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An uneasy partnership - Business standard

Kewal Varma ()
5 July 1996


Title : An uneasy partnership
Author : Kewal Varma
Publication : Business standard
Date : July 5, 1996

How long will it last? This question is being asked since
the day the Deve Gowda government assumed power. The
government is not a product of an opportunistic
preelection alliance. It is a product of political
compulsions. And it is the emergence of the BJP as a
dominant force which essentially determined the nature of
this government However, the debate on whether
circumstances forced the Congress to support the
government or whether the non-Congress parties were
forced to keep their anti-Congress conscience in their
pockets and seek its support, can continue.Me fact is
that neither the Congress nor the non-Congress parties
could reconcile to the BJP capturing power.'This is
because both the Congress and the non-Congress
parties belong to one stream of nation-making -
territorial nationalism - whereas the BJP is committed to
religion-based nationalism. And this where the
fundamental clash of ideologies of nation-making takes

Parties can make opportunistic alliances, but when an
alliance partner feels strong enough to pursue his
ideological commitment single-handedly, the alliance
breaks down. 'Me refusal of any regional party, except
the Akalis, and "honest Congressmen' to bail out Atal
Behari Vajpayee has only strengthened the BJP's resolve
that it must not dilute its fundamental objective for the
sake of opportunistic alliances.

However, the idea of territorial nationalism was culti-
vated after the birth of the Congress over 110 years ago.
Notwithstanding the knock it received from Partition,
secularism, which is the manifestation of territorial
nationalism, remained the dominant ideology. It became
the normative politics of the country so much so that a
large number of secularists became complacent even when
the Sangh Parivar was eroding this national consensus.
It was only when the threat to this national consensus of
secularism became too evident, that secular forces
realised that it was time to shed complacency regarding
the BJP.

The BJP has carved out roughly over 20 per cent support
base for itself. It will not recede so easily. It still
has growth potential in many new areas. Ibis not-so-
thinly spread out support base in the first-past- the-
post electoral system can give the BJP an exaggerated
parliamentary strength. The first task of secular forces
should, therefore, be to launch a sustained ideological-
political campaign to wash the communal poison out of the
Hindu mind. This requires patience and is time
consunding. Frankly, except, perhaps for the Left, none
of the secular parties is equipped to undertake this
glainourless task. All they can indulge in is symbolic
fighting.'The media can play a more effective role since,
by and large, it is still committed to the secular

Leave alone a long-term strategy to roll back the BJP's
support base, even a short term strategy to contain it is
not being forged. The short-term strategy comprises a
one-to-one fight against the BJP The elections in UP are
due in the next three-to-four months. Ale outcome is

sure to have a great impact on the political legitimacy
of the Deve Gowda government. All the non-BJP political
players have announced that they have great stakes in
the continuance of the present government. If this stance
is genuine, then these parties should have worked out a
common electoral strategy for UP But this was not so.
The Congress outsmarted the others and entered into an
alliance with the secularly most opportunistic force, the
BSP Even after the Babri Masjid's demolition, the BSP
played ball with the BJP and was indifferent to whether
it came to power at the Centre or not.

In the current political situation it is natural to use
an alliance, as it gives space to manoeuvre and reach the
top. Such an alliance can break down only when a major
partner feels that in the next round it will emerge
stronger. 'Me janata alliance fell apart when Charan
Singh thought that in the next round of the elections he
would emerge as the leader of the real Janata Party. It
is another story that his group won more seats than the
rival group, though both were punished severely by the
electorate. Indira Gandhi withdrew support to Charan
Singh at a time when she was sure that the split in the
Janata Party had become irreversible and that she would
win hands down. In 1989, the BJP withdrew its support to
the V P Singh government when it felt that its Mandir
card would help improve its standing in the next round of
elections. Rajiv Gandhi too with drew support to the
Chandra Shekhar government when he was confident of
coming back to power. Hence, it is not internal
contradiction or ego clash as such, but the struggle for
power by groups that brings down coalitions.

The Up initiative of the Congress falls in a somewhat
different category. With all its weaknesses, the present
ruling alliance is a product of an ideology. The BJP
should be thanked for raising the reference point of
Indian politics to the level of ideology. what is how the
nation should be constructed. All political parties have
been forced to take positions. So far, the Congress was
the unquestionable hegemonic force of secularism. But it
has lost that position. The UP initiative is part of its
strategy to recapture that position gradually. However,
it has triggered, rather too soon, a keen competition as
who should occupy the secular space in Indian politics.

The first concern is not to roll back the BJP's support
base, but to emerge as:a leading non-BJP force.
The Congress should have an automatic claim to this
position. Unfortunately, it does not. And for this it has
only itself to blame. Since Indepetidence, the Congress
pursued a policy of sturdy or vigilant secularism. Nehru
combined secularism with a vision of socialist oriented
development and Indira Gandhi combined secularism and
populism. But sometime in the early'80s, Indira Gandhi
lost her way and started manipulating religo-communal
sentiments to sustain herself in power. Rajiv Gandhi
carried this manipulation to another extreme when he
overturned the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano
case and connived to get the lock of the Babri Masjid

The record of the non-Congress secular forces is,
perhaps, worse. Even white conducting the anti-cow
slaughter agitation, these parties entered into- an
alliance with the Jan Sangh in 1967.22 years later, when
the BJP was conductidiy its Rain Mandir agitation, V P
Singh entered into an alliance with the BJP In 1977,
the Jan Sangh diluted its agenda temporarily but in 1979,
the RSS supremo Balasaheb Deoras declared that

their main objective would be to carve out 'Hindu vote

As regards the Babri Masjid, none comes out unscathed.
The demolition exposed that both the Congress and the
non-Congress secular parties entertained illusions
about the BJP Outside the House, all non-Congress secular
leaders congratulated Narasimha Rao for warding off the
crisis. But inside the House, here is what they had to
say on December 3, 1992, just three days before the

The UP Government has given an affidavit that the Court's
order will be respected. If the State Government gods
back on this, it will go. Why should the BJP lose its
government in the biggest state 6f this country .. 1
believe it is a bluff and nothing more ... It is going to
fizzle out" (Indrajit Gupta, the present home minister).
So Narasimha Rao is not the only one to be blamed. The
accusations and counter-accusations between the
and UF partners as to who is more of a secularist is
like'pot calling the kettle black'. If at all, the entire
secular polity should be blamed for showing lack of
vigilance. This was nothing but a fallout of years of
opportunism and honeymooning with the BJP and the
manipulation of religious-communal issues by secular
forces. Hence, the UP initiative of the Congress to
outsmart other secular forces might help the party's
selfish interests but could harm the overall cause of

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