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HVK Archives: BJP should look beyond the heartland

BJP should look beyond the heartland - The Observer

Prafull Goradia ()
27 February 1997

Title : BJP should look beyond the heartland
Author : Prafull Goradia
Publication : The Observer
Date : February 27, 1997

The Bharatiya Janata P" (BJP) has four electoral adversaries: One,
parties which exploit casteism; two, similar parties that also
pamper minorities; three, the communists; and four, the
sub-nationalists or regional parties.

With tile help of its Hindutva platform, the BJP has been able to
tackle the first two adversaries.

However, it is yet to devise a strategy for combating either the
communists or the sub-nationalists. It drew virtually a blank in
the cast as well as the south except perhaps Karnataka.

In the 1996 elections, the BJP proved to be the most popular
.party. Yet, it could not win enough seats to form a government.
Because the party failed to attract the voters in the southern and
eastern states.

Nor could it include the parties of these regions to coalesce with
it in forming a government.

The strategic reasons behind these obvious factors deserve serious
analysis. The key to the search for reasons lies in Maharashtra and
Punjab. The Shiv Sena is a willing coalition partner. The Akali
Dal readily offered to support a BJP government in New Delhi.

Why did neither of these developments prompt AGP in Assam, DMK in
Tamil Nadu and TDP in Andhra Pradesh to regard BJP strong enough in
their states?

Why, then, run the risk of alienating minorities by supporting a
Vajpayee-led government?

Hindutva is by far the most powerful electoral weapon in armoury
everywhere in India except the Kashmir Valley and some of the seven
sister states of the north-east.

The weapon has not, however, been either focused or sharpened for
the south and east. In fact, it was not deliberately prepared even
for the Hindi heartland.

It spontaneously grew more powerful as the Ramjanmabhoomi issue
gained momentum.

Castes are a social phenomenon. People vote over caste lines only
in the absence of an ideological commitment or a charismatic
leader. To that extent, caste is a comparatively loose or a shallow
electoral factor.

The proof of this is how easily Ayodhya was able to draw the voters
of caste-ridden Uttar Pradesh away from their habit to give the BJP
resounding victories from 1989 onwards.

Though communism has an ideological appeal, a regional identity
strikes an emotional chord. In West Bengal the CPM- especially
Jyoti Basu - personifies a regional identity rather than an
ideology.

These regions, therefore, will require the evolution of more
deliberate strategies than was the case in the Hindi heartland.

Another factor that makes the east and south more difficult for a
spontaneous upsurge is that Ayodhya is a greater distance away.
What is a wave when it begins in UP becomes a ripple when it
reaches West Bengal and beyond or Andhra Pradesh and further south.

Moreover, most leaders of the BJP think the Hindi way even though
they may hail from Assam or Tamil Nadu. As a result, for the party
to empathise with the Hindi heartland is easier.

Therefore, strategies for the south and east have been taken a back
seat.

Unlike the north India, the south was not traumatised by the impact
of the invaders or the sword of Islam. A much more deliberate
awakening, therefore, is necessary to arouse the nationalistic
consciousness of the people in the southern states.

On the other hand, Assam has been bristling with the problem of
Bangladeshi infiltrators since 1979. The AGP, which led the
protest against it, has been ineffective in its follow through.

Yet, unfortunately, the BJP has failed to wrest the initiative as
the champion of anti-infiltration. The danger of Bangladesh to West
Bengal is equally great but it has not been possible to remind the
Bengalis that they might become a minority in their own state once
again.

Historically, the Bengali Hindu has not reciprocated the Muslim
resentment. West Bengal is the only state where the feelings are
not reciprocal despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of
the Hindus have had to come away from Bangladesh.

Unlike in Punjab, there was no exchange of population in the wake
of partition and the riots like Noakali. Perhaps because most of
those converted to Islam in Bengal were dalits towards whom the
upper castes have harboured an uneasy conscience. This could
explain why it has peen said that in Bengal religion is class. On
the other hand, many a prophet of Hindu reawakening have hailed
from Bengal: Bankim Chandra, Swami Vivekananda and Dr Syama Prasad
Mookerjee to name some.

One reason for Bengali reluctance to resist infiltration may be
that there are so many Bengalis in Assam. Many of them are there
because the British transferred the then districts of Goalpara and
Cachar from Bengal to make Assam a viably large enough province.

Yet others are there because they had to flee East Pakistan in the
wake of the partition and then again in the face of Lt Gen Tikka
Khan's brutality during 1971. If Bengalis object to a Bangladeshi
infiltrator, Assamese could question the right of Bengalis to
settle in Assam.

Such a fear might be at the back of the Bengali reluctance to turn
out the infiltrator. Evidently, the subject deserves thought and
research before the BJP could devise an electoral strategy in the
area.

Coming to sub-nationalism, one way to dissipate it, is to subdivide
the linguistic state. For instance, if Andhra Pradesh is
sub-divided into Rayalaseema, Telangana and coastal Andhra, there
would be nothing special or unique about being a Telugu.

The pros and cons of smaller states are well known. However, what
has not been sufficiently noticed is the relevant experience of
East Pakistan.

In order to counterbalance the large population of eastern wing,
President Ayub Khan amalgamated Baluchistan, the NWFP, Punjab and
Sind into a jumbo province in 60s. Instead, he could have
sub-divided the eastern wing into, say four provinces.

It would then have been difficult for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to
mobilise the whole of East Pakistan against the West. For in all
likelihood, he would have remained the leader of only one or two of
the mini-provinces.

At times, states have differed with New Delhi but never have two or
more states combined against the Centre. In any case, the promise
of a separate state should help the BJP to make an impact on the
electorate.



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