Monday, July 5, 2010

Time for BJP to reinvent itself By Kuldip Nayar

Clenched fists in a rightist party do not make it a different entity. I imagine this is what some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders were trying to do when they stood in a row with their clenched fists after staging a demonstration against the Congress government.

Clenched fists are associated with radicals from the left. The BJP is associated with wooden sticks and khaki knickers, which its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has prescribed. There is no doubt that the party has to change if it wants to be relevant. But it cannot do so by clenching its fists. It has to jettison the RSS.

This means that the party has to get away from the ideology of Hindutva. It is a ‘yesterday party’, as its former ideologue Jaswant Singh said when he was ousted by the BJP. True, he is trekking back into the fold. But it does not indicate that the party is giving up its philosophy of parochialism. Nor has it clarified its stand on Mohammad Ali Jinnah, praise for whom landed Jaswant Singh in trouble.

Jaswant Singh had blamed Jawaharlal Nehru for partition, not Jinnah. The reason why the party has to clarify its stand is the hostility the BJP shows whenever Jinnah’s name crops up. L.K. Advani had to step down from the party leadership after he said that Jinnah was secular.

The issue that the BJP has to sort out is not whether Jinnah was responsible for the division of the subcontinent but whether his exhortation not to mix religion with politics is acceptable to the party. When it parades Narendra Modi at the party’s national executive meeting, it projects the same policy of preferring religion for achieving pre-eminence in politics.

Modi is implicated in several cases related to the Gujarat carnage and the anti-Muslim riots. When the BJP invites him to its Bihar sitting, the party sends the message that he is the party’s mascot in the forthcoming state assembly election and ultimately in parliamentary polls.

It was obvious that the BJP was provoking Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar who has a secular image and who leads the coalition with the BJP but wants to convey that he is not guided by what the BJP thinks or does. Therefore, he had to cancel the dinner for BJP executive members and return the Rs5 crore that he had received from Gujarat for flood relief in Bihar.

Following its own agenda, the BJP placed in regional newspapers an advertisement showing Modi and Nitish together on a platform. Bihar has a large Muslim population which could not have been happy to see the photo. Nitish had to assure the Muslims that the publication of the photo was the BJP’s doing.

His party, Janata Dal (United), tried to show the differences as if it was a personality clash. But Nitish Kumar’s approach was fundamentally different. He does not think that he can live with personalities like Modi. Whatever his party may think, it seems that Nitish Kumar would like to take an independent position when the state holds polls. He may well pave the path for a third front, badly needed in the country.

The BJP is beginning to understand Nitish’s long-term policy. It may therefore fight the state election on its own. Turning its back on Nitish, the BJP under the leadership of Nitin Gadkari, an RSS man, has made it clear that the party would rather sacrifice even an assured victory under Nitish than give up Modi who it would like as its prime ministerial candidate in the next Lok Sabha election. But the party has gone over this exercise before and has found that Modi is not an acceptable face.

Rightist parties all over the world have been a wellspring of new ideas. Why is the BJP stuck in a groove? That Hinduism is in danger is not accepted by Hindus, who constitute 80 per cent of India’s population.

The electorate in Pakistan or Bangladesh do not return the candidates sponsored by religious parties. In these countries the Muslims who constitute the bulk of the population do not think that Islam is in danger.

The BJP is still the second biggest party in parliament and rules in some seven states. Its validity is not because it placates Hindu extremist elements but because it is considered by the voters as an alternative to the Congress. The left is still absorbed in its outmoded ideology. What do the people do? They want a viable alternative. Therefore, they turn to the BJP when they find the Congress increasingly corrupt and intolerably arrogant.

Were the BJP to become a centrist party and shed its anti-Muslim image, it could provide the alternative. Why doesn’t the party talk about economic programmes? The Congress adopts at every party meeting an economic resolution. The BJP does not even attempt to do so.

The Conservatives in the UK were out of power for several years because they were seen as a bunch of right-wingers. They recovered only when they were seen to adopt progressive steps. With the type of communal agenda the BJP has —periodically there is an outcry for building the Ram temple where the Babri mosque stood — the party has little future. The mood of the country is different. It is looking forward to development.

In fact, I am surprised why Jaswant Singh is returning to the BJP without ensuring that it changes. True, his dilemma is that a politician has to have a platform to survive. But this is no basis for compromising on one’s principles. Or, maybe, this is the way the politicians function.

What is being said is that his return may coincide with the return of maverick Uma Bharti. She qualifies because she was joyful when the Babri mosque was being pulled down, stone by stone. I thought Jaswant Singh was a sensitive person.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.

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