are the states of Karnataka and Orissa. In the latter, the aggressive attacks against minority Christians, particularly in tribal areas such as Kandhamal has made a mockery of law and order in the state. Aggressive mobilisation of hindutva forces (to the consternation of, and yet inaction by its ruling partner – the Biju Janata Dal) has created havoc in tribal regions, where plunder, pillage and rape has characterised the attacks against minorities.

In Karnataka, buoyed by a victory in the state assembly elections owing to the insipid campaigns and politics of the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), the BJP has targeted minority institutions such as churches (and prayer halls), for their bloody attacks. Constant use of communal rhetoric, blatant use of regional chauvinism (particularly vis-a-vis the Cauvery issue, that raised its head due to aggressive demagoguery by the current chief minister B.Yeddyurappa just before the elections) has created a situation where right wing zealots have been given a free run in the state. Be it in the murder and pillage of Christians and their property or in the actions by the psychotic fringe group Ram Sene, the response by the BJP government has been reduced to mere wink-winks and nod-nods. As the incidents of Mangalore involving the Ram Sene or the attacks against prayer halls involving the Sangh parivar across Karnataka suggest, the state government has been more intent in blaming the victims of the attack rather than bringing the guilty – unabashed members of the Sangh parivar outfits such as the Bajrang Dal and the Ram Sene, to book.

The message is very clear, the BJP intends to replicate its Gujarat model onto many of its states where it is in power. The question to be asked is why is that the BJP has managed to be successful with this divisive strategy in Gujarat and why does it perceive a similar success in the states where such violent attacks are becoming a regular routine? The answer lies in the inadequacy of political opposition by the UPA central government as also the effete responses to communalism by the bourgeois parties such as the Congress in states where the BJP is in rule. A thorough and committed response to communalism would involve greater mobilisation of the common masses against the menace, building solidarity among and across communities and construct the opposition to communalism as a viable cohesive force that has a clear cut pro-people strategy. But more on this later. It is no wonder that the BJP and its cohorts in the Sangh Parivar are reduced to irrelevance in those states where such a powerful alternative to communalism has been constructed.

Owing to the return to the core ideology of Hindutva, allies hitherto committed to the NDA are finding it jittery and uncomfortable to be associated with the BJP. Parties such as the Janata Dal (United) or the BJD see an instrumental reason to be in alliance with the BJP as they consider that their primary rivals in their respective states – the RJD and the Congress – are part of the UPA and the logic of coalitions have forced their hand into tying up with the BJP. But they sense that the stigma of communalism will affect their electoral fortunes and this angst has reflected in the lengthy haggling that these parties have in seat-sharing with the BJP.

Already parties such as the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and the recalcitrant Trinamul Congress in West Bengal (all erstwhile allies of the BJP) have decided to hitch their bandwagons to the Third Front and the UPA respectively, cutting away from ties with the BJP. Combining these desertions with the jittery nature of the existing alliances in various states, one notices that the NDA is on a weak footing, primarily due to the divisive and the narrow nature of Hindutva based communalism.

An interesting question is then mooted - why is there not a grand alliance against communalism, something that was in a way articulated through the UPA-Left arrangement the past 4 years before the left withdrew support over the nuclear deal issue? One might ask that if communalism is such a virulent enemy, why isn't there a coming together of all secular forces against this beast? Why is that essentially the avowed secular forces have been represented in two antagonistic fronts? Why isn't secularism as the uniting ideal helping the coming together of these fronts?

The answer is evident - communalism is an enemy that can't be fought through a simple formulaic get together of "secular" forces. A party that claims to be secular cannot merely carry the "secular" card and suggest that it is enough to fight communalism. Hindutva oriented communalism might have an agency in the form of the Sangh Parivar and its several branches, but at the same time, the grounds on which Hindutva thrives, are prepared by structural factors - unemployment, economic crisis, poverty. The foot soldiers of the enterprise of Hindutva utilise the vulnerability of the marginalised, and those under the brunt of an economic system that is socially irresponsible - precisely what neoliberalism is. And neoliberalism is the ideology that governs the economic policy making and mindset of the UPA and its dominant constituent - the Congress as much as the BJP as well. The thinking on matters economic among the BJP and the Congress is practically the same, and owing to this small a distinction, the latter is co-opted to adopt a milder variant of the same communal approach wherever the BJP is strong to try to defeat the party. This is precisely what happened in Gujarat. Concisely, fighting communalism when both the communal and the so called "secular" forces share a common ideological understanding on economic matters is impossible. 3

And that explains that the fight against communalism should be a comprehensive one - based on an approach that privileges an alternative to the dominant neoliberal paradigm, argues for social planning, control and allocation of resources, is people-centric and not subservient to the market (an euphemism for the big bourgeoisie) and adopts a framework that realises the necessity of resisting imperialism and is steadfastly against the same. In essence this is a cohesive progressive agenda that is the only capable one in resisting the march of communalism.

As the nation reels under the impact of a global economic crisis that has pushed metropolitan capital into recession, the opportunity to define an alternative to the dominant neoliberal paradigm over and beyond the "inclusive growth"/"trickle down economics" spiel through solid public support exists. And this opportunity which prioritises the battle for economic ideas and the war against economic inequality, want and hunger, provided it is given a proper generalship by the leadership of the working classes, can overcome the distractions that communalism tries to impose through calls to primordial and religious ideas and the ideology of hate. The manner in which several of the regional parties, with their instrumental understanding of the nuisance value of communalism (the BJP) and their traditional antipathy to the party of the big bourgeoisie (the Congress) are gravitating toward a third front, suggests the resonance of an alternative paradigm based platform - in other words, the third alternative.


Yadav, Yogendra and Palshikar, Suhas (2009), "Principal State Level Contests and Derivative National Choices: Electoral Trends in 2004-09", Economic and Political Weekly, VOL 44, No. 06, February 07 - February 13.

Note: This article was written before the BJD withdrew from it's alliance with the BJP in Orissa

  1. Explained in an editorial titled, "The Congress party’s enemy" written for the Economic and Political Weekly, dated March 13th 2009

  2. Vidya Subrahmanyam's article, "Ambition and power play in the time of elections" in The Hindu explains the travails of the UPA and NDA eloquently.

  3. Professor Prabhat Patnaik's column in the Frontline ("Breeding ground for communalism",June 20th) expounds this in greater detail.

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