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HVK Archives: Back to the basics

Back to the basics - The Hindu

Neena Vyas ()
24 November 1996

Title : Back to the basics
Author : Neena Vyas
Publication : The Hindu
Date : November 24, 1996

The Bharatiya Janata Party has tried to beat the Samajwa-
di Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) at their
own game in the caste-ridden politics of Uttar Pradesh,
but the results of the recent Assembly elections have set
the alarm bells ringing in the party - less because it
failed to get a majority on its own and more because of
the strong showing by the SP led by Mr. Mulayam Singh
Yadav. The BJP's State unit president, Mr. Kalraj Mish-
ra, is frank enough to admit that the recent Assembly
elections saw a consolidation of votes along caste lines
as never before.

Ever since the adoption of the Ram temple issue by the
BJP at Palampur in the mid-Eighties. and earlier through
the so-called 'movement' for the Ram temple headed by the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the BJP has been depending heavily
on what it calls 'Hindutva'. It had hoped that by sharp-
ening the polarisation process in the polity on the basis
of religion, it would overcome caste loyalties.

That was achieved by the BJP to a great extent, and very
quickly too. From a 6.4 per cent support base in the
1984 Lok Sabha elections to over 32.8 per cent in 1991,
it has hovered around 32 to 33 per cent since then in
both the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. It seems that
the rise of the BJP was directly related to the sowing of
the Hindutva seed in the polity after preparing the
ground with the Ayodhya issue. The party happily reaped
the harvest of votes.

The demolition of the Babri masjid at Ayodhya in December
1992 was expected to take the Hindu fervour to a new
pitch, but that did not happen. In the 1993 Assembly
elections that followed, the SP-BSP combine was able to
win almost the same number of seats as the BJP and, with
the support of others, formed the government.

The demolition had, in fact, helped to put the brakes on
the BJP and begin a new process in the polity in Uttar
Pradesh, and, to some extent the rest of the country -
the process which helped install a 13-party United Front
coalition Government at the Centre on the major issue of
saving secularism (what the BJP would like to describe as
"pseudo-secularism"). It was the same process which
helped give a push to a SP-BSP alliance in 1993 in the
Assembly elections of that year.

The Ayodhya card, once fully exposed, had lost its elec-
toral value. There were other factors that also came
into play - the debate in Parliament and the country
whether the BJP r any party should be allowed to use
religion to further its politics and whether Lord Ram
should be allowed to be used as the main election cam-
paign manager for the BJP. The Election Commission also
became more vigilant and the courts, notably in Maharash-
tra unseated some Shiv Sena MLAs for having exploited
religion for politics.

At the same time, the 'Mandal' issue was unleashed by Mr.
V P Singh during his tenure as Prime Minister in 1990 and
the BJP began earnestly to complement its "Hindutva" card

with the 'Mandal' card - projecting Mr. Kalyan Singh as
the leader of the backward castes in U.P. In the 1991
elections, it won the U.P. Assembly election and Mr.
Kalyan Singh was installed as Chief Minister. The party
even claimed that it had backed the idea of reservation
for the backward castes well before the "Mandal" issue
was brought to the centre stage by Mr. V P. Singh.

These factors at work in the polity forced the BJP to lay
less emphasis on Hindutva in its recent election cam-
paigns - it was calculated that the Ram temple issue had
exhausted itself and that the caste card of the S.R, the
BSP and the Janata Dal would be difficult to handle
unless the BJP shed its upper caste image. The party
began the process of promoting and projecting backward
caste leaders in several States and Mr. K. N. Govin-
dacharya, party general secretary and ideologue, came out
with his analysis - that the party must change its
'chaal, charitra and chehra' (its behaviour, its charac-
ter and its image). This led to a virtual uproar because
over a long period of time, since the days the political
arm of the RSS took birth as the Jan Sangh, the party's
base had been built on the support of the upper castes
and its top leadership was derived from the upper eche-
lons of the Hindu caste hierarchy.

The results of the 1996 Assembly elections have shown
that the dramatic rise of the BJP's support base has been
halted, at least for now, that it has not been able to
get a clear majority in spite of the fact that in this
round it was a three-way fight - the S.P. and the BSP,
two of the major political forces in U.P. other than the
BJP itself, were in opposing camps. The party had ex-
pected a minimum of 200 seats, instead it won 176 togeth-
er with the Samata Party.

The strategy adopted by the party - more backward caste
candidates (over 170) were given the ticket by the BJP
than ever before on the insistence, of Mr. Kalyan Singh
- did not bring in the desired results. The backward
caste votes did not consolidate behind the BJP with the
S.R continuing to retain a considerable hold on them.
There is a debate within the party that it cannot afford
to continue "backwardisation" of its politics in U.R as
there would be a reaction among the other communities.
Several leaders, including Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi and
Mr. Kalraj Mishra, have taken Mr. Govindacharya to task
for reiterating his views after the results came in that
the party must change its "chaal, charitra and chehra".

Can the party ignore the fact that of the 176 seats won
in U.P by the BJP-Samata alliance, as many as 95 were won
by Brahmin, Rajput Bania, Kayastha, Jat and Bumihar
candidates? Can it change its "image" or its "chehra"
without losing support from this section of society? The
party would have to take into account that in the tribal
belt of U.P. it lost out heavily -- only one tribal
candidate of the party was successful against 20 of the
S.P. and 12 of the BSP.

The Govindacharya committee appointed by the party to
study the poll results and make suggestions for correc-
tive action has recommended among the "special points for
consideration" that "the party must aggressively present
its Hindutva campaign" and stress its "social aspects."
The party's political resolution adopted by its national

executive committee meeting in Jaipur last weekend also
reiterated the BJP's "unwavering commitment" to "uncom-
promising" Hindutva. It concluded that the party's
dramatic rise, and its increasing acceptance, had been
directly proportional to "the marginalisation of pseudo-
secularism" (read influence of Hindutva).

Although the party has been trying to project Hindutva as
a social leveller, as a factor which would bring about
"social harmony" among the numerous castes which have
been in conflict for centuries, the weight of history is
against this. There is also a feeling in the party that
if it tries to right the S.P. and the BSP on their home
ground on the basis of caste loyalties by exploiting the
caste differences, its Hindutva card will weaken further.

These are strong signals that the BJP may go back once
again to an "aggressive Hindutva" political strategy.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which had played a crucial
role in preparing the ground with the agitation on Ayod-
hya, is once again planning to take up Mathura in a big
way. The recent meeting of various sects of "sadhus"
brought together under one platform by the BJP, the
"Dharam Sansad", has resolved to prepare the people for
an agitation on Mathura. The VHP is planning to give a
call for the wresting of the land on which the Mathura
Idgah stands and for its return to the Krishna temple.
>From Ram Janmabhoomi it could be Krishna Janmabhoomi and,
if the response is good, the BJP is sure to rush in to
reap the political harvest of votes.

And, finally, there is nothing that succeeds like suc-
cess. The BJP president, Mr. L. K. Advani, was able to
ensure the dramatic rise of the party during his earlier
tenure, mainly, if not only because of the Ayodhya issue.
Perhaps, the party feels that it is time to take up a
similar "emotive" issue to take further the "task" of
consolidation of the Hindu vote to enable the BJP to take
that one more leap forward towards the seat of power in
New Delhi, For, in the final analysis, that is what
Hindutva is all about.

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